North Korea has handed detailed nuclear weapons records to the US, an important peek into the isolated regime’s bombmaking past but not enough to answer criticism that the administration of US President George W. Bush is grasping for a disarmament deal at any cost.
The technical logs from North Korea’s shuttered plutonium reactor would give outside experts a yardstick to measure whether the North is telling the truth about a bomb program that the poor nation has agreed to trade away for economic and political rewards.
“Our top three priorities are going to be verification, verification, verification,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Thursday.
A US diplomat collected the eight boxes of records during a three-day visit to Pyongyang. McCormack said getting the papers was the main reason for the trip.
Privately, State Department officials hope the approximately 18,000 secret papers will build confidence among conservative critics of the recent, relatively flexible U.S. posture toward North Korea, an isolated dictatorship President Bush once termed part of an “axis of evil.”
The Bush administration’s comprehensive disarmament deal last year with the North requires some congressional approval, and Republican unease is growing.
The North is five months past a deadline to produce a complete record of its weapons programs or an alleged side business selling nuclear know-how to other countries, and US officials announced no new deadline for the summary.
The North claims it met its obligations, but has also agreed to a new tentative deal to break the impasse. That deal would have the North acknowledge US concerns about an illicit uranium program and alleged sale or transfer of nuclear know-how to other nations but would not require the North to spell everything out.
The deal would set up a system to verify that North Korea is telling the truth and does not restart banned nuclear activities.
Terms of the deal do not satisfy some congressional Republicans whose votes the administration will probably need to provide money promised for weapons disposal and other pledges to the North.
“It is greater transparency on one part of North Korea’s nuclear program, but none on the others,” Representative Ed Royce said of Thursday’s document dump. Royce is the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee’s panel on terrorism and nonproliferation.
Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Intelligence Committee’s senior Republican, said he hasn’t seen the details but that he’s skeptical of their import.
“Any mediocre performance by North Korea is taken as an earth-shattering positive development by our State Department,” he said. “It appears they will say anything to get a deal.”
North Korea agreed in recent weeks to blow up the cooling tower at Yongbyon, a largely symbolic display but one intended to demonstrate good faith in its nuclear talks with the US.