US wants written North Korea nuclear commitments

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday the current administration will keep trying to get North Korea to make written commitments on inspection of its nuclear programs until President George W. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20.

Six-nation disarmament talks in Beijing ended in a stalemate last week over the North’s refusal to put into writing any commitments on inspecting its past nuclear activities. The failure of the talks blocked progress on an aid-for-disarmament agreement reached last year and all but extinguished hopes of a successful legacy on the issue by the Bush administration.

Rice told reporters at U.N. headquarters that five of the six parties — the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia — “are completely agreed” on how North Korea’s past nuclear activities should be verified.


The VICE Guide to North Korea

Getting into North Korea was one of the hardest and weirdest processes VBS has ever dealt with. After we went back and forth with their representatives for months, they finally said they were going to allow 16 journalists into the country to cover the Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang. Then, ten days before we were supposed to go, they said, “No, nobody can come.” Then they said, “OK, OK, you can come. But only as tourists.” We had no idea what that was supposed to mean. They already knew we were journalists, and over there if you get caught being a journalist when you’re supposed to be a tourist you go to jail. We don’t like jail. And we’re willing to bet we’d hate jail in North Korea.

But we went for it. The first leg of the trip was a flight into northern China. At the airport the North Korean consulate took our passports and all of our money, then brought us to a restaurant. We were sitting there with our tour group, and suddenly all the other diners left and these women came out and started singing North Korean nationalist songs. We were thinking, “Look, we were just on a plane for 20 hours. We’re jet-lagged. Can we just go to bed?” but this guy with our group who was from the LA Times told us, “Everyone in here besides us is secret police. If you don’t act excited then you’re not going to get your visa.” So we got drunk and jumped up onstage and sang songs with the girls. The next day we got our visas. A lot of people we had gone with didn’t get theirs. That was our first hint at just what a freaky, freaky trip we were embarking on…

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North Korea to Possibly Conduct Nuclear Testing to Get More Attention from the U.S.

North Korea to Possibly Conduct Nuclear Testing to Get More Attention from the U.S.
Victor Cha, former director for Asian affairs in the White House’s National Security Council, said on Tuesday, “North Korea will attempt something like nuclear testing to attract more attention from the U.S. in the coming year.”Now serving as director of the Asian studies program at Georgetown University, Cha played an underappreciated role until last year in putting the U.S. on track to seek a diplomatic solution to the issue of nuclear weapons in North Korea. In an interview with the Chosun Ilbo, Cha said that regardless of who becomes president of the U.S., Obama or McCain, the situation will not improve when it comes to North Korean issues.

“The next U.S. president will not be able to focus on the North Korean issue due to Iraqi and Afghan issues and the economic crisis,” Cha said. “Therefore, the North Koreans can plan plutonium extraction, missile testing or even nuclear testing.” He said that if the North Korean issue continued, whoever assumed the U.S. presidency, Barack Obama or John McCain, could employ the full tool kit, including sanctions for North Korea. Cha said the requests that North Korea has rejected — i.e., those for site visits, gathering of samples, interviews with concerned parties, and document review — are four elements of the inspection process; they are neither excessive nor special to the case of North Korea. He added that negotiations will be possible for the declared period, but the U.S. does not have much flexibility in terms of the principles of inspection.

North Korea nuclear seals removed

North Korea nuclear seals removed

A file photo from February 2008 of a US inspector studying disabled nuclear equipment at Yongbyon plant in North Korea

A sticking point in talks has been how to verify North Korea’s disarmament

The UN’s atomic watchdog says it has removed seals and surveillance cameras from North Korea’s main nuclear complex at Pyongyang’s request.

North Korea says the move is part of a plan to reactivate the Yongbyon plant, and that it plans to return nuclear material to the site next week.

The move comes amid a dispute over an international disarmament-for-aid deal.

A similar step in 2002 sparked a crisis which eventually resulted in Pyongyang testing a nuclear weapon in 2006.

The removal of seals and cameras “was completed today” at the site, a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.

IAEA inspectors will have no further access to the reprocessing plant, she added.

The US said North Korea’s decision to exclude UN monitors was “very disappointing” and urged Pyongyang to reconsider the move or face further isolation.

“We strongly urge the North to reconsider these steps and come back immediately into compliance with its obligations as outlined in the six-party agreements,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

He said that Washington remained “open to further discussions” with the North on their obligations for denuclearisation.

The North has been locked in discussions for years over its nuclear ambitions with five other nations – South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan.

Symbolic gesture

Pyongyang began dismantling the reactor, which can be used to make weapons-grade plutonium, last November.

However, on Friday it announced that it was working to reactivate it.

North Korea was expecting to be removed from the US terror list after submitting a long-delayed account of its nuclear facilities to the international talks in June, in accordance with the disarmament deal it signed in 2007.

5MW(e) reactor at Yongbyon ((Satellite image from 2006)

It also blew up the main cooling tower at Yongbyon in a symbolic gesture of its commitment to the process.

However, the US said it would not remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism until procedures by which the North’s disarmament would be verified were established.

North and South Korea have been technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty.

Fuel rods

Experts say the Yongbyon plant could take up to a year to bring back into commission, so there will be no new plutonium production for a while.

However, there is plenty already available in the form of the spent fuel rods, taken from the reactor core, but only removed to a water-cooled tank on the site, says the BBC’s John Sudworth in Seoul.

