A sensitive State Department official — notes North Korean sadness

An unusually-sensitive U.S. State Department official has noticed North Korean sadness.


The North Koreans were sad at having to blow up a cooling tower to show that it was sincere about “disabling” its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

Destruction of Yongbyon cooling tower- 27 June 2008 - AP Photo compiled from APTN footage

That’s what you get for testing nuclear weapons after withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Associated Press reported today that “There hasn’t yet been any official North Korean reaction to the destruction of the most visible symbol of its nuclear program, but a U.S. diplomat who witnessed it said Saturday that the big blast saddened government officials there … the State Department’s top Koreas expert said he believed the event was an emotional loss for the Stalinist state. ‘I detected … a sense of sadness when the tower came down’, said Sung Kim, who traveled to Yongbyon, about 60 miles north of the capital of Pyongyang to watch the demolition of the 60-foot-tall cylindrical structure. ‘There is a significant degree of emotional attachment to the Yongbyon facilities’, he told reporters in the South Korean capital after briefing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials about the destruction of the tower on Friday. The reclusive nation, one of the most isolated in the world, has yet to inform its citizens of the development, which came amid a flurry of activity in the international effort to get North Korea to give up atomic arms, and it is not clear if or when it will. Kim said the sadness was most apparent on the face of Ri Yong Ho, the director of safeguards at North Korea’s Academy of Atomic Energy Research who was the most senior Pyongyang official present, but was shared by other North Koreans who were there. ‘(You could tell) just looking at the expression of the Yongbyon engineers who were on the site when this happened’, said Kim, who shook hands with Ri after the smoke cleared and the cooling tower had vanished from the landscape. ‘He said he just hoped that this would contribute to peace and stability’, Kim said, adding that he understood the North Koreans had spent up to two weeks preparing the tower for demolition…”

The full AP report can be read here

North Korean reactor disablement has begun

But, as Assistant U.S. Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher R. Hill said in Tokyo yesterday, disablement means the reactor cannot be up an running again within a year, if things go bad. And, it’s an intermediary step, Hill said — the ultimate goal is complete dismantlement.

In a conversation with journalists at the Okura Hotel, Hill said that “Things seem to be going well. The North Koreans asked if we could do some additional clean-up type issues. So we’re going to look at that — because our interest is, of course, is not just shutting down and disabling, but finally getting rid of this whole Yongbyon complex … We have at least 10 different disabling steps, and one of the first steps will be dealing with the reprocessing facility. And I believe we’re cutting some chains that go to that, cutting some means by which they move radioactive material in the reprocessing center. The second thing — and the thing we need to get going on very quickly — is that the pond where you put the discharged fuel is extremely dirty with a lot of radioactivity. So we need to clean that up. We need to clean it up for health purposes, because we’ll have Americans there and also North Koreans. We don’t want anyone getting radiation sickness. Also, when we get to the point where we take these spent fuel rods and try to send them to some place, we want that place to be willing to accept them. So the cleanup of this pond is going to be important. And this is not a process that’s going to end in a couple of days or a couple of weeks. It’s going to take a lot longer”.

QUESTION: “”So they are going to take out the fuel rods from the reactor?”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: “Yes, they have to remove the so-called discharging of the fuel. And then a second element: of course, we want to make sure they don’t have some ready availability of new fuel — because that would not be disabling; that would just be recharging. So we have some very specific ideas
for how to make sure there is not an additional amount of fuel. So it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of painstaking work”.

In remarks at a later press conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Hill told reporters that “On disablement, we have agreed on a number of measures. We met in a denuclearization working group in Shenyang; I think it was August 16. And we came up with a list of measures that were designed to make sure that, in shutting down the nuclear facilities, that they couldn’t easily be turned on again. So we negotiated the list with the North Koreans. It was one of these tough negotiations. They wanted us to do less, and we wanted them to do more. But we came up with a list of measures which in their totality, we believe, will make sure that even if on a certain day the North Koreans wanted to restart the plutonium — which, by the way, would be a very bad day for all of us — that it would take them well over a year to do that. So we have a concept that disabling should be something that, in order to reverse the disabling, you would need more than a year.

“So the disabling involves measures, very technical measures, in the three parts of the Yongbyon complex. First, the fuel fabrication facility. Second, the actual 5-megawatt reactor. Thirdly, the reprocessing facility, where the spent fuel rods would be taken from the 5-megawatt reactor. So these are technical measures that we will work with North Korean engineers on.

“One of the first that needs to be done is, we need to do some cleanup of the pond where the discharged fuel from the reactor needs to go — because eventually we want the discharged fuel to be canned and sent out of North Korea. And so, in order to do that, we’re going to have to clean the pond up. So that’s one of the things that’s going to get done in the next couple of days — or started to get done, because discharging fuel will take many weeks. We also, I think, will begin with some measures that are fairly easy to accomplish in the reprocessing facility. And we will continue from there … Altogether, I think the process is going to take a full two months. And even at the end of December, when we will have substantial disabling, we need to be careful not to hurry things in a way that could cause any health risk to anyone working on the process. So we’ll have to be careful on that.

