Doubts About Nuclear Verification Keep N. Korea on List of Terrorist States

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 12, 2008

North Korea missed its first chance yesterday to be removed from the State Department's list of terrorist states, U.S. officials said, because it has not provided a way for international inspectors to verify claims about its nuclear program.

President Bush said in June that the United States would begin the process of taking North Korea off its terrorism blacklist, and yesterday was the earliest that Pyongyang could have been removed. But U.S. officials said that North Korea has not followed through on allowing outside verification of its nuclear program, which the Bush administration has set as a condition for action.

"We need to have a strong verification regime in order to remove North Korea from the list," said State Department spokesman Kelley Osterthaler. "They know what they need to do on a verification package, and we're continuing to work with them."

The possible removal is part of ongoing six-party talks -- made up of China, Japan, Russia, the United States, and North and South Korea -- aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program in return for aid and the end to sanctions, including those that come with being listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.

North Korea is listed alongside Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism, and thus faces bans on defense sales and other restrictions on trade, foreign aid and financial transactions. The last incident tying its government to an act of terrorism came in 1987, when its agents planted a bomb on a South Korean commercial jet.

Pyongyang turned over a 60-page declaration in June that included details of plutonium production in its nuclear program. It also dynamited a cooling tower at its deactivated Yongbyon nuclear facility in an attempt to convince the world that it is serious about abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

But the declaration contained less detail than the Bush administration had sought, and negotiations continue over how to verify North Korea's claims. Pyongyang has yet to disclose how many weapons it has or to provide details about its involvement in the construction of a Syrian reactor that was destroyed by Israel last year.

Dennis Wilder, the Asia director on the National Security Council, told reporters traveling with Bush in China over the weekend that the administration was "in discussions with the North" over the issue.

"We continue to try to work with them on this question of a robust verification regime," Wilder said. "But we aren't at the point where we are satisfied with what they have put on the table thus far."

Michael J. Green, who handled Asia issues for Bush on the National Security Council from 2001 to 2005, said the administration is correct to demand more before removing North Korea from the terrorism list or eliminating sanctions. "If the administration lifted sanctions anyway, without verification, it would have just shot our credibility in the whole region," he said.

Green said it is likely Pyongyang decided to "run out the clock" on the Bush administration, in order to wait for a new president in January.

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