Ex-Official: Proliferation Is Key to N. Korea Deal

The U.S. has eased sanctions on North Korea in exchange for a key step toward denuclearization. Charles Pritchard, head of the Korea Economic Institute, who worked with North Korea issues in the Bush and Clinton administrations, says the the key to this deal will be whether or not North Korea reveals its involvement in nuclear proliferation.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

For more on the North Korea deal, we now to turn to Jack Pritchard, who's president of the Korea Economic Institute. He was ambassador and special envoy to North Korea for President Bush from 2001 to 2003. He also worked on Korea issues under President Clinton before that. Ambassador Pritchard, thank you for joining us. Welcome.

Ambassador CHARLES PRITCHARD (Korea Economic Institute): It's my pleasure, indeed.

SIEGEL: We hear of the blowing up of the cooling tower of the nuclear reaction at Yongbyon. It sounds very dramatic. How important is it?

Ambassador PRITCHARD: It is not as important as it seems, and I say that because the North Koreans decided some two years ago to forego further plutonium extraction there. And over the last year, as part of this Phase II agreement with the United States and the other parties involved, they have begun a disablement process.

In essence, those facilities are no longer usable. So what you're going to get tomorrow is a visible sign from the North Koreans, designed primarily for an American audience, that says: we are committed to this process, look favorably upon us, my, aren't we good North Koreans.

SIEGEL: I infer from what you're saying here that that's what the North Koreans might like, but the U.S. ought to be tougher in scrutinizing what happens now.

Ambassador PRITCHARD: Well clearly, the administration, as they've laid out, will be very tough as they look through these documents and get people on the ground to ensure that there is not some hidden value of plutonium of some amount that we won't uncover. So I don't have any problem there. The administration's going to do a decent job in their attempts to verify that.

SIEGEL: What about the North Korean record for proliferation? We know the story of the allegations, at least, that the building that the Israelis struck in a raid in Syria was a North-Korean-built reactor of some sort. Are they expected to, or are they obliged to disclose exactly whom they've shared technology with?

Ambassador PRITCHARD: Well this is a very interesting point and, for me, the most serious concerns that we should have with regard to U.S. security and North Korea's nuclear weapons program. What we don't have is a discussion of what they did, who they did it with, what the extent is, and whether there are other countries involved. So that is a problem yet to be solved.

SIEGEL: Well, the way this process works, if one can characterize it, can the U.S. or other parties to it add demands of the North Koreans or add requests, at least, of them like that one, without the North Koreans walking away from the table?

Ambassador PRITCHARD: The North Koreans have a pretty good history of abiding by the written text. So the agreement's pretty clear that we expected all nuclear facilities, to include their uranium facilities, and I would include their proliferation activities as part of their nuclear programs there.

So one of my concerns is that if we accept this declaration and the North Koreans' essential denial of their activities with Syria and proliferation, when we get around finally to addressing this with the North Koreans, they're going to simply say case closed. This has been addressed, you accepted our level of concern over - your concerns, and let's move on.

SIEGEL: There's going to be an argument at some point over what the meaning of the word all is.

Ambassador PRITCHARD: Well, there already is.

SIEGEL: Right. You said when all of this - you talked about this end of this process, or alluded to it. Let's say that everything goes reasonably well in this, what's the end? How far away are we from the point at which North Korea is a non-nuclear state in the community of nations and there are no sanctions against them?

Ambassador PRITCHARD: You know, I would say we're talking years. The North Koreans have a different point of view in terms of what's next and when the nuclear weapons and the plutonium comes into that picture, and it's not the same picture that the United States has.

SIEGEL: Well Jack Pritchard, former special envoy to North Korea and now president of the Korea Economic Institute, thank you very much for talking with us about this.

Ambassador PRITCHARD: It's been my pleasure, thank you.

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