Tensions rise as US rejects North Korea claims it provided key list of nuclear programs
WASHINGTON (AP) — A dispute over whether North Korea has given the U.S. details of its nuclear programs has become the latest hurdle in efforts to rid the North of its atomic arsenal.
The United States rejects North Korea’s claim that it handed over the list in November — ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline that the U.S. says the North missed — and “has done what it should do” on the declaration.
In the face of North Korean charges of U.S. obstruction, Washington on Friday urged the North to fulfill a pledge it sees as crucial to implementing an aid-for-disarmament deal struck by six nations in February.
The spat is evidence of lingering mistrust between the two former war enemies. Some observers believe North Korea is reluctant to reveal its nuclear programs for fear that too much clarity would weaken the country’s negotiating leverage.
Despite the North’s hardline comments, the State Department expressed confidence that disarmament efforts were moving ahead. Spokesman Sean McCormack said, however, that North Korea has yet to provide a complete nuclear declaration.
“The North Koreans need to get about the business of completing this declaration,” he told reporters Friday. “It is another data point that will indicate that they are, in fact, serious about denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.”
He added, “It is an important point that in none of this have any of the parties been backing away at all from their commitment to the process.”
The North’s Foreign Ministry did not elaborate on the contents of the declaration it said it gave Washington. But it stressed that it had follow-up consultations with U.S. officials and tried its best to clear their suspicions that Pyongyang had a secret uranium-based nuclear weapons program.
The North’s claims came as the chief U.S. envoy at the nuclear talks, Christopher Hill, headed to Asia for discussions. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is also scheduled to visit the region this month.
U.S. officials have voiced skepticism since Pyongyang failed to deliver the declaration by the end of 2007. The six nations involved in the talks are the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea.
The U.S. is pushing for a “complete and accurate” declaration and insists that it address the suspected uranium enrichment program — an important sticking point that touched off a nuclear standoff in late 2002.
McCormack would not discuss the North’s claim that it had offered an explanation to U.S. officials about the alleged uranium program.
Hill told reporters in early December, after visiting North Korea, that he had not seen a draft of the declaration but that U.S. and North Korean negotiators had had extensive talks about what the U.S. expects to see on the list. Jack Pritchard, the State Department’s chief North Korea expert until 2003, said the North’s angry comments Friday were a response to worldwide criticism about it missing the year-end deadline. “This is a pushing back by the North Koreans to say, ’Quit blaming us; we did what we were supposed to do,”’ Pritchard said. “They’re saying, ’Hey, we did our list; you may not like it, but we did it.”’
North Korea has promised to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for energy aid and political concessions. In October, it pledged to disable its nuclear facilities and declare its programs by the end of the year in return for the equivalent of 1 million tons of oil.
The North shut down its sole functioning atomic reactor in July and began to disable it and other facilities under watch of U.S. experts in November; that process, though slowed by technical difficulties, continues.
Published in The Messenger 1.07.08