North Korea has turned over to the United States 18,000 pages of documents related to its plutonium program dating from 1990, in an effort to resolve remaining differences in a pending agreement meant to begin the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, Bush administration officials said Thursday.
The documents contain information about North Korea’s three major campaigns to reprocess plutonium for nuclear weapons, in 1990, 2003 and 2005, a senior official said. The official, like some others who agreed to discuss the documents, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic considerations.
But the documents do not include information on two other areas about which North Korea has promised to be forthcoming — a uranium program that some officials in the Bush administration regard as another track toward weapons development, and North Korea’s involvement in the proliferation of nuclear material.
State Department officials have nevertheless described the move on Thursday as an important step, saying they hope it will help to resolve a dispute over how much plutonium North Korea holds. Administration officials have not said how much plutonium North Korea has admitted possessing, but they have criticized as incomplete a preliminary declaration it made in December.
The documents, which fill seven boxes, “will help shed light on why they have a lower figure,” said an administration official who insisted on anonymity. He said one reason could be that North Korea has more nuclear waste than expected, which could have led to lower plutonium production than the United States had estimated.
Officials in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, gave the documents to Sung Kim, director of the State Department’s Korea office, on Thursday, and he was poring over them in his hotel before bringing them back to the United States this weekend, State Department officials said. They said that several other U.S. diplomats would accompany Kim and the documents on a commercial flight back to Washington so they could transport the boxes as carry-on luggage. Transporting them as checked baggage would be too risky, the officials said. The acquisition of the documents is the latest step in the Bush administration’s effort to complete a nuclear pact with North Korea before it leaves office in January. The nuclear deal has come under fire from some conservatives, in and out of the administration, who contend that North Korea cannot be trusted to end its nuclear program.
On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, which has opposed the pact, said that Christopher R. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, had “made a mockery of the interagency process.” It said he had been bypassing other Bush officials and, instead, “handpicking experts to work at Yongbyon,” where North Korea is dismantling its nuclear reactor.
Hill has the backing of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and they have kept President Bush’s support for a pact that many foreign policy experts say is the administration’s best chance at a tangible foreign policy accomplishment — beginning the denuclearization of the Korean peninsular — in its remaining months.