WASHINGTON -- North Korea has delivered a long-delayed accounting of its nuclear activities.
Pyongyang submitted the document on June 26 to the government of China, one of five nations, including the United States, that has been working to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. The 60-page declaration, which had been due by the end of 2007, focuses on North Korea's nuclear material and programs, but not its weapons.
Responding immediately, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that Washington will match North Korea's action with concessions of its own. Bush said the United States will end strict trade sanctions against North Korea and drop the Stalinist country from its list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
Speaking at the White House, Bush said North Korea's decision to deliver the report on its nuclear program was "a step closer in the right direction," and said the United States is willing to respond positively to a nation that it once said was part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and Iran.
But Bush emphasized that he doesn't expect further positive steps from North Korea without hard negotiations and close scrutiny.
"The United States has no illusions about the regime in Pyongyang," he said. "We remain deeply concerned about North Korea's human rights abuses, uranium enrichment activities, nuclear testing and proliferation, ballistic missile programs, and the threat it continues to pose to South Korea and its neighbors. Yet we welcome today's development as one step in the multistep process laid out by the six-party talks between North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States."
End Trade Sanctions
Bush said the United States will end trade sanctions imposed years ago under the Trading With the Enemy Act, and Bush
notified Congress that his administration will remove Pyongyang from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism within 45 days.
But the U.S. president said North Korea will still face many other sanctions, including those imposed by the United Nations. He stressed that North Korea's action today is only one of many it must perform if it wants to end its isolation and eventually achieve international recognition.
"To end its isolation, North Korea must address these concerns. It must dismantle all nuclear facilities, give up its separated plutonium, resolve outstanding questions on its highly enriched uranium and proliferation activities, and end these activities in a way that we can fully verify," Bush said.
Bush emphasized that today's events are only the beginning of ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons, and he urged North Korea to keep up its cooperation in the six-party negotiations with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.
'Make The Right Choices'
"If North Korea continues to make the right choices, it can repair its relationship with the international community, much as Libya has done over the past few years," Bush said. "If North Korea makes the wrong choices, the United States and our partners in the six-party talks will respond accordingly. If they do not fully disclose and end their plutonium [production], their [uranium] enrichment, and their proliferation efforts and activities, there will be further consequences."
Shortly before Bush spoke, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said North Korea has promised to disable all of its nuclear weapons facilities. As part of that effort, she said, North Korea will destroy the cooling tower of its reactor in Yongbyon on June 27.
To demonstrate its good faith, the North Korean government has decided to televise the event.
But Korea will have to do a lot more than bring down the tower to satisfy James Lilley, who served as U.S. ambassador to North Korea and China during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, respectively.
Lilley told RFE/RL that North Korea is playing a very subtle game in its negotiations over its nuclear program -- they withhold as much as they give.
"[The North Koreans] are giving you certain things, like taking down the cooling tower, 18,000 pages of documents, inviting [inspectors] in," Lilley says. "At the same time, they've made it clear to you that they're going to keep their nuclear weapons and they will not tolerate accusations on the HEU (highly enriched uranium) or the proliferation-to-Syria problem. They won't talk about it."
Asked if the destruction of the Yongbyon cooling tower is merely a stunt, Lilley said that, too, has its subtleties. Certainly, he said, it will diminish North Korea's ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium, but not by much.
'Beginning Of Obama Presidency'
John Bolton agrees. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the UN who also served as the U.S. State Department's chief diplomat on arms proliferation, told RFE/RL that the destruction of the cooling tower is, in his words, "95 percent theater, 5 percent substance."
Bolton said the tower is needed only to cool the steam that turns the turbine in the nuclear reactor. That steam, he said, could just as easily be diverted to a nearby river -- polluting it, probably, but to no great concern of the North Korean government.
The major problem, Bolton said, is what he believes is the capitulation of the Bush administration to North Korea.
"I think it's a reflection of the general collapse of the Bush administration's foreign policy," Bolton says. "I mean, in effect, this is the beginning of the Obama presidency."
Bolton is referring to U.S. Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party for president in the November election. Obama has promised a U.S. foreign policy that would engage hostile nations in an effort to defuse international tensions.
According to Bolton, such a policy is bankrupt. He said the United States should treat North Korea as it does Iran, by keeping it at arm's length and bringing more pressure on it until it ends its nuclear program.