Denuclearizing North Korea, Siegfried S. Hecker, Senior Fellow, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (5/1/2008)
A. North Korea
1. N. Korea Agrees to Blow Up Tower at Its Nuclear Facility
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North Korea has agreed to blow up the cooling tower attached to its Yongbyon nuclear facility within 24 hours of being removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, diplomats said this week.
The destruction of the cooling tower is intended by U.S. officials to be a striking visual, broadcast around the globe, that would offer tangible evidence that North Korea was retreating from its nuclear ambitions. Wisps of vapor from the cooling tower appear in most satellite photographs of Yongbyon, making it the facility's most recognizable feature, though experts say its destruction would be mostly symbolic.
North Korean officials had privately indicated previously they would destroy the tower as part of the disablement of Yongbyon. During talks last week with a top U.S. State Department official, Sung Kim, North Korea reaffirmed it would act quickly after Pyongyang is removed from the terrorism list.
During the talks, North Korean officials also tentatively agreed to release to U.S. officials thousands of pages of documents, dating back to 1990, concerning the daily production records of the facility. The records are intended to help U.S. experts determine how much plutonium was produced at the facility and thus verify North Korean claims.
North Korea has indicated it produced more than 30 kilograms of plutonium, but Pyongyang does not count waste or material that collects in the facility's pipes, making it difficult to compare it with U.S. intelligence estimates of about 50 kilograms.
The diplomats spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment "on ongoing negotiations," he said.
Several months ago, North Korean technicians broke through the concrete bottom of the tower, making it unusable, but hot water could still be dumped directly in a nearby river if North Korea were unconcerned about possible ecological damage. Other aspects of the disabling of the facility are more significant; U.S. officials say they think that North Korea would need to order months of repairs if it wanted to restart it.
Under a tentative deal struck between Washington and Pyongyang, North Korea will be removed from the terrorism list and from a second sanction -- the Trading With the Enemy Act -- once it produces a declaration of its nuclear activities. U.S. officials have especially been focused on the plutonium segment of the declaration, telling Pyongyang that it need only "acknowledge" U.S. evidence and concerns about two other issues: its nuclear dealings with Syria and a suspected uranium-enrichment program.
U.S. officials have argued that those two issues are considered of secondary, historical interest, in contrast to the more urgent matter of the plutonium stash. North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006 and is known to possess enough plutonium to make several more nuclear bombs.
North Korea is one of five countries on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which makes it subject to severe U.S. export controls, particularly of dual-use technology and military equipment. Those controls prohibit much foreign aid and obligate the United States to oppose financial assistance to the country from institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
North Korea has tentatively agreed to give the United States thousands of records from its Yongbyon nuclear reactor dating back to 1990 to complement an expected declaration of its nuclear programs, administration and congressional officials said yesterday.
The United States is seeking access to those records, as well as samples from toxic waste and the destruction of the "cooling tower" at the North's main nuclear complex in response to criticism that it is lowering the bar in negotiations with Pyongyang, the officials said.
"The administration is trying to work out the arrangements necessary to verify the accuracy of the North Korean declaration," one official said in reference to an account of the North's nuclear programs required in six-nation talks to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
"We need to secure access not only to records, but also to waste product," said the official, who, like all other sources interviewed for this article, asked that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The tentative agreement was reached last week in Pyongyang between Kim Kye-gwan, the chief North Korean negotiator, and Sung Kim, director of the Korea office at the State Department, officials said.
North Korea missed a Dec. 31 deadline to disclose details of its nuclear past, a key step in negotiations in which the North would receive aid and other economic assistance for giving up atomic weapons and the ability to produce them.
The Bush administration has been holding off on announcing the latest deal to give the North Korean diplomat time to clear it with his superiors. Officials said they were waiting for official confirmation from Pyongyang, which could come as early as today.
The United States estimates that North Korea has between 65 and 110 pounds of plutonium. It triggered a small nuclear explosion in an October 2006 test.
"The North Koreans were more forthcoming than they have been in the past about their plutonium effort," a senior administration official said about last week's meetings.
"I'm talking about their willingness to disclose what their program looks like ï¿½ the elements, how the whole thing was put together, the facilities and processes by which they came up with the plutonium for weapons," he said.
The North froze plutonium production after a 1994 deal with the Clinton administration known as the Agreed Framework, under which it received economic aid such as fuel oil to generate electricity.
But it declared the agreement dead and reopened the plant in early 2003.
That move followed the Bush administration's assertion in October 2002 that Pyongyang had developed a secret uranium-enrichment program in the 1990s.
Both plutonium and enriched uranium can fuel a nuclear explosion.
The administration has insisted for months that the uranium effort, as well as the North's proliferation activities, be included in the declaration, which is required under a six-nation agreement reached last year.
Earlier last month, however, the administration said that those two issues will be dealt with in a separate document.
Officials said privately that the United States will write the document instead of the North Koreans, who will simply "acknowledge" the U.S. concerns.
Criticism of the proposed disclosure procedure on Capitol Hill and in the administration itself prompted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to emphasize the importance of verification, which led to last week's demands put by the State Department's Mr. Kim during his visit to Pyongyang.