“But, I think, by the end of all this you’ll see that we have a Yongbyon that is disabled and ready for the next stage, which is to be dismantled”.

Experts arrive in Yongbyon Sunday

… and the disabling of North Korea’s nuclear facilities in Yongbyon is due to start Monday, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who is the American point man on the matter.

The Agence France Press reported Saturday that a nine-member team of U.S. experts will at least observe at least the start of the process, which is expected to take until the end of the year.

AFP said that “North Korea, which tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, has agreed to start disabling its plutonium-producing plants under a six-nation accord which also requires it to declare all nuclear programmes”. And, the AFP report noted, Hill said that “The idea of disablement is to create a situation where it is very difficult to bring those facilities back on line and certainly a very expensive and difficult prospect of ever bringing them back on line.”

This is key to an accord negotiated last February in Six-Party talks (North and South Korea, China, U.S., Japan and Russia) by which humanitarian and fuel aid will begin to flow to the DPRK. A lengthy delay was caused by difficulties in untangling U.S. financial sanctions imposed on North Korea, suspected of money laundering and producing counterfeit U.S. dollar bills.

The AFP added that “If the North goes on next year to dismantle the plants and give up its plutonium and weapons, it can expect normalised relations with Washington and a peace pact to replace the armistice which ended the 1950-1953 Korean War. North Korea also wants to be taken off a US list of state sponsors of terrorism, but Hill said Pyongyang would first have to satisfy Washington that it was not engaged in any terrorism-related activities. ‘They (North Korea) have to address the terrorism concerns that put them on the list in the first place’, said Hill”.

Apparently, Hill clarified at a news conference with journalists in Tokyo on Saturday, there has been a pledge of non-prolifieration from North Korea — but that is not enough: it must now also detail any past proliferation activities, including reported assistance to Syria in building a nuclear reactor that was reportedly “disabled” before going on-line by an Israeli airstrike on 6 September that the U.S. at least knew about in advance, if it did not actively assist.

The AFP wrote that Hill said “We have received assurances that they will not transfer (nuclear technology). On the other hand we have to be vigilant about this and we have to be really continuing to watch closely areas of concern, areas of the world where we have our concerns, including in Syria.” The AFP report can be found here.
Continue reading Experts arrive in Yongbyon Sunday

"Not everything is clear yet" — Israel, Syria, North Korea, Iran and more

Gideon Lichfield, Jerusalem correspondent of The Economist, has posted this today on his blog [www.fugitivepeace.com]:

The mystery about Israel’s air strike against Syria on September 6th, which I wrote about in the current issue, continues to deepen. The story taking hold is that Israel hit material or equipment for nuclear weapons supplied by North Korea.  But something still smells fishy.

“For a start, the way this story has emerged in public is odd in the extreme.  Well-connected Israeli journalists hinted from very early on that they knew what was going on but couldn’t say, a sign that censorship was in effect.  (That is censored too, but it has become so obvious that they are now saying it openly.)  All last week it was the American media – CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times – which dripped out the story, mainly with off-the-record comments from American officials.

“But today it’s Britain’s Sunday Times which carries it forward, with a lot of enticing details from unnamed Israeli sources about how an Israeli commando unit on the ground guided the bombers; how the Mossad found ‘evidence that Syria was seeking to buy a nuclear device from North Korea’; how Israel diverted a spy satellite from Iran to Syria; and, interestingly, how the mysterious rise in Israel-Syria sabre-rattling a few weeks ago – which I wrote about in my very first post – was actually the result of Israel’s sending more troops to the Golan ‘in anticipation of possible retaliation by Damascus in the event of air strikes’.

“So, first question: why the Sunday Times? Letting details of the attack leak via Washington last week may have been a way to prevent a flare-up between Israel and Syria or other Arab states. But if Israeli officials have decided that it’ss now safe to break silence, why not in the Israeli press?

“Second question: is it true? Uzi Mahnaimi, the Sunday Times’s man in Tel Aviv, is a former Mossad man known for having excellent security sources. But as I’ve discussed before, journalists in that position are also susceptible to being fed misinformation and printing it, knowingly or otherwise
Continue reading "Not everything is clear yet" — Israel, Syria, North Korea, Iran and more

Disabling North Korean nuclear reactors means more than just shutting them down, U.S. says

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Christopher Hill, who is the chief American negotiator on North Korea, told journalists in Australia over the weekend that teams from the three major nuclear-weapons states (the U.S., Russia, and China) are expected to be in Pyongyang on the evening of 11 September.

