A US diplomat left North Korea yesterday with boxes of documents detailing two decades of activities at the nuclear reactor that has been at the heart of the communist country’s nuclear weapons program.
Washington plans to scrutinize the technical logs from the Yongbyon reactor to see if the North is telling the truth about a bomb program that it has agreed to trade away for economic and political rewards.
Sung Kim, the US State Department’s top Korea specialist, returned to South Korea by land across the heavily fortified border after collecting approximately 18,000 secret papers during a three-day visit to Pyongyang.
Kim and four accompanying officials crossed the border at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. He had seven cardboard boxes.
“We have to take them back and see,” Kim told reporters without elaborating, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.
US embassy spokesman Max Kwak said Kim would arrive in Washington tomorrow.
The North’s handover of the sensitive records came as last year’s disarmament-for-aid deal remained stalled due to Pyongyang’s failure to fully disclose its nuclear programs.
Washington has accused the North, which conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, of refusing to address suspicions that it pursued a uranium-based nuclear program and transferred nuclear technology to Syria.
Washington and Pyongyang agreed last month to break the impasse in a way that requires North Korea to acknowledge those concerns and to set up a system to verify that the country does not conduct such activities in the future.
The US scrutiny of the North Korean records was expected to focus on the amount of plutonium — a key nuclear bomb ingredient — that the North has produced from spent fuel from the Yongbyon reactor.
The reactor has been shuttered and was being disabled under last year’s agreement.
If the records are verified and Pyongyang submits a nuclear declaration, Washington was expected to begin the process of taking North Korea off its terrorism and economic sanctions blacklists — a concession promised under last year’s deal.
In Washington, the State Department gave a brief outline of the records, saying they date to 1986 and are expected to cover reactor operations and three rounds of nuclear reprocessing activity at Yongbyon.
The State Department statement said North Korea, working under continuous US oversight since November, has completed eight of 11 promised steps to disable and mothball the reactor, with US experts overseeing the discharge of spent fuel rods — a project that is about one-third complete.
“These actions have halted [North Korea’s] ability to produce additional weapons-grade plutonium for its nuclear weapons program,” the statement said.