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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 16 (August 14, 2008)

All Headlines 10:43 August 14, 2008


U.S. Delays Lifting N. Korea from Terrorism List

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United States has not yet removed North Korea from the list of states sponsoring terrorism due to the lack of an agreement for establishing a verification mechanism of Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Aug. 11 was the earliest that the U.S. could have taken North Korea off the state sponsors of terror list, as U.S. President George W. Bush notified Congress in late June of his intention to delist the North within 45 days, unless the legislature specifically opposed the move.

Despite the 45 days passing, North Korea has not shown any response to Washington's delay in removing the country from the list. Observers predict that North Korea will closely watch the U.S. while trying to find a proper time to accept the verification protocol.

"The 45 days are a minimum period, and what we need from North Korea is a strong verification regime," U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters on Aug. 11. "We haven't produced the verification regime we are waiting for."

Bush began the delisting process soon after the communist country presented a long-overdue list of its nuclear programs and activities and demolished a nuclear cooling tower in June, marking a breakthrough in the stalled six-party talks on ending its nuclear ambitions.

In mid-July, members of the six-party talks gathered in Beijing for a new round in the regular session. They agreed on a timetable to complete the ongoing disabling of its principal nuclear facilities by the end of October and accepted general principles for verifying Pyongyang's nuclear declaration.

Washington and Pyongyang then held bilateral discussion on the scope, method and other details of the mechanism without making progress. Sung Kim, Bush's special envoy on North Korean nuclear affairs, visited Pyongyang in late July, but failed to produce an agreement on the verification protocol.

Dennis Wilder, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council (NSC), said in Beijing on Aug. 10 that Washington is still waiting for "a robust verification regime."

Sung Kim was scheduled to fly to Beijing on Aug. 13 to discuss the verification protocol with Chinese officials. Observers said that during Kim's visit to the Chinese capital, there is a possibility for him to meet his North Korean counterpart, Ri Gun.

While touring South Korea, Thailand and China last week, U.S. President George W. Bush repeatedly cited the need for Pyongyang to produce a verification plan for its uranium-based nuclear program and nuclear proliferation, as well as its plutonium-producing nuclear facilities.

The Bush administration has been under fire for accepting the North Korean nuclear list, which does not address the uranium and proliferation issues. The belated demand for an accounting on those sensitive issues, however, will likely produce another hiatus in the six-party process in the waning months of the Bush administration. Bush will step down in January.

North Korea has yet to respond to the draft protocol presented on July 11 at the latest round of the six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

The North has threatened not to proceed with the disabling of its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, located north of Pyongyang, under the six-party agreement by the end of October unless the U.S. delists it and lift sanctions. It has also demanded that the other parties provide promised energy aid by that time, as agreed upon in July.

A State Department official said on Aug. 12 that during his visit to Beijing, Sung Kim will discuss ways to "secure a strong verification regime as part of the six-party talks and will conclude the talks over the weekend."

Kim, who was recently promoted to his current post from the head of the Korea Desk of the State Department, visited Beijing in late July, but failed to produce an agreement on the verification protocol.

The unnamed official dismissed the suggestion that Kim will meet with North Korean officials in Beijing, saying, "Sung Kim has no current plan to meet with North Korean officials."

U.S. officials would not discuss what is the major obstacle to a verification agreement, but pessimists say that the U.S. demand for verification of an alleged uranium-based nuclear program and any nuclear proliferation may cause another hiatus in the years-old, sporadic negotiations.

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