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Terrorism & Security

North Korea promises steps to break nuclear-deal impasse

Pyongyang says it will release thousands of documents, long sought US officials, relating to its Yongbyon nuclear facility.

By Anand Gopal / May 2, 2008



North Korea has agreed to blow up a cooling tower attached to its main nuclear facility if the US removes it from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. The move is the latest sign of a détente between Pyongyang and Washington, observers say.

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A series of ongoing negotiations between North Korean and American officials has produced the agreement to destroy the tower at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor. The Washington Post reports that

[t]he destruction of the cooling tower is intended by US officials to be a striking visual, broadcast around the globe, that would offer tangible evidence that North Korea was retreating from its nuclear ambitions. Wisps of vapor from the cooling tower appear in most satellite photographs of Yongbyon, making it the facility's most recognizable feature, though experts say its destruction would be mostly symbolic.

Pyongyang also agreed to turn over thousands of documents related to activity at the Yongbyon plant, dating from 1990, a longstanding demand of the Bush administration. The Washington Times writes

"The North Koreans were more forthcoming than they have been in the past about their plutonium effort," a senior administration official said about last week's meetings.
"I'm talking about their willingness to disclose what their program looks like – the elements, how the whole thing was put together, the facilities and processes by which they came up with the plutonium for weapons," he said.

In return, the US has agreed to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Such a reclassification would open the door to aid and economic development, writes the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo.

If it is removed from the list, North Korea will be no longer subject to the U.S. Export Administration Act, Foreign Assistance Act, International Financial Institutions Act, International Traffic in Arms Regulation, and Trading with the Enemy Act.
The possibility of international financial institutions developing and supporting North Korea is the biggest benefit. U.S. domestic laws oblige American members of the board of directors at international financial institutions to oppose any support including loans to countries on the list. The rationale is that aid to terrorism sponsors may be used to fund terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The Chosun Ilbo continues

The North will then also be able to import items for dual civilian and military purposes, including high-performance computers and chemical materials for industrial use.

The North Korean government is facing increased international pressure and looming domestic crises, which might be forcing Kim Jong-il to make this latest round of concessions. The Chosun Ilbo writes that if North Korea "improves ties with the U.S., it can ... get official aid from Washington."

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