- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2008

North Korea yesterday gave the United States eight boxes of documents from its nuclear weapons program dating back to 1990 — a move that U.S. officials said clears the way for the North to be removed from the blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.

More than 18,000 pages of records, whose pending transfer was first reported by The Washington Times last week, were given to Sung Kim, director of the State Department’s Korea desk, who visited Pyongyang for the second time in two weeks.

“He is going to bring with him a significant number of documents related to North Korea’s plutonium program,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. “We’ll have an opportunity over the coming days and weeks to assess the significance of these documents.”

The records are intended to show how much plutonium North Korea has produced. Washington, which estimates that amount to be between 65 and 110 pounds, is seeking the disposition of the plutonium, the most common ingredient of an atomic bomb.

An atomic bomb can be made with as little as 9 pounds of plutonium, according to the Web site NuclearTerrorism.org, which is sponsored by Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The North conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006, but by most accounts it was not successful.

Mr. Kim, who made a tentative deal on the documents during his previous visit to Pyongyang in late April, received an invitation to return to collect them on May 1, the day The Times story was published.

“It’s difficult to make an assessment of whether or not this is the full extent of what the North Koreans said that they were going to turn over,” Mr. McCormack said. “At this point, I don’t have any reason to question that.”

Although it will take the United States some time to verify all the records Mr. Kim is bringing, the Bush administration has given Pyongyang a green light to submit an overdue declaration of its past and present nuclear activities, officials said.

The officials, who asked not to be named because they were describing private conversations, said the North could give the declaration to China, the host of six-nation nuclear negotiations, as soon as next week.

A meeting of the six countries — the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and North Korea — is likely to be scheduled around that time, the officials said. It was not clear, however, whether the declaration will be submitted before or during that session.

“We will see, perhaps, North Korea providing a declaration to China, who is a chair of the six-party talks, and [the plutonium] documents will play a role in that process,” Mr. McCormack said.

The delay in providing the North’s declaration, which was due on Dec. 31 under a six-party deal reached last year, was caused by Pyongyang’s refusal to include in it two sensitive aspects of its nuclear efforts: uranium-enrichment and proliferation activities.

The Bush administration has accused North Korea of trying to develop a program to enrich uranium, which also can be used to make bombs, based on certain purchases the reclusive state made from Russia and Pakistan in the 1990s.

Last month, the administration told Congress that a Syrian plutonium facility that was bombed by Israel in September was built with North Korean help.

U.S. officials now say that those two issues will be dealt with in a separate document. They say the United States will write the document instead of the North Koreans, who will simply “acknowledge” the U.S. concerns.

The State Department could begin the process of taking the North off its terrorism list within weeks, officials said. It was not clear exactly how long the “delisting” will take. It requires active involvement by Congress.

In exchange, North Korea has agreed to destroy the “cooling tower” of its 5-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which The Times also reported last week.

The reactor was shut down last year.

Washington’s ultimate goal is the dismantling of the North’s program, which it hopes can begin before President Bush leaves office in January.

U.S. officials also held talks this week in Pyongyang on the distribution of promised American food aid, but Mr. McCormack said he was “not aware of a positive decision to provide more” assistance.

“They went there to take a look at whether or not conditions had changed sufficiently so that we could in good conscience and good faith provide food aid and know that that was going to get to people who need it,” he said.

An earlier delivery was canceled after the United States said it could not monitor the proper distribution of the aid.

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