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North Korea Delivers Nuclear Declaration

Peter Crail

Pyongyang June 26 delivered its long-awaited declaration on its nuclear programs to China, the chair of the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. The six countries, which also include Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, are expected to meet in the following weeks to discuss the declaration and the process to verify it. Washington responded the same day by taking steps to remove certain sanctions against North Korea.

If judged to be satisfactory by the other five parties, North Korea’s declaration would satisfy one of the two key commitments made by Pyongyang in an October 2007 six-party agreement, which outlined steps Pyongyang would take toward denuclearization and the benefits it would receive in return. (See ACT, November 2007. ) The other key obligation, disabling three primary facilities associated with North Korea’s plutonium program, has been proceeding since November 2007 and is scheduled to be completed this fall.

According to the October 2007 agreement, North Korea agreed to provide a “complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs.” Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, stated during a June 24 press conference that “there will be a package for the declaration, which has to cover all of the nuclear programs.”

Hill appears to be referring to an understanding reached in April on the scope of the declaration. Reportedly, it will involve a formal declaration by North Korea on its plutonium program and secret side documents addressing U.S. concerns about any work on uranium enrichment that North Korea may have performed, as well as any nuclear proliferation actions Pyongyang may have taken involving other countries, particularly Syria. (See ACT, May 2008. )

Hill added that the declaration would not address any actual weapons that North Korea produced, stating June 24 that “the weapons are to be determined at a subsequent phase.”

United States Lifts Certain Sanctions

President George W. Bush took action June 26 to ease certain sanctions against North Korea in return for North Korea’s submission of its declaration. He issued a proclamation rescinding the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act toward Pyongyang, and notified Congress of his intention to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 45 days. The Bush administration pledged to take these steps once Pyongyang carried out its commitments under the October 2007 agreement.

U.S. law requires that the president notify Congress 45 days before such a removal from the list would take effect. During that time, Congress can pass legislation to block it, but this may be vetoed by the president.

In a June 18 speech to the Heritage Foundation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated that, during and after those 45 days, the administration will “hold North Korea accountable” for any violations of its six-party agreements, including by reimposing any sanctions waived and levying new ones.

In addition, Rice asserted that lifting application of the Trading with the Enemy Act against North Korea will have little impact on U.S. sanctions against the country. She noted that even though the act would no longer apply to North Korea, “just about every restriction that might be lifted will be, in fact, kept in place because of different U.S. laws.” Moreover, Bush issued an executive order June 26 that continued particular sanctions against North Korea which would have been otherwise lifted. Such measures included maintaining assets freezes against North Korea and North Korean nationals and prohibiting U.S. nationals from registering vessels in North Korea or operating North Korean-flagged vessels.

North Korea might benefit from the lifting of sanctions associated with the terrorism list. U.S. law requires that the administration attempt to block international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, from providing loans to states designated as sponsors of terrorism. The United States can still try to block such assistance, but would not be able to use the terrorism list as a justification once North Korea is removed from the list.

Congress has also taken steps to lift certain sanctions against North Korea for the purpose of permitting U.S. agencies to fund particular activities in North Korea. The House of Representatives June 19 passed legislation allowing the president to waive specific U.S. sanctions imposed on North Korea in 2006 in response to Pyongyang’s test of a nuclear device in October of that year. Those sanctions have hampered the ability of U.S. agencies to carry out work to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear facilities. (See ACT, June 2008. )

The Senate adopted similar legislation May 22. Both provisions were attached to the fiscal year 2008 supplemental spending bill. As of the end of June, the Senate was reviewing the version of the supplemental passed by the House, which was a modified version of the Senate bill passed in May.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated June 13 that dismantling North Korea’s nuclear facilities would cost about $575 million and take about four years to complete.

Pyongyang Prepares for Terrorism List Removal

In likely preparation for its removal from the U.S. terrorism list, North Korea began taking steps in June to distance itself from concerns about its links to terrorism.

On June 10, the North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement declaring that Pyongyang has consistently opposed “all forms of terrorism and any support of it.” The foreign ministry indicated that the statement was “authorized by its government,” indicating that the statement comes from the most senior levels of the regime.

Although North Korea has made similar pronouncements in the past, Pyongyang expanded on this position in the recent statement by citing its adherence to several bilateral and international counterterrorism accords.

U.S. officials welcomed the statement. Alexander Arvizu, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told an Institute for Corean-American Studies audience June 10 that the North Korean statement was “just one of the steps” that North Korea would need to take to meet the requirements for removal from the terrorism list.

North Korea has also reversed its long-held position that the issue of its past abduction of Japanese citizens has been “completely resolved.” The official Korean Central News Agency indicated June 13 that, during bilateral discussions with Japan in June, North Korea agreed to “reinvestigate the abduction issue.”

Relations between Japan and North Korea are also being addressed as part of the six-party talks. The key bilateral issue between Tokyo and Pyongyang is Japan’s demand that North Korea account for its abduction of more than a dozen Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s.

Tokyo has frequently expressed concern that the United States would remove Pyongyang from its terrorism list before the abduction issue was resolved. U.S. officials have maintained that although the issue must still be addressed in the course of the talks, it does not have bearing on the U.S. decision regarding the terrorism list. During a Nov. 13 Department of State press briefing, Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey stated that North Korea must be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism “in accordance” with U.S. law, adding that the terrorism list and abductees issues “are not necessarily specifically linked.” (See ACT, December 2007. )

In a Patterns of Global Terrorism report released in April 2004, however, the State Department described North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens as part of the basis for its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Tokyo officially characterized the impending U.S. removal of Pyongyang from its terrorism list in positive terms, with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda stating June 25 that Japan “will welcome a move that leads North Korea toward the direction of resolving its nuclear issue.” However, the move also sparked political controversy within the Japanese government and threatens to harm relations between Washington and Tokyo. Regretting the U.S. decision, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters June 25 that the de-listing “could affect the Japan-U.S. alliance and the relationship of trust.”