US-NKorea 7thLd-Writethru 05-13
North Korean nuclear documents may not be enough
Eds: AMs. ADDS status of legislative measure, comments from lawmakers.
By ANNE GEARAN
AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration put copies of North Korean nuclear logs on triumphant display Tuesday but conceded the documents are far from enough to dispel doubts about the secretive regime’s nuclear weapons.
Officials say they are still waiting for a full accounting of Pyongyang’s atomic past, now nearly five months past due. What they have is a down payment, a cache of records that will be used to check the accuracy of a fuller report if it ever comes.
The administration hopes the documents will help convince skeptics in Congress and elsewhere that a nuclear disarmament deal with the North is still worth having, despite delays, foot-dragging and revelations about the alleged sale of North Korean nuclear technology to Syria.
To that end, the State Department brought props to a news conference Tuesday with the diplomat who made a special trip to Pyongyang to collect the 18,822 pages of records. Diplomat Sung Kim held a thick sheaf of records aloft as the cameras snapped.
"I do think these documents are an important first step in terms of verifying North Korea’s declaration," Kim told reporters. "Obviously, the documents themselves alone are not enough."
Kim’s show-and-tell came as the House was scheduled to consider stiffening requirements for the administration as it pursues the nuclear disarmament deal. The measure would prevent the United States from taking the North off a U.S. terrorism blacklist, a coveted goal of Pyongyang’s, until President Bush certifies that North Korea is not transferring nuclear technology to Iran, Syria and other nations shunned by the U.S. as supporters of terrorism.
Bush would also have to certify that North Korea has provided a "complete and correct" declaration of all its nuclear programs that can be verified, as set out in a deal signed by the North last year.
A vote on the measure was postponed Tuesday, but some lawmakers expressed concerns about the administration’s handling of the North Korean situation.
Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California said the House measure makes it clear that Congress expects a complete declaration on all North Korean nuclear activities, including any uranium and nuclear proliferation. Royce said that "despite the rhetoric," verification has not been taken seriously by the Bush administration.
Some critics worry that removing the North from the terror list would leave the U.S. without crucial leverage needed to spur the North to abide by its nuclear commitments.
"Let us not be fooled yet again by North Korea," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Verification is key, she added, given North Korea’s "abysmal record" in keeping its promises.
At the State Department news conference, Kim said it is too soon to say when that complete record will come, but he sounded optimistic that the North is working on it. The United States said North Korea failed to provide a full accounting by a Dec. 31, 2007, deadline, and six-nation disarmament talks have been stalled since.
The documents flown to Washington in seven large boxes include daily operational logs from the North’s main nuclear reactor, production notes and receipts, Kim said. Kim said a full review by an interagency team from the departments of State, Energy and intelligence organizations would take several weeks.
The papers are in Korean and require translation. To the untrained eye the packets on display Tuesday looked a bit like legal papers. When Kim finished, reporters were allowed to peer in the box for a moment. An aide then scooped it up.
The 2007 agreement with South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, gives the North energy, economic and political incentives to give up weapons and the ability to make them.
Critics in the United States worry that removing the North from the terror list will leave the U.S. without crucial leverage over the North. They also question the U.S. receiving anything other than the declaration as originally mandated.
Kim said a full declaration is still a U.S. requirement.
"We do expect the declaration package to address all of our concerns including any activities they might have had with uranium enrichment and any sort of cooperation with foreign countries."
He did not address terms of a tentative deal to break months of deadlock. Officials have said the arrangement would have North Korea answer a U.S. bill of particulars about those alleged programs and set up a system to verify that the country does not conduct such activities in the future.
The House measure, which would require Senate passage before going to the president, would require the State Department to submit a report to Congress describing how the U.S. will verify North Korea’s nuclear declaration.
Kim emphasized the elements of the deal that most worry Bush’s critics on the right.
He said the U.S. delegation he led had "very detailed, substantive discussions" about the forthcoming declaration, including a review of reference materials that would make up much of the eventual accounting.
"We also mentioned the importance of verification," Lee said, meaning ways to check that the North is telling the truth and that it does not resume banned activities. "The North Koreans acknowledged the requirement for verification and indeed agreed to cooperate fully with verification activities."
Kim said the North has completed eight of 11 required steps to dismantle its reactor, but it appears to be deliberately slowing the pace of the remaining work. The North wants to make sure it gets fuel oil promised by other nations before it finishes the work, Kim said. At the current pace it will take several more months to disable the reactor, he said.
"We’d like to see it sped up," he said.
Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the United States is discussing how it might help get food aid to North Korea, including through charity groups or a United Nations program.
Pyongyang "has been open in saying it faces a major shortage in food supplies," Perino said.
The U.S. generally takes pains to keep the nuclear and food aid issues separate, saying food is a humanitarian issue that should not be linked to U.S. goals in other areas, but officials acknowledge that the North may not make the same distinction.
North Korea has relied on foreign aid to feed its 23 million people after its economy was devastated by natural disasters and mismanagement in the mid-1990s. As many as 2 million people are believed to have died from famine.
Flooding last summer has worsened the food situation, and South Korea’s new conservative government has stopped sending aid.