U.S. Official: N. Korea to Declare Nuclear Programs

The chief U.S. negotiator on North Korea says he expects Pyongyang to finally declare all of its nuclear programs soon. North Korea had promised to do that last December. But some experts say the Bush administration is getting a bad deal because it's desperate to have a foreign policy achievement in its last year in office.

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The war and the reconstruction in Afghanistan is a challenge that will soon fall to a new American president, as will the challenge of a nuclear North Korea. The lead U.S. negotiator there says he expects North Korea to reveal all of its nuclear programs soon. The regime had promised to do so last December. It's part of a step-by-step disarmament agreement, though it's one that the outcome is far from clear, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: A former U.S. negotiator on North Korea, Jack Pritchard, came back from his latest trip to Pyongyang with some bad news for the Bush administration. He said the U.S. can expect a declaration about North Korea's plutonium program but there will be some key missing elements.

Mr. JACK PRITCHARD (Korea Economic Institute): They will not enumerate how many nuclear weapons they have nor where they are, nor are they intending to give those up in the near future. So what you're going to get is a historical declaration of their past activities. Now, that's reasonable enough, but that's not the complete picture.

KELEMEN: Pritchard, now with the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, says there's another tricky part to this. The North Koreans are expected to acknowledge U.S. concerns about a suspected highly enriched uranium program - another path to the bomb - but won't confirm the allegations. The same is true for allegation that Pyongyang has shared nuclear technology with Syria. Pritchard says if the Bush administration accepts that sort of statement - acknowledging concerns only - there could be trouble for the next U.S. president.

Mr. PRITCHARD: The next administration, when it comes back to say we really do need to know the details on this proliferation, how did you do it? What are the networks involved? Who else was involved? Very critical pieces of information - the North Koreans are most likely to say that's a subject that's not open for discussion. It's already been resolved. And that's what I'm concerned about.

KELEMEN: Pritchard raised these concerns in public at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last Thursday, putting on the spot the intelligence community's mission manager for North Korea, Joseph DiTrani.

Mr. JOSEPH DITRANI (Center for Strategic and International Studies): My understanding is not your understanding, or not what was conveyed to you, Jack, and your colleagues.

KELEMEN: DiTrani said that he's still expecting a full declaration of all of North Korea's nuclear programs. He also told the audience that the key is getting experts in on the ground.

Mr. DITRANI: Verification, verification, verification.

KELEMEN: DiTrani said the uranium enrichment issue continues to be of concern to the Bush administration, though he didn't suggest the North Koreans were far along on that program.

Mr. DITRANI: We started in 2002 saying that they were seeking this capability. We believe as in 2008 they are still seeking this capability to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. The key, though, is we have immediate issue of plutonium that's been used for these weapons. That's what we need to get to, we need to get at immediately, because that's confronting us.

KELEMEN: Robert Einhorn, who worked on the issue during the Clinton administration, says he thinks that in exchange for energy and economic assistance, North Korea is prepared only to cap, not eliminate its nuclear weapons capability.

Mr. ROBERT EINHORN: It's our job to force them to make a choice. They could be a pariah with nuclear weapons or they could be integrated with the rest of the world without nuclear weapons. But even under the best of circumstances, and they make the right choice, they're going to insist on an elimination period, you know, extending for years and years, 'cause they're going to want to hold on to what they consider to be their deterrent capability for as long as possible.

KELEMEN: So he says the next U.S. president will face an ambiguous situation for years to come.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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