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US Demands North Korea Come Clean About Uranium Program As Talks Continue

The US is demanding that North Korea come clean about their dealings with the illicit nuclear network that was managed by the notorious Pakistani A.Q.Khan (pictured).
by P. Parameswaran
New York (AFP) March 06, 2007
The United States demanded Tuesday that North Korea come clean about its controversial highly enriched uranium program as the arch rivals ended landmark talks setting the pace for normalizing ties. US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said North Korea reportedly made "massive purchases of expensive equipment" from Pakistan's once-dreaded A.Q. Khan illicit nuclear network to drive the highly enriched uranium program.

Enriched uranium is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, but highly enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear bombs.

"They need to come clean on it, explain what they have been doing, why they have been doing it, and ultimately they need to abandon it," Hill told a forum in New York on the sidelines of talks aimed at normalizing US-North Korean diplomatic relations after Pyongyang agreed to freeze a key nuclear facility in return for largely energy aid.

"I think we are owed a pretty clear answer why all these purchases were made and how far they have gotten into the process," Hill said amid a burgeoning controversy over the reliability of US intelligence on North Korea and whether Washington overstated Pyongyang's efforts to enrich uranium in 2002.

In October 2002, the United States accused Pyongyang of pursuing a covert program to produce highly enriched uranium, based on intelligence information.

At first, the North acknowledged the program -- leading to the scrapping of a 1994 deal to freeze Pyongyang's nuclear weapons drive -- but has since denied it.

US intelligence officials now say they have only moderate confidence it was still pursuing the goal, triggering speculations that Washington wanted to give Pyongyang a face-saving way to surrender its nuclear equipment.

Hill said he wanted North Korea to provide full details of the highly enriched uranium program as well as its plutonium activity at its Yongbyon nuclear facility during denuclearization talks in Beijing soon.

"We expect to do this in Beijing as early as next week -- begin the discussion on their (North Korea's) overall nuclear program, that is what needs to be abandoned pursuant to the agreement," he explained.

Under a February 13 accord, North Korea agreed to close and seal its Yongbyon facility within 60 days and admit UN nuclear inspectors in return for 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil as a first step to eventual nuclear disarmament.

Even though the accord did not deal with the issue of plutonium that has already been produced by the facility, which some believe could be used to make up to a dozen nuclear bombs, Hill said all the sensitive nuclear material should be accounted for.

"Depending on which experts you talk to, estimates (are) that there are some 50 kilograms of plutonium that is already produced and will have to be accounted for," he said. "That plutonium we have reason to believe has been weaponized."

Hill and his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan meanwhile ended milestone talks Tuesday in a first step toward normalizing ties and cementing Pyongyang's commitment to scrapping its nuclear arms program.

It was the highest level meeting held in the United States between the two nuclear rivals since October 2000.

Hill said the discussions included devising criteria for North Korea to be removed from the state-sponsor-of-terrorism list and for scrapping longstanding US trade sanctions against the hardline communist regime.

Amid the talks, Washington came under pressure from an independent US commission to place long-standing human rights, humanitarian and refugee concerns squarely on the negotiating table with North Korea.

The human rights and humanitarian crises in North Korea deserve to be treated on a parallel track with security issues involving weapons of mass destruction and should not be marginalized, said Felice Gaer, chairwoman of the the bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Gaer wanted Washington to tie future consideration of economic assistance or diplomatic recognition to reforms that would increase the freedoms of North Koreans and strengthen the security of the Korean Peninsula.

The commission is mandated by Congress to monitor abuse of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights around the world and to make recommendations to the President, State Department and Congress.

Hill said there were a number of "legal and political steps" that needed to be taken for eventual normalization of ties with North Korea, whose defiant atomic weapons test in October last year drew unprecedented UN sanctions.

earlier related report
US, N Korea hold second day of talks
New York (AFP) March 6 - The United States and North Korea began a second day of talks Tuesday on normalizing relations as a part of a deal aimed at halting Pyongyang's nuclear arms program, a US official said.

