U.S. drops demand for full accounting of N. Korea nuclear program ahead of talks

Source: NBC News | February 27, 2019 | Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube

The country’s refusal to disclose all of its nuclear materials is the issue over which talks fell apart a decade ago.

HANOI, Vietnam — U.S. negotiators are no longer demanding that North Korea agree to disclose a full accounting of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs as part of talks this week between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, according to current and former senior U.S. officials.

The decision to drop, for now, a significant component of a potential nuclear deal suggests a reality that U.S. intelligence assessments have stressed for months is shaping talks as they progress: North Korea does not intend to fully denuclearize, which is the goal Trump set for his talks with Kim.

Disclosure of a full, verifiable declaration of North Korea’s programs is the issue over which the last round of serious negotiations between Pyongyang and world powers, including the U.S., fell apart a decade ago.

Negotiations between U.S. and North Korean officials in advance of Trump and Kim’s second summit, which begins Wednesday night over dinner in Hanoi, have focused heavily on a core component of Pyongyang’s program, the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, officials said. Dr. Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist who has visited the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center numerous times to assess the country’s capabilities, said dismantling elements of the facility would be the most significant step North Korea could take toward denuclearization.

“Yongbyon is the heart of North Korea’s nuclear program,” Hecker said, explaining that completely dismantling the reactor there would be critical and would mean North Korea would never be able to make plutonium there again.

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