South Korea Stresses Importance of Verification in Nuclear Deal

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

( - Verifying that North Korea has been honest in declaring all of its nuclear programs and activities must be carried out carefully and thoroughly, a process that will take a long time, the South Korean government says.

Kim Sook, Seoul's new chief nuclear negotiator, stressed in broadcast interviews Monday that Pyongyang's compliance would require "objective and scientific proof." He said it is not merely a case of its negotiating partners listening to North Korea's explanations.

The reiteration came amid concerns that Washington may be softening its approach towards North Korea to break a deadlock and achieve an important foreign policy and non-proliferation success before the end of President Bush's term.

Hosting new South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak at Camp David at the weekend, Bush disputed the charge, saying he would not accept a deal that goes against the interests of the region.

Speaking alongside Bush, Lee said that if North Korea's declaration or the verification was not satisfactory, it may provide a temporary achievement but in the longer term would cause "serious problems."

He noted that all of the countries involved in the nuclear talks would have to agree to the declaration and to a verification process that would have to be "full and complete and satisfactory."

"The United States is not dealing with North Korea alone," said Lee, whose election ended a decade of liberal rule in Seoul.

Conservative critics like former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton - also formerly the administration's top arms control official - have said that by shifting its stance the U.S. is letting down its allies in South Korea and Japan.

On his way home from Washington, Lee stopped in Tokyo for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who said afterwards that the two had "reconfirmed the necessity of demanding that North Korea submit a comprehensive and correct [nuclear] declaration."

A drawn-out "six-party" effort involving the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China and Russia attempting to prod North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons capabilities ran into the latest of a series of hurdles when Pyongyang missed a Dec. 31 2007 deadline to declare publicly all of its nuclear activities, past and present.

The key unresolved issues include suspicions that North Korea carried out a uranium-based nuclear program -- in addition to its admitted plutonium-based one -- and that it transferred nuclear know-how to other states, specifically Syria.

Talks between U.S. and North Korean negotiators in Singapore a fortnight ago brought a tentative deal which, according to numerous published reports, would allow North Korea to simply "acknowledge" U.S. concerns about uranium and proliferation in a confidential document, while its overdue public declaration would be restricted to plutonium-related activities.

In return, North Korea wants the U.S. to meet its longstanding demand for removal from its list of terror-sponsoring states. Other concessions pledged in exchange for full denuclearization include economic aid and further diplomatic benefits.

On Tuesday, a team of U.S. officials traveled from Seoul to Pyongyang, for more discussions on North Korea's planned declaration.

The latest nuclear standoff began when the State Department in October 2002 said the North Koreans had admitted carrying out a covert uranium-enrichment program, contravening a deal it negotiated with the Clinton administration eight years earlier.

That 1994 agreement -- under which Pyongyang undertook to freeze its nuclear programs in return for U.S. fuel aid and the provision of civilian power reactors -- then began to unravel.

The U.S. and its allies suspended fuel aid shipments and work on the civilian reactors, North Korea kicked out U.N. inspectors from its nuclear facilities, restarted a mothballed reactor and withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It also denied having made any admission of uranium-enrichment.

In a bid to resolve the issue, the Bush administration in 2003 initiated the process of six-way talks, hosted by China.

In February 2005, North Korea announced that it possessed nuclear weapons, and in October 2006 it carried out its first nuclear test.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow