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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, it's DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, in Iowa a teacher challenges college freshmen to write about political life. And in that assignment there are lessons for the teacher too. We'll have that story.

First, at midnight last night the ball dropped on Time Square in New York, and forgive me, hours before that officials in North Korea dropped the ball too. They failed to deliver a full accounting of their nuclear program as they had promised to do, and the deadline was the end of 2007.

NPR's Mike Shuster's here with us. He's just back from a trip to South Korea last month. Mike, first, welcome back. And what were the North Koreans supposed to deliver and who was supposed to get this information?

MIKE SHUSTER: What the North Koreans were supposed to deliver was a full and complete inventory and accounting of their nuclear weapons program. They were supposed to do this pursuant to an agreement that they signed earlier in 2007, and they said that they would do this by the very end of the year. And they were supposed to deliver it to the United States and to the other members of the so-called six-party process that included the governments of China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. But so far they haven't done it.

CHADWICK: So this would be a list of everything that they have done to try to produce a nuclear weapon. Everything laid out so everyone would know.

SHUSTER: Exactly. They were supposed to include all their facilities at Yongbyon, and we know about that. That facility produced plutonium and they were supposed to tell how much plutonium over the years they have produced.

But there are also questions about a possible secret Uranium enrichment program. There have been some of those activities. The United States believes it knows what they are. They were hoping that the North Koreans would come clean on that or at least produce some accounting of that. And there's no certainty that the North Koreans won't complete this process. It just may be that they're going to complete it past the deadline.

CHADWICK: Well, this is what you said when you were talking to me earlier about this story. You said the other members of the six-party agreement haven't actually - no one's yelling at North Korea over this yet.

SHUSTER: No one, including the United States. The United States isn't yelling at North Korea about this either. Earlier in December the chief negotiator with North Korea from the United States, Christopher Hill, who's assistant secretary of state, went to Pyongyang. He went to the nuclear facility at Yongbyon and he talked to the North Koreans about this accounting which they were supposed to provide by the end of the year. And he came back and he talked to reporters in December and he indicated that there was a good chance this was going to be late, but that the United States found that acceptable because the United States would rather have a late but complete accounting of North Korea's nuclear weapons program than an on-time and potentially or possibly incomplete accounting of it.

CHADWICK: So even though they missed the deadline, no one is - how long have they got, do you think?

SHUSTER: It's not entirely clear. The State Department and the White House were indicating that a few weeks might be okay, but after that there may be some questions about - from the United States about whether the North Koreans are serious about this process.

CHADWICK: You're just back from covering the elections in South Korea.

SHUSTER: The presidential election there, yes.

CHADWICK: Yeah. What is the reaction in South Korea to something like this?

SHUSTER: What's very interesting is the reaction in South Korea is quite muted. North Korea and its nuclear weapons and the possible threat from North Korea probably for the first time in 20 years of democratic presidential elections was not a big issue this time around. The economy and internal South Korean issues really dominated the presidential election campaign. The new president, who is a conservative, Lee Myung-bak, looks like he's somewhat of a moderate conservative. He will probably continue the engagement policy that the liberal governments of the past 10 years in South Korea have pursued. But he also made statements that the North Korean nuclear weapons program is a serious concern and he too, along with the leaders of the other six-party nations, want a complete accounting from North Korea.

CHADWICK: In the last, oh, 15 years or so, South Korea has taken a much more lenient attitude toward North Korea than has the U.S.

SHUSTER: That's right.

CHADWICK: But this new president of South Korea, is he going to change that somewhat, do you think?

SHUSTER: To some degree, but probably not swing the pendulum far to the other side. He comes from the right wing, and traditionally South Korea's right wing were profoundly suspicious about the opening to North Korea.

But the opening to North Korea has now been over the course of the last decade and it's taken hold in a real way among - in the minds of many South Koreans. And this has become a kind of middle-of-the-road policy now. And to some degree, the new South Korean president is expected to continue that policy.

CHADWICK: NPR's Mike Shuster back from Seoul, South Korea, and reporting on North Korea, having missed a reporting deadline on its nuclear program.

Mike, thank you.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Alex.

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