The official, who asked not to be named said the talks between delegations headed by chief US negotiator Christopher Hill and his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan started at about 10:40 am (1540 GMT).

Earlier Tuesday Hill called on North Korea to come clean about its highly enriched uranium program despite indications that US intelligence overstated Pyongyang's efforts to pursue such a program.

"They need to come clean on it, explain what they have been doing, why they have been doing it, and ultimately they need to abandon it," he said at a forum of the Japan Society.

Hill also said North Korea had reportedly made "massive purchases of expensive equipment" to drive the highly enriched uranium program.

"I think we are owed a pretty clear answer why all these purchases were made and how far they have gotten into the process," Hill said at the forum on the sidelines of negotiations.

Hill and Kim met Monday for talks and a dinner to kick off discussions to end more than 50 years of feuding between Washington and the reclusive Asian state and take the first steps towards normalizing ties.

It was the highest level meeting held in the United States between the two nuclear rivals since October 2000.

Hill said Monday the meeting was aimed at setting the pace for bilateral relations, including North Korea's possible removal from a US list of state terrorism sponsors.

"These were some preliminary discussions," Hill told reporters after the four-hour talks late Monday.

The bilateral talks meet a long-standing condition set by North Korea for abandoning its nuclear ambitions, and are aimed at smoothing implementation of a landmark agreement reached with Pyongyang on February 13.

Under the accord, North Korea agreed to close and seal its Yongbyon nuclear facility -- long suspected to be the center of its nuclear program -- within 60 days and admit UN nuclear inspectors in return for 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.

The talks also coincide with a burgeoning controversy in Washington over the reliability of US intelligence on North Korea and whether Washington overstated Pyongyang's efforts to enrich uranium in 2002.

US intelligence officials defended their work over the weekend but said that while they had high confidence Pyongyang tried to enrich uranium in 2002, they had only moderate confidence it was still pursuing the goal.

earlier related report
NKorea should give up nuclear arms before diplomatic ties: US
New York (AFP) March 6 - The United States told North Korea Tuesday that it should disband its nuclear weapons program before any normalization of diplomatic ties, a senior US official said.

US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he told his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan during landmark talks in New York that Pyongyang should "fulfil their part of the bargain -- which is complete denuclearization" before normalization of relations.

Hill and Kim met for two days from Monday to kick off discussions to end more than 50 years of feuding between Washington and the reclusive Asian state and take the first steps towards normalizing ties.

It was the highest level meeting held in the United States between the two nuclear rivals since October 2000, and aimed at setting the stage for bilateral relations, including North Korea's possible removal from a US list of state terrorism sponsors.

Hill told a media conference after the talks that he also reaffirmed to Kim that Washington was "committed to working towards that goal" of establishing diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.

He ruled out the possibility of the United States and North Korea establishing liaison offices in each other's capitals as a prelude to full diplomatic ties although he said China was keen on such a model.

"I don't think it will be because this is a model that China had, China felt was a very succesful model, in terms of US-China relations. I don't think that view is shared by the DPRK," Hill said referring to North Korea by its official name.

"So I think they (North Korea) would like to move to diplomatic relations but I must say that this is very much linked to the question of denuclearization," he said.

The milestone bilateral talks in New York meet a longstanding condition set by North Korea for abandoning its nuclear ambitions, and are aimed at smoothing implementation of a landmark agreement reached with Pyongyang on February 13.

Under the accord, North Korea agreed to close and seal its Yongbyon nuclear facility -- long suspected to be the center of its nuclear program -- within 60 days and admit UN nuclear inspectors in return for 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Iranian Missing In Turkey Sparks Spy Snatch Talk
Ankara (AFP) March 06, 2007
Mystery swirled on Tuesday over the disappearance of a senior Iranian official in Turkey, with accusations in Tehran he was snatched by Western spy agencies and even the Israeli media suggesting it may have been the work of their own Mossad. Ali Reza Asghari, a former deputy defence minister said to have information about Iran's nuclear programme, went missing in Istanbul in February shortly after checking into a luxury hotel, press reports said.







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