North Korea rebuts US uranium charges
Washington, Nov 10: North Korea is offering the United States evidence that it never intended to produce uranium for nuclear weapons, the Washington Post reported today.
Quoting unnamed South Korean and US officials, the paper said Pyongyang was granting US experts access to equipment and documents in closely held talks to back its case.
It said North Korean officials were hoping Washington would lift its sanctions against the reclusive Communist state when Pyongyang makes the declaration as part of the disclosure of its nuclear activities before the end of the year.
The disclosure is part of a deal struck by North Korea last month with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States to disable its Soviet-era nuclear facilities in exchange for aid and an end to its international isolation.
The agreement requires North Korea to disable its three key nuclear plants by the end of 2007, provide a list of its nuclear arms activity, account for all its fissile material and answer US suspicions that it has a clandestine program to enrich uranium for weapons.
In exchange, the destitute country will receive 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid.
''They have shown us some things, and we are working it through,'' the paper quoted a senior US official as saying on Friday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. ''We are having a discussion about things. Some explanations make sense; some are a bit of a stretch.'' The paper quoted an unnamed South Korean official as saying North Korea was attempting to show that materials it had imported had been intended for conventional weapons programs and other dual-use projects, not for nuclear weapons.
The South Korean official said North Korea's efforts marked an important shift. ''In the past, North Korea simply said no,'' he said. ''Now they are trying to convince us,'' he was quoted as saying.
The Bush administration branded North Korea part of an ''axis of evil'' and accused it in 2002 of pursuing a uranium-enrichment program to produce a nuclear weapon.
''If North Korea successfully demonstrates that US accusations about the uranium-enrichment program are wrong, it will be a blow to US intelligence and the Bush administration's credibility,'' the paper said.
The US charges of a large scale uranium program ended a 1994 Clinton administration agreement that had frozen a North Korean reactor that produced plutonium.
Either plutonium or highly enriched uranium can be used to produce nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006, detonating a plutonium-based device, and US officials estimate North Korea has enough plutonium to build six to eight nuclear bombs.