U.S. Team Headed to Pyongyang in Search of 'Significant Progress'

Sung Kim, chief Korea expert for the State Department, will lead the U.S. team to the North Korean capital.
Sung Kim, chief Korea expert for the State Department, will lead the U.S. team to the North Korean capital. (By Ahn Young-joon -- Associated Press)
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By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

SEOUL, April 21 -- For the first time since the United States eased demands on North Korea for nuclear disclosure, a U.S. delegation is headed to the communist state to try to verify the extent of its nuclear program.

Led by Sung Kim, a senior State Department expert on Korea, the interagency delegation arrived here late Monday and was scheduled to drive north to Pyongyang on Tuesday across the heavily fortified border.

"Everything is subject to verification," Kim told reporters after arriving here. He said that he hoped the visit would bring "significant progress" and that he expected detailed discussion of a much-delayed declaration North Korea has promised about its nuclear program.

That declaration, under a disclosure-for-aid deal negotiated last fall and due last Dec. 31, was to have been a "complete and correct" listing of the North's nuclear activities, from the manufacture of plutonium to details of uranium enrichment and involvement in a Syrian facility bombed last year by Israel.

Both plutonium and highly enriched uranium can be used in building nuclear weapons.

But North Korea has consistently refused to talk publicly about uranium enrichment and nuclear proliferation.

To salvage the negotiations, the United States said this month that it would be satisfied if the North would "acknowledge" evidence and concern about these matters, without a precise public admission.

In the meantime, the North -- in return for the lifting of sanctions -- would finish dismantling its principal nuclear plant and account for all the plutonium it has produced.

North Korea has said it has produced about 66 pounds of plutonium, but the U.S. government estimates it has made more. Both sides agree that significant parts of the Yongbyon reactor have already been disabled.

The delegation heading to Pyongyang on Tuesday plans to stay in North Korea for several days, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.

Over the weekend, President Bush and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said U.S. concessions to the North could unlock delicate negotiations.

Bush has been criticized by some Republicans for yielding too much to the Stalinist government of Kim Jong Il.

"Why don't we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether this is a good deal or a bad deal?" Bush said Saturday at Camp David, Md., where he met with Lee.

The recently elected South Korean president added that talks with North Korea require "persistent patience."

"It's difficult to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs, but it is not impossible," Lee said.

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