Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 12:39 UK

Why N Korea has handed its data over

By John Sudworth
South Korea correspondent, BBC News

Anti-US poster in Pyongyang
The move will mean a change in North Korea-US relations
It finally came after six months of delay - but when it did, it was a mundane moment. Behind closed doors inside Beijing's Foreign Ministry, a North Korean official handed a document to his Chinese counterpart.

But the paper-passing procedure is of significant diplomatic importance.

North Korea's declaration, the long-awaited list of its nuclear assets, is seen as a key step in the efforts to achieve a denuclearised Korean peninsula.

The "six-party process", which involves North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, has been a series of negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for diplomatic and other incentives.

The fledgling nuclear power has had to be cajoled and convinced, and more importantly compensated, for each carefully choreographed step towards its eventual disarmament.

