U.S. Pushing North Korea on Nuclear Plant, Resuming Negotiations

The U.S. is coordinating a response to evidence that North Korea has advanced its nuclear program and is taking steps to pressure Kim Jong Il’s regime back to negotiations, a White House spokesman said.

“The North Koreans have to be serious about living up to their obligations” to dismantle their nuclear-weapons program if they expect progress in negotiations toward more normal relations with other countries, press secretary Robert Gibbs told a White House briefing yesterday. “We do not wish to talk simply for the sake of talking.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said North Korea often uses advances in its nuclear program as a bargaining chip to draw the U.S. and other countries into negotiations.

“We will not be drawn into rewarding North Korea for bad behavior,” Crowley told a State Department briefing.

The North Korean claim to have built a uranium enrichment facility “violates its international obligations,” Crowley said, referring to a 2005 joint statement by the so-called six- party nations -- the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia -- in which North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear program.

The administration learned of North Korea’s advances after U.S. scientists were invited to the country to tour its latest nuclear plant for enriching uranium this month. The finding prompted President Barack Obama to dispatch envoy Stephen Bosworth to the region to talk with other nations involved in the six-party talks.

U.S. Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Bosworth said today in Tokyo the disarmament talks won’t resume while North Korea pursues the uranium program, according to the Associated Press. Bosworth travels to Beijing today on the last day of his trip, which included a stop in South Korea.

Deploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea could be considered as a response to North Korea’s nuclear threat, South Korea’s Defense Minister Kim Tae Young said yesterday. Kim was responding to a lawmaker’s question on whether he was open to considering the option.

The ministry in Seoul later issued a statement that the government is not officially considering asking the U.S. to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons, which were removed in the early 1990s.

‘Astonishingly Modern’

“The control room was astonishingly modern,” Stanford University professor Siegfried S. Hecker wrote in a Nov. 20 report of his visit eight days earlier to the main reactor site at Yongbyon.

“We saw a modern, clean centrifuge plant of more than a thousand centrifuges,” he wrote, referring to the high-speed spinning devices that enrich uranium.

Victor Cha, director of Asian affairs at the White House from 2004 to 2007, said that the advanced quality of the equipment was striking.

“It appeared to be much further advanced and much further along than anything we suspected North Korea capable of doing,” Cha said, speaking at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Not Just One

The advanced nature of the control room and its equipment could also indicate that it isn’t the only facility of its kind, he said.

“Just the fact that the facility is so sophisticated and complete leads one to believe there must be other facilities,” said Cha, who holds the Korea Chair at CSIS and is a former deputy head of delegation to the six-party talks.

Ambassador Sung Kim, the current U.S. special envoy to the six-party talks, said the situation had gotten “more dangerous.”

He noted that the last round of talks had taken place in December 2008, almost two years ago. “The negotiation process is broken,” he said.

“This is what one person described to me as the land of no good choices,” Sung said of North Korea. “Your choices are bad, worse and the worst, and this is a quintessential example of that.”

One key factor moving forward will be to ensure China’s involvement in reining North Korea in, both Cha and Sung said.

Closest Ally

China is North Korea’s closest ally and often protects the isolated regime when it comes under fire, as it did after it was accused of sinking a South Korean naval vessel in March.

Sung said that assuming the six-party talks restart, the U.S. goal would aim to get back into them “with the Chinese on your side.” The Chinese, he added, would see a resumption of talks as in their interests.

North Korea “is clearly destabilizing to the region and China knows that,” he said. “We do share a common goal.”

Cha sounded a more cautious note about China’s cooperation.

“The Chinese position is very important,” Cha said. “We want the Chinese to say this is a violation of the six-party commitments. That’s where we want the Chinese to start, not make excuses.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Washington at ngaouette@bloomberg.net; Kate Andersen Brower in Washington at kandersen7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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