Can North Korea Be Removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List in 45 Days?

North Korea yesterday submitted the declaration of its nuclear programs to China, the chair country of the Six Party Talks, six months after the deadline of Dec. 31st 2007. The U.S. will now begin the process of removing North Korea from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

Additionally, the Yongbyon reactor cooling tower was blown up today in accordance with an agreement between the U.S. and North Korea. The collapse was aired on CNN and other news networks with some describing it as a “political show.”

A South Korean government source said that “North Korean ambassador to China, Choi Jin Soo, visited the Chinese Foreign Ministry and handed over the declaration on the 26 at 6:30 P.M. (Korean time) to Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister, Wu Dawei, after a meeting with him.

U.S. President George W. Bush held a press conference at the White House Rose Garden saying, “We welcome today’s development.” He added, “I am notifying Congress of my intent to rescind North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terror in 45 days.”

Following North Korea’s declaration of its nuclear programs, the six countries will soon initiate negotiations on the 3rd phase of the denuclearization process. Since the out break of the 2nd North Korean nuclear crisis in 2002, the six nations have been working toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but today is the first day that tangible progress has been made.

The Six Party Talks are expected to resume soon but are not likely to run smoothly as there will be many challenges throughout the process of verification of the declaration. Furthermore, there is the matter of the nuclear weapons that were not included in the declaration, and suspicion of the nuclear proliferation still remains.

◆ The incomplete declaration of North Korea’s nuclear weapons

With North Korean submission of the nuclear declaration, the Bush administration is on its way to achieving a diplomatic success story, contributing to the Bush legacy in the lead up to the November elections. In return, North Korea is receiving economic and political benefits in the form of food and energy aid, and the removal of its name from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

Chief of the Arms Control Studies Division at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis, Kim Tae Woo, believes that the progress can be attributed to concerted efforts from the Bush administration to achieve some success before the change of administration next year. North Korea appears to have ended its delay tactics, realizing that it will likely receive a better deal from a “legacy hungry” Bush administration, than the next administration.

The 60 page declaration reportedly consists of three parts: the nuclear-related facilities list; the extracted plutonium amount; and the total stockpile of uranium, excluding the number of nuclear weapons.

In accordance with a secret agreement between the U.S. and North Korea reached in Singapore earlier this year, the yesterday’s declaration excludes the uranium enrichment program (UEP), an important component the nuclear program. It also excludes information regarding North Korean nuclear proliferation to Syria.

The next round of Six Party Talks will likely focus on verifying of the amount of plutonium produced, which was the main subject of the declaration. Verification will not be easy because estimates vary greatly, with the U.S. estimating between 35-60kg of plutonium produced, and North Korea estimating 36-37kg.

The way to verify the number of nuclear weapons, the uranium enrichment program (UEP), and the suspected nuclear proliferation is likely to be intensively discussed.

◆ Congress dissatisfied despite the receiving the declaration

The mood of the U.S. Congress surrounding the submission of the declaration suggests many members of Congress are dissatisfied that it is incomplete.

MOFAT spokesperson, Moo Tae Young, revealed yesterday that “if in the process of verification flaws are found in the declaration, North Korea will not be removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.”

The verification that the U.S. and other participating countries of the Six Party Talks demand excludes underground facilities such as secret tunnels which would be stationed around mountainous areas around the country and weapon-levels of plutonium.

Kim Tae Woo said that, “It is technically impossible to make the verification within 45 days, so debates are likely to arise.”

Some experts point out that North Korea is showing its intent not to give up its nuclear weapons because the declaration does not cover the number of nuclear weapons.

Extraction of the used fuel rods, the main measure of North Korean disablement, has been an obstacle for the Six Party Talks because of the slow progress. North Korea has criticized the other five countries in the Six Party Talks for delays in economic and energy aid compared to its speed of disablement.

Further criticism is expected of the UEP and the suspected nuclear connection with Syria that will be declared later in secret, in particular UEP, as this was the catalyst for the 2nd nuclear crisis. However it is not clear whether this can be solved because North Korea continues to deny its existence.