- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On July 12, participants in the Six-Party Talks on North Korean denuclearization announced that agreement had been reached on ways to verify Pyongyang’s pledge to end its nuclear weapons programs. But without a serious, intrusive verification system, any agreement with North Korea is worthless - particularly in view of its long record of cheating. Unfortunately, the deal announced earlier this month is less than adequate to ensure that North Korea actually disarms. Until such an arrangement is actually in place, that nation should remain on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Right now, the means of verifying North Korean disarmament claims are shrouded in mystery. The communique - which was issued by the heads of delegations (the six parties are the United States, China, Japan, Russia, North Korea and South Korea) - confines itself to generalities, mentioning verification measures that “include visits to facilities, review of documents, interviews with technical personnel” and unspecified “other measures” that all the parties agree to. But thus far, the only verification requirements that North Korea has accepted are those pertaining to the shutdown of plutonium production at Yongbyon - an aging facility that was already nearing the end of its useful life. That concession falls well short of what North Korea must come clean about.

Pyongyang has yet to provide a full accounting of its nuclear collaboration with Syria and its collaboration with A.Q. Khan’s Pakistan-based proliferation network. Nor has Pyongyang agreed to procedures that would enable inspectors to verify that it has ended its covert efforts to produce nuclear weapons through enriching uranium.

In the Feb. 13, 2007, agreement between Washington and Pyongyang, North Korea agreed to “a complete declaration of all nuclear programs and disablement of all existing nuclear facilities.” It has failed to meet this commitment. At a minimum, the United States should not remove North Korea from the terrorism list until it does so and it agrees to permit short-notice inspections of its nuclear facilities at any time. This latter requirement is absolutely critical: North Korea is a closed society, and it is impossible to verify its compliance unless inspectors are able to go anywhere at any time if they have reason to believe that Pyongyang is concealing illicit nuclear facilities.

Effective Aug. 11, the Bush administration will have the authority to remove North Korea from the terrorism list. All indications are that it will do so unless Congress acts. Mr. Bush used the right choice of words in January 2002 when he said North Korea was part of the “axis of evil.” Pyongyang has yet to disprove the point. It’s past time for both houses of Congress to start exercising oversight responsibilities regarding nuclear verification.

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