U.S., North Korea Conclude Talks on Ties

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill walks through a crowd of reporters. i i

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (center) walks through a crowd of reporters in New York, March 6, 2007. Stand Honda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Stand Honda/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill walks through a crowd of reporters.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (center) walks through a crowd of reporters in New York, March 6, 2007.

Stand Honda/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. and North Korea appear to be moving closer to establishing diplomatic relations. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill on Tuesday concluded an unusual two-day meeting with his North Korean counterpart in New York. North Korea has agreed to a 60-day timetable to dismantle its main nuclear reactor and allow U.N. inspectors into the country, in return for fuel and other assistance.

Ambassador Hill discusses the latest developments with Renee Montagne:

There have been questions recently raised over the reliability of U.S. intelligence in North Korea's nuclear program. And just a little history: In 2002 the Bush administration maintained that North Korea was pursuing a uranium-based weapons program, stopped talking to North Korea, based partly — or mostly — on that. Now we find that the U.S. intelligence says it's not so confident that North Korea does have a uranium program.

Well, first of all, we do continue to assess that North Korea has attempted and succeeded in buying a number of parts to put together a uranium-enrichment program. How far they got and whether they were successful in actually manufacturing highly enriched uranium, that's hard to say. But in our view, there's no question they were purchasing parts from a number of places in the world, and it's something that we're going to have to really run to ground. I mean, we're going to have to know precisely what they've done on this before we can give them a clean bill of health. So we're still a ways away from finally resolving this.

Now, does North Korea have to, in a sense, 'fess up on uranium enrichment for talks on normalization to move forward?

They sure do. I mean, we have — the first thing we've done in this 60-day period we're in now is we're hoping to get them to shut down the reactor, stop producing plutonium — you know, a rather dangerous substance that sticks around for 700,000 years. So we'd like them to stop the plutonium. Then we've got to get a hold of, you know, what the stocks of plutonium already are; we estimate they have some 50 kilos of it. And then finally we've got to figure out what they have done on highly enriched uranium.

They have purchased centrifuges, they have purchased this very specialized aluminum that connects the centrifuges in something called a cascade, so that — we've really got to run that to ground, because we can't have a situation where there's some kind of creative ambiguity where we pretend they've done something and — or, they pretend they've done something and we pretend to believe them. So yeah, we've got a lot of work to do on this.

North Korea is on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. How does that fit into the possibility of normalization?

Well, you know, normalization poses a number of obstacles, and so we've gotten a start on that in our meetings this week in New York. We've talked to them about the issue of their being on this list of state sponsors of terrorism. We've discussed some of the historical reasons why they're on the list, and talked to them about things they've done to try to get off the list. So we've got to work through that.

And I would say what we're trying to do is, as they denuclearize — and, you know, there are some encouraging signs that they've finally understood that these nuclear weapons are not going to bring them peace and prosperity, but in fact are leading them quite in the opposite direction. So there are some encouraging signs, and we hope that as they denuclearize, we can get on with the task of normalization.

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