US: N. Korean nuclear documents appear complete

State Department says early study of files indicates communist country kept its word in providing details of plutonium program.

n. korea Yongbyon 224.8  (photo credit: AP [file])
n. korea Yongbyon 224.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
A preliminary review of nuclear documents turned over to the United States by North Korea shows they appear to be a complete accounting of their plutonium production, the Associated Press has learned. An early study of some 18,000 documents the North Koreans handed over last week indicates North Korea kept its word in providing full details of their plutonium program dating back to 1986, senior State Department officials said Tuesday. The official cautioned, though, that a final assessment is not done and that experts are still pouring through the files. "It looks like all the production records from the period," one official said. "The initial assessment is that it looks pretty good, that they have pretty much given us what they said they were going to give us." A second senior official said Sung Kim, the US diplomat who traveled to North Korea to pick up the documents and returned to Washington on Monday, would present some of the documents to reporters on Tuesday in what he described as "a little show and tell." The officials spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the briefing. North Korea says the documents consist of operating records for the 5-megawatt reactor and fuel reprocessing plant at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, where it had produced its stock of weapons-grade plutonium. These, combined with a nuclear fuel fabrication plant, constitute the facilities in Yongbyon. Washington plans to scrutinize the technical logs from the North's main nuclear reactor to find whether the regime is telling the truth about its atomic programs. Production of the records is a key element in the international effort to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons. The current phase of denuclearization obliges North Korea to declare and disable all its nuclear programs. It is to be followed by the third and final phase in which Pyongyang must give up all its fissile material. But six-party talks hit a snag after North Korea failed to provide a satisfactory description of its nuclear programs by the end-of-2007 deadline set by North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia. The documents are limited to those on North Korea's plutonium program, thus not covering the country's alleged enrichment of weapons-grade uranium and suspicions that Pyongyang has shared nuclear technology with countries such as Syria. The United States has said it will remove Pyongyang from a list of terror-sponsoring nations and exempt it from the Trading with the Enemy Act as the process of denuclearization moves forward. US diplomats also appear close to an agreement with the North over distribution of promised US food aid, the official said. The US takes pains to keep the two issues separate, saying food is a humanitarian issue that should not be linked to US 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. The food situation in the North has worsened this year after a devastating flood swept the country last summer and South Korea's new conservative government stopped sending aid. A previous offer of US aid broke down over US demands that it be able to monitor the distribution to ensure it reached the needy. The administration accuses the regime of widespread corruption. The North now seems more receptive to greater US oversight, the official said. The developments together suggest a better footing for the United States and North Korea after months of rancor and deadlock. Ridding the North of nuclear weapons that threaten Asia and, in theory, the US West Coast, would give the Bush administration a foreign policy victory in its final year.