Hill told journalists that “We are working very hard to get the teams identified. China, for example, just gave a name of a nuclear scientist who will be coming. We are putting together
our list of people. And so they will assemble in Pyongyang. The purpose is to do a survey of the
sites that need to be disabled pursuant to our agreement. And so they will visit Yongbyon in particular, because “as we already know, even without a declaration , we know that Yongbyon has three of the main sites. That is, the fuel fabrication facilitation, the 5-megawatt
reactor, and the reprocessing facility.  And so the idea is for these nuclear experts to look at these three facilities and “ working with the DPRK experts to figure out how they can be disabled and how to do that disablement before December 31st …
Continue reading Disabling North Korean nuclear reactors means more than just shutting them down, U.S. says

U.S. negotiator briefs again – says North Korea will disable its nuclear programs this year

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told journalists Monday evening in Geneva that the just-ended two-day round of talks with North Korea in Geneva was “the fourth of five working groups that we’ve held in connection with getting ready for the next Six-Party plenary. The fifth working group will take place next week in Ulanbaatar in Mongolia between Japan and the DPRK. I would say we had, I think, very good and very substantive talks. I think we have an expectation that, because of this bilateral meeting, that we can look forward to a better chance of success at the next Six-Party plenary. We discussed all issues, of course focusing very much on the bilateral issues but not excluding, of course, the main event in the Six Parties, which is the denuclearization.

And one thing that we agreed on is that the DPRK will provide a full declaration of all of their nuclear programs and will disable their nuclear programs by the end of this year, 2007.

Continue reading U.S. negotiator briefs again – says North Korea will disable its nuclear programs this year

More progress reported overnight in U.S. – North Korea talks in Geneva

The Associated Press is reporting from Geneva that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said, after two days of talks, that “North Korea agreed Sunday to account for and disable its atomic programs by the end of the year, offering its first timeline for a process long sought by nuclear negotiators.

Kim Gye Gwan, head of the North Korean delegation, said separately his country’s willingness to cooperate was clear — in return for ‘political and economic compensation’ — but he mentioned no dates.

Hill said that the talks in Geneva had been ‘very good and very substantive’ … One thing that we agreed on is that the DPRK will provide a full declaration of all of their nuclear programs and will disable their nuclear programs by the end of this year, 2007′, Hill told reporters, using the initials for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea … ‘When we say all nuclear programs, we mean all’, he said.

He said later in response to a question from The Associated Press that it was the first time that North Korea had ever offered a timeline for declaring and disabling its nuclear program.
Continue reading More progress reported overnight in U.S. – North Korea talks in Geneva

U.S.-North Korea talks went well, says U.S. negotiator

According to a transcript sent out by email from the U.S. Mission in Geneva, the U.S. found that its face-to-face talks with a North Korean delegation went well. Here are selected excerpts:

I think we reached, I think, a substantial understanding between the two of us on what needs to be accomplished in the months ahead and what the overall parameters are for what we’re trying to achieve. This next phase — which has to do with disablement and declaration on the DPRK side and fuel oil and economic and energy assistance, as well as some bilateral considerations on our part — is of course a very critical phase. But I think we have an understanding of the way forward, and I think we will be able to go into the Six-Party plenary when we have it, depending on when the Chinese can schedule it. I believe it will be in the middle of September.

I do anticipate that at the next plenary session we will have a February style-agreement, which would be aimed at having a more detailed implementation plan for disablement and the other factors that I just mentioned …

All in all I think it was a very substantive discussion today, one of the most substantive we’ve had.  We discussed all of the aspects, all the issues that we needed to discuss. But we have, I think, much more to discuss.

And we will get going again at dinner and then tomorrow morning at the DPRK mission…
Continue reading U.S.-North Korea talks went well, says U.S. negotiator

U.S. and North Korean negotiators meeting in Geneva

The exact and up-to-the minute state of play between the U.S. and North Korea was described to journalists in Geneva, Switzerland on Friday by U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill (Assistant U.S. Secretary of State) speaking on the eve of a two-day round of direct talks hosted by the Swiss government.

Did Hill really mean it when he said [see below] that “nuclear weapons really need to be done away with”? (see below)

OK, the truth is, this is a selective and edited quote. Hill might have been suffering from jet lag, and boredom at some of the journalists questions … or maybe he really was choosing his words with precision, because what he said was actually: “these nuclear weapons really need to be done away with.”

Maybe he meant exactly what he said — that North Korean “nuclear weapons really need to be done away with”, and not all nuclear weapons (as called for by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, to which the U.S. is a party, but from which North Korea withdrew).

That is, of course, if the North Koreans actually have nuclear weapons, as they have recently suggested, though perhaps only as a negotiating prod, during the dragged-out efforts to release frozen North Korean funds held in the Banco Delta Asia of Macao – a bank that is under China’s ultimate control.

Hill was speaking at the Hotel de la Paix in Geneva, Switzerland:

“This will be a two-day meeting of the U.S. – DPRK working group. This is in the fram ework of five working groups that are called for in the February ’07 agreement. For us it’s an important working group because it allows us to really prepare for the next plenary session, Six-Party plenary session, and I think it also allows the U.S. and DPRK to make progress on our relationship…
Continue reading U.S. and North Korean negotiators meeting in Geneva