Nuclear all-clear?

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Nuclear all-clear?

North Korea submitted its declaration on its nuclear programs yesterday. The North handed over its nuclear report to Wu Dawei, Vice Foreign Minister of China, which is hosting the six-party talks. The report includes the amount of plutonium that the North has produced so far and its uses, plus a list of its nuclear facilities, including the Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

The United States administration has notified Congress that it will lift sanctions against North Korea in accordance with the U.S. act prohibiting, limiting and regulating trade with hostile countries. It said it will take appropriate steps to remove North Korea from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states as soon as the North submits its declaration of nuclear programs to China.

The North Korean nuclear issue has gone through the phase of “shutting down nuclear facilities” according to the “2.13 agreement,” and completed the second phase of “disablement and notification of nuclear facilities.” It has now reached the critical final phase of “abolition of nuclear weapons.”

North Korea is expected to blow up the cooling tower at the North’s main nuclear complex today as an ostentatious display of its commitment to abolishing all nuclear facilities. However, the North has a long way to go. The nuclear declaration should be reviewed without delay. The difference between the amount of plutonium that the North declared and that the U.S. estimated should be clarified. If not, the U.S. will not be able to remove North Korea from the list of terrorism-sponsoring states, and it will also be difficult to enter the third phase.

North Korea and the U.S. agreed not to include the uranium enrichment program and alleged nuclear cooperation with Syria in its declaration. In this regard, how hard-line factions in Washington will respond is one of the major variables.

A worrying point is that the issue of nuclear weapons was excluded from the report, even though this was fully expected. Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said the agenda item on nuclear weapons is expected to be discussed in the final phase, which North Korea is aware about.

The situation is too vague. There is a possibility that the North’s possession of nuclear weapons may be accepted as fact, a factor that might end up as President Bush’s most remarkable diplomatic achievement. We need to clarify that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be completed only when North Korea abolishes all nuclear weapons and programs.

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