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North Korea to Shutter Nuclear Program

Steve Inskeep, host:

And let's stay overseas for a moment. Here's the latest we know about the effort to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea has taken a general promise to move in that direction and made it more specific. The country has been negotiating with its neighbors and with the United States and those nations all say the North has agreed to provide a complete inventory of its nuclear programs and disable its main nuclear facility. This was all suppose to happen by the end of the year.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn is covering this story, and, Anthony, how big a step is this?

ANTHONY KUHN: Well, the U.S. government and the governments here in Asia seem to think it's a pretty concrete and pretty significant. For the first time, we have a concrete road map and a timetable for what's got to happen.

Now, within two weeks, according to the statement that was released today, the U.S. will take a team of experts to their nuclear facility in Yongbyon and they'll start preparing for it's dismantlement by year's end. And then we will get what they call a complete and accurate accounting of all of North Korea's nuclear programs which should include the highly enriched uranium program that the U.S. suspects it has. Also something interesting in the statement is pledge by North Korea not to proliferate any of it's nuclear materials or technology. And the U.S. has been concerned that the North has been giving that technology, possibly, to Syria.

Also in the statement, we have reiterations by the U.S. and Japan that they will move towards normalizing diplomatic ties with North Korea and providing the fuel oil that North Korea is suppose to get in exchange for this, but there are no timetable set for these parts of the deal.

INSKEEP: Let me follow up on that for a moment if I can. When you say normalizing relations that sounds, well, it's diplomatic speak, but is there something significant that the United States is giving up in return?

KUHN: Well, I think it's very notable that it hasn't put timetable on this and we know that North Korea has been pushing very specifically, first of all, to get off the U.S.'s list of states sponsors of terrorism and to be detargeted(ph) as a target of the trading with the enemy act, and the U.S. says that this is all discussable once the denuclearization happens. And in the statement, it did not give a timetable, but it says it will go through with it's pledge to discuss these items.

INSKEEP: Now, there's a possibility of significant concessions overtime but nothing really concrete right now except the fuel oil that you've mentioned.

KUHN: That's right. That was part of the deal that was reached in February in which North Korea said it would dismantle its programs.

INSKEEP: And let me just emphasize if I can what is still - what still remains to be discussed here, Anthony? North Korea still has a number of nuclear weapons, right?

KUHN: That's right. It probably has a eight to a dozen nuclear weapons and it also has, probably, 110 pounds of fissile material that it could use to make bombs and that it's already harvested form that nuclear reactor. And once the facility at Yongbyon is disabled, then they can start looking at getting rid of that fissile material, moving it someplace else.

INSKEEP: Are there years of discussions ahead of us then?

KUHN: Well, that's the thing. There are a lot of things where - that are not specified in the statement in line of the technical details about how they will disable the facilities. And anyone of these details could trip up the negotiations. Everybody is waiting to see how North Korea will follow through and implement it's pledges.

INSKEEP: Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: We've been listening to NPR's Anthony Kuhn. He's ion Beijing where he's covering some news that North Korea has promised to disable it's main nuclear reactor by the end of this year.

You're listening to 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.