North Korea has told a U.S. diplomat it will soon declare its nuclear programs under an international disarmament agreement, a news report said yesterday.
The North stated its position to Sung Kim, the State Department's top Korea expert, when he visited the country earlier this week, Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.
Kim, who returned to Seoul on Friday after a three-day trip to the North, stressed to North Korean officials that the declaration should be "sufficient and complete" and include its suspected uranium enrichment program, Yonhap said.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Kim briefed Seoul officials Friday on his discussions in Pyongyang about the North's nuclear declaration and disablement. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy, could not confirm the Yonhap report.
Comments from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul were not immediately available.
The North's nuclear declaration has emerged as a key sticking point in the denuclearization process that has made strides this year, with Pyongyang shutting down its sole operating nuclear reactor in July and now disabling it under the watch of U.S. experts.
Disagreement over Pyongyang's alleged uranium enrichment program is believed to be a factor delaying the declaration. The U.S. accused North Korea in late 2002 of seeking to secretly enrich uranium in violation of an earlier disarmament deal, sparking the latest nuclear standoff.
In agreements signed in February and October, North Korea promised to complete the declaration and disablement by year's end. In exchange, Pyongyang was promised energy assistance and political concessions, including its removal from a U.S. terrorism blacklist.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged North Korea to honor its pledge, although she left room for it to miss the deadline.
"We have been very clear that we expect a declaration from North Korea that is complete and accurate," Rice said, reiterating Washington's position that Pyongyang must describe all of its nuclear activities, including possible sales of equipment to other nations and its alleged dabbling in uranium enrichment in addition to it's plutonium program.
"I sincerely hope it will be by the end of the year, but the key is to get this process right," Rice said.
Rice would not comment on a report about the discovery by U.S. scientists of uranium traces on aluminum tubes in North Korea, apparently contradicting Pyongyang's claim that its acquisition of the tubes was for conventional purposes. Such tubes could be used in the process of converting hot uranium gas into fuel for nuclear weapons.
But she said, "We have long been concerned about highly enriched uranium as an alternative (nuclear weapons) route in North Korea."
U.S. and South Korean officials have said the work to disable the North's nuclear facilities is on schedule, but the year-end deadline was unlikely to be met because a key disablement measure - removing the fuel rods from its nuclear reactor - takes several months to complete.