Also last week, the administration told Congress that a Syrian plutonium facility that was bombed by Israel in September was built with North Korean help.
President Bush said the disclosure was meant to show Pyongyang that Washington knows more than the North thinks it does.
A former administration official familiar with the current strategy said that Washington was also asking Pyongyang to expedite the collapse of Yongbyon's cooling tower, a step that would make it difficult for plutonium production to resume.
The collapse would have been part of the complex's dismantling in the next stage of the process ï¿½ at least months away ï¿½ but the administration is seeking to satisfy Congress that the North's program cannot be easily reversed, officials said.
"We have to make sure this is something we can take to Congress and the American people and stand behind," the senior administration official said. "We are moving closer to a declaration that has credibility on plutonium."
A congressional official suggested that Washington would also seek access to the site where North Korea conducted its 2006 test. But the former administration official said that such access will be difficult to gain, and that demand may be a bargaining chip.
"The tactic so far has been that we ask for 10 things, get three and move on," he said.
Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog will resume their latest talks by the end of next week, a top Iranian official said, after a new round of discussions over claims Tehran is seeking atomic weapons ended.
"The second series of discussions that started on Monday ended after three days and there will be a new set of discussions in the next ten days," said Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, according to the Mehr news agency.
The IAEA has said the talks, which began on April 21, are focused on pressing Iran over allegations that it conducted studies on how to design a nuclear weapon.
Iran insists that the talks are merely routine cooperation between the authorities and the agency, however.
Soltanieh made no mention of an agreement announced by the IAEA after the first round that Iran would answer the allegations during May and instead said the latest meetings were in line with a more general accord from August 2007.
"Iran responded to all the ambiguities mentioned by the IAEA in line with the agreement (of August 2007) and is ready to respond to all the questions and ambiguities as part of its cooperation with the agency, just like any state," he said.
The latest talks involved Soltanieh and other top officials from Iran's atomic energy organisation.
The IAEA was represented by its deputy director general Olli Heinonen who reportedly left late on Monday while other officials remained to continue the discussions.
The so called "weaponisation studies" stem from intelligence provided to the IAEA by some member states.
In a closed-door briefing to diplomats at IAEA headquarters in Vienna on February 25, Heinonen presented detailed information suggesting that Iran could have been studying how to use its nuclear technology to make a warhead.
Iran, which insists that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and aimed solely at generating energy, furiously denounced the presentation as fake.
2. Rice Determined Not to Give Ground Over Incentives to Iran
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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she was determined not to give ground over a package of "incentives" that the West has offered up to convince Iran to give up its nuclear programme.
The top US diplomat, who arrived in London for talks on Friday on Iran, the Middle East peace process and Kosovo, insisted on the need to "fully" implement United Nations sanctions levied on Tehran.
"We will take a look again at what we have offered the Iranians," she told journalists on the plane en route to Britain.
"But I just want to say I don't see any evidence that the Iranians appear to be interested in that track," she said, adding that she did not expect any notable results from Friday's meeting.
Rice will join with her counterparts from Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China in the talks on Iran, in which the West has adopted a carrot-and-stick approach to discussions with the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear programme.
They have offered technical, political and economic rewards to Tehran for suspending its nuclear programme, which the West says is for military purposes despite Iran's vehement denials.
But those offers have never been made public and official documents obtained by the media suggest the offer was vague. Several countries, including Russia, say those proposals should be developed.
At the same time, the UN Security Council has adopted three resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment activities.
Rice has not been keen on offering new incentives to Tehran, describing the offer already made as "very generous".
"If there are things that can be done to improve the chances that the Iranians will do what they should have done and ought to do, fine," she said. "Let's look at it."
"I don't think the problem is the package. I think the problem is Iranian will."
She added: "I also believe that we have got to intensify our efforts on the UN Security Council ... I believe that there is plenty in the Security Council resolutions that if fully implemented, fully executed, fully used, will increase the pressure on Iran."
Rice insisted she was not "accusing anyone of bad faith", but was instead arguing for the proper application of the sanctions.
1. France Wants N-coop with India, But Waiting for IAEA Pact
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Keen to have civil nuclear cooperation with India, France has said it was waiting for New Delhi to ink the safeguards agreement with IAEA and get an exemption from 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
French Ambassador Jerome Bonnafont said his country is "pleading" with the IAEA and NSG to give exemption to India in the field so that it can have cooperation with the international community.
He told PTI here that an end to India's isolation in the field would be good for the country as well as the world.
"We believe strongly that an agreement between India and the IAEA leading to a special case presented to the NSG, which will allow India to cooperate in the civilian nuclear area with foreign countries, is a good thing for India and a good thing for the world," Bonnafant said.
He said France "very strongly" favours civil nuclear cooperation with India and is waiting for New Delhi to sign the Safeguards Agreement with IAEA and exemption from NSG.
"We are ready to sign the agreement with India whenever there is an agreement with IAEA, approved by the (IAEA) Board of Governors and exemption from NSG," the Ambassador said.
France is "pleading" for exemption to India in IAEA and among the NSG members, Bonnafont said.
A bilateral civil nuclear agreement between France and India, on the lines of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, is almost ready for signature by the two sides.
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