- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2008

The United States and North Korea headed for a new showdown yesterday over ridding the North of its nuclear weapons program — with Pyongyang insisting it has submitted a required declaration of all its materials and capabilities, and Washington saying exactly the opposite.

Even though U.S. and Asian officials said the current disagreement is not likely to jeopardize last year’s deal on scrapping the North’s program, the Bush administration dispatched chief negotiator Christopher Hill to the region a month after his last trip there.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying, “We have already drawn up a nuclear report in November and have notified the United States of it.”

But the State Department rejected that claim, adding that none of the five countries participating in the so-called six-party talks with the North — the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia — has seen the list, which was expected by Dec. 31.

“The fact is, they haven’t turned in a final declaration yet,” department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. “They are going to turn that in to the Chinese as chair conveners of the six-party meetings, and we don’t have that yet.”

The list is required under an October deal, in which Pyongyang also agreed to disable its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon by year’s end. The disablement pace has satisfied U.S. officials, who observed it on the ground, even though its completion has been delayed for safety reasons.

But the declaration has been a major point of contention. At issue is a suspected uranium-enrichment program, which the North has never acknowledged publicly. Washington accused it of pursuing such a program in 2002, based on information from Pakistan that it had sold the North centrifuges and other related materials.

Although the North is said to have admitted to acquiring various materials that could be used in a uranium-enrichment program, it is still refusing to acknowledge possessing centrifuges, the core element in such a program.

“When the U.S. side raised ‘suspicion’ about uranium enrichment, [North Korea] allowed it to visit some military facilities in which imported aluminum tubes were used as an exception and offered its samples … clarifying with sincerity that the controversial aluminum tubes had nothing to do with the uranium enrichment,” the spokesman quoted by KCNA said yesterday.

The November draft noted the spokesman was discussed with Mr. Hill during his visit to Pyongyang in early December, but he did not think it was complete and correct.

If the North does not have the centrifuges any longer, it must say where they were taken, Mr. Hill said, expressing concern about Pyongyang’s proliferation activities.

After an Israeli air strike on a suspected nuclear facility in Syria that may have been housing materials from North Korea, President Bush said Pyongyang had agreed in the Oct. 3 six-party statement to provide “a full declaration of any proliferation activities.”

The North Koreans disagree with Mr. Bush’s interpretation of the agreement.

The document does say that the North is “committed not to transfer nuclear materials, technology or know-how,” but when it comes to the declaration, it says it “will include all nuclear facilities, materials and programs.” There is no mention of documenting proliferation activities.

Mr. McCormack said yesterday the U.S. will not “lower the bar” before the North begins to receive promised energy and other economic aid, as outlined in the deal.

“The North Koreans need to get about the business of completing this declaration,” he said. “It’s important to the process. It’s another data point that will indicate that they are, in fact, serious about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.”

A separate North Korean state press report yesterday said the North “will further strengthen our war deterrent capabilities in response to U.S. attempts to initiate nuclear war.”

Pyongyang often makes similar statements at critical points in negotiations with the United States.

Mr. Hill will visit Japan, China, South Korea and Russia, Mr. McCormack said.

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