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U.S. Lifts N. Korea Trade Sanctions


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Major developments today, in the effort to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. North Korea has released a formal declaration of the extent of its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. In exchange, the U.S. will lift some of the economic sanctions that have left North Korea one of the most isolated nations in the world.

It's a promising start, but the ultimate goal of a nuclear-weapons-free Korean peninsula is still a long way off. NPR's Mike Shuster has our story.

MIKE SHUSTER: North Korea has been working up to this step for a year. It disabled its nuclear reactor and other facilities at Yongbyon, north of the capital, Pyongyang. It allowed specialists from the U.S. and elsewhere to oversee those steps. And more recently, it provided to the U.S. some 19,000 pages of documents connected to the history and operations of its nuclear weapons program.

Today's formal declaration is believed to include crucial details, such as how much plutonium North Korea produced over the past 20 years, giving the U.S. a more precise count of how many nuclear weapons North Korea possesses.

Early today, President Bush welcomed the North Korean action.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States is responding to North Korea's actions with two actions of our own. First, I am issuing a proclamation that lifts the provisions of the Trading With the Enemy Act with respect to North Korea. And secondly, I am notifying Congress of my intent to rescind North Korea's designation as a state sponsor of terror in 45 days.

SHUSTER: The Trading With the Enemy Act sanctions go all the way back to the Korean War. Coupled with North Korea's status as a state sponsor of terrorism, these sanctions restricted much American trade with North Korea and blocked Pyongyang's access to many international financial institutions. Still, Steve Hadley, President Bush's national security advisor, said North Korea remains under tight restrictions.

Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush): I will tell you, and the North Koreans understand, that the degree of easing of sanctions is relatively minor. North Korea remains one of the most-sanctioned regimes, by not only by U.S. bilateral sanctions, but also under the U.S. Security Council Resolution 1718 and actions taken by other countries.

SHUSTER: President Bush emphasized that if North Korea remains committed to dismantling its nuclear-weapons infrastructure, more benefits are on the way.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: This could be a moment of opportunity for North Korea. 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. If North Korea makes the wrong choices, the United States and our partners in the six-party talks will respond accordingly.

SHUSTER: Those six-party talks include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, as well as the United States and North Korea, and they provided the diplomatic framework that delivered today's steps.

There are key issues that were not addressed today. The North Korean declaration did not provide an accounting of its suspected uranium-enrichment activities, nor possible nuclear cooperation with Syria, which sparked an Israeli air strike last September on a suspected Syrian reactor under construction. But, says Steve Hadley, the groundwork has been laid to probe these issues.

Mr. HADLEY: They say they're not engaged in these activities now and won't in the future. They also have acknowledged, in writing, that we have raised concerns about their enrichment activities in the past and their actions with respect to Syria, and they, as you've noticed, have not been out publicly denying or discounting these concerns. So we're in a situation with not quite admitting, not denying, but opening the door for us to be able to try and get greater clarity.

SHUSTER: Some experts see this action today as the administration's final acknowledgement that its aggressive approach to the spread of nuclear weapons, what some have called the Dirty Harry approach, has not worked.

George Perkovich is a nuclear specialist with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Mr. GEORGE PERKOVICH (Nuclear Specialist, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): You know, you get a big gun, and you don't negotiate. You go out and impose your will. That was the original approach. On North Korea, they've recognized after a time, that it wasn't working. And the most obvious recognition was when the North Koreans tested in 2006. It's hard to have a less productive policy than one that enables a country to produce more plutonium then go out and test the weapon, despite all of the pressure against it.

SHUSTER: Whether North Korea will actually give up the nuclear weapons it has produced remains the central unanswered question, which will almost certainly be left for the next administration to address. Mike Shuster, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mike Shuster
Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.