It is this nuclear material that will now be introduced into the separate plutonium reprocessing plant, according to the information given to the IAEA.

Some estimates suggest the fuel rods could yield about 6kg (13lbs) of plutonium within two to three months – enough for one atomic bomb to add to North Korea’s existing stockpile.

North Korea preparing to restart nuclear facility

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North Korea’s Deputy Director-General for Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hyun Hak Bong talks upon his arrival for meeting to work out details on further energy assistance to North Korea under a six-nation nuclear deal, at the border village of the Panmunjom, South Korea, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. Hyun said North Korea is undertaking “thorough preparations” to restart its nuclear reactor in Yongbyon. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon. Pool)

North Korea preparing to restart nuclear facility

PANMUNJOM, Korea (AP) — North Korea said Friday it was preparing to restart its nuclear reactor, accusing the United States of failing to fulfill its obligations under an international disarmament-for-aid agreement.

It was the first time the North has confirmed it has begun reversing what it has done so far to roll back its nuclear program, though it has warned it would do so in anger over Washington’s failure to remove it from the U.S. terrorism blacklist.

“We are making thorough preparations for restoration” of the Yongbyon nuclear complex, the deputy director-general of North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hyun Hak Bong, told reporters. He did not say when Yongbyon might begin operating again.

Hyun spoke to reporters in the border village of Panmunjom before sitting down for talks Friday with South Korean officials on sending energy aid to the North as part of the six-nation disarmament deal.

Under the landmark 2007 pact — involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan — North Korea pledged to disable its nuclear program in a step toward its eventual dismantlement in exchange for diplomatic concessions and energy aid equivalent to 1 million tons of oil.

North Korea began disabling the Yongbyon complex last year, and the process was 90 percent complete, with eight of 11 key steps carried out “perfectly and flawlessly,” Hyun said.

Major progress was made in the agreement in late June when North Korea submitted a long-delayed declaration of its nuclear activities and destroyed the cooling tower at Yongbyon in a show of its commitment to denuclearization.

But the accord ran aground in mid-August when Washington refused to take North Korea off its list of states that sponsor terrorism until the North accepts a plan to verify its nuclear declaration.

North Korea responded by halting the disabling process and is now “proceeding with work to restore (Yongbyon) to its original status,” Hyun told reporters.

South Korean and U.S. officials have said it would take at least a year for North Korea to restart the reactor if it is completely disabled.

Hyun warned Washington not to press the verification issue, saying verification was never part of the deal.

“The U.S. is insisting that we accept unilateral demands that had not been agreed upon,” he said. Hyun said forcing North Korea to comply with such an inspection would exacerbate tensions.

The White House had no immediate reaction early Friday.

The six-nation talks last convened in July, and a new round has not been scheduled because of the current standoff between the U.S. and North Korea.

However, the talks Friday between the two Koreas — which were proposed by the North — indicate it does not want to completely scuttle the six-party negotiations, analysts said.

“The North is sending a message that it wants to maintain the six-party talks,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University. “The North also wants to get the remaining energy aid with winter drawing closer.”

Seoul’s delegate, Hwang Joon-kook, assured North Korea that it would receive the remaining energy aid it was promised.

South Korea’s foreign minister said North Korea’s intentions remained unclear.

“It’s still uncertain whether the North’s measures are aimed at reversing the whole situation to the pre-disablement level” or are a negotiating tactic, Yu Myung-hwan told reporters.

The tensions come amid reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has suffered a stroke. Kim, 66, has not been seen in public for more than a month and has missed two major public events: a military parade marking North Korea’s 60th birthday and the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.

Associated Press writer Jae-soon Chang in Seoul contributed to this report.

North Korea Still on U.S. Terror List

North Korea Still on U.S. Terror List

A North Korean officer watches over spectators leaving the May Day stadium after a performance of over 100,000 participants in the Mass Games in Pyongyang, North Korea on Wednesday. /AP

After North Korea declared its nuclear programs, many expected the United States to drop the communist regime from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states 45 days after U.S. President George W. Bush notified Congress as per U.S. law. This period ended last MondayUnder pressure to take a harder stance on North Korea, the U.S. has asked for verification that guarantees the veracity of the North’s nuclear declaration.

Last month, a draft of this verification mechanism was handed to Pyongyang, but the North has yet to clarify its stance.

Prof. Yang Moojin of the University of North Korean Studies said, “Removing North Korea from the terrorism list is what both the U.S. and North Korea want, so this is expected to happen by the end of October. But currently, it’s being stalled because the North is considering how much the Bush administration can do for them before the next president takes over.”

Meanwhile, members of the six-party nuclear talks have resumed negotiations on the verification process. Chief South Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Sook has held talks with his American counterpart, Christopher Hill, in New York.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said, “Chief negotiator Kim Sook has arrived in Japan from the U.S. On Tuesday morning he will hold talks with Japanese Foreign Ministry senior official Akitaka Saiki and will return to Korea that night.”

Sung Kim, the U.S. State Department’s top Korea expert, also talked with Beijing officials and is now in Seoul having already met South Korean officials Monday.

Although a meeting between the U.S. and North Korea was expected in Beijing, it failed to take place.

North Korean experts, as well as officials in Seoul, say progress in the nuclear talks could come next month. In September North Korea celebrates the 60th anniversary of its regime, while U.S. Congress returns from summer recess. Experts say both countries will probably want to make some early progress.

Arirang News