Verifying NKorea Nuclear List Could Take Months

By Anita Chang | July 9, 2008 | 2:58 PM EDT

(Associated Press) - Negotiators at the resumed six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament will work to lay out a program for what could be a months-long effort to verify the communist state's declaration of its atomic materials, the U.S. envoy said Wednesday.

The latest round of talks was set for Thursday after North Korea handed over the much-delayed list late last month and then blew up a cooling tower for its main nuclear reactor to demonstrate its commitment.

"Verification itself ... will take several weeks or even months, actually, but we need to agree on how verification will work," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters.

Some basic agreements on the process include interviews with North Korean officials and site visits, Hill said. "There are a lot of details that need to be fleshed out."

In response to North Korea's declaration, the United States announced it would remove the North from a list of state sponsors of terrorism and relax some economic sanctions against the communist nation.

The exchanges paved the way for the resumption of the six-nation meetings in Beijing after a nine-month lull. The talks also include host China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

"No side is either optimistic or pessimistic ahead of the talks," South Korean envoy Kim Sook said Wednesday after separate meetings with his counterparts from the U.S., China and North Korea.

Last week, North Korea warned it will not take further steps to dismantle its nuclear program until the U.S. and the other negotiating partners provide the fuel oil and political benefits promised under an aid-for-disarmament deal.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement it that has disabled 80 percent of its main nuclear complex while countries involved in the talks have supplied only 40 percent of promised energy shipments.

The energy-starved North was promised fuel aid equivalent to 1 million tons of oil under the February 2007 deal. Japan has since opted out of contributing, citing a lack of progress by North Korea in resolving the issue of its abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s.

Hill said he raised the issue of energy aid during a meeting with the North Korean envoy Wednesday and expressed a wish to resolve it. "We have many more shipments still to make," he said.

The nuclear standoff began in late 2002 when the U.S. accused the North of seeking to secretly enrich uranium in violation of a 1994 disarmament deal.

The architect of Pakistan's nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, told The Associated Press last week that he recalled uranium enrichment equipment being sent from Pakistan to North Korea in 2000.

The United States had previously insisted that North Korea detail its alleged uranium enrichment program as well as nuclear cooperation with Syria in the declaration.

But Washington has apparently backed down from that demand, drawing strong criticism from American conservatives who say the Bush administration is going too far to strike a deal with the North before leaving office next year.

North Korea's nuclear declaration, which was delivered six months later than the country promised and has not yet been released publicly, is said to only give the overall figure for how much plutonium was produced at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex - but no details of bombs that may have been made.

Experts believe the North has produced as much as 110 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium, enough for up to 10 nuclear bombs.

Associated Press writer Kwang-Tae Kim contributed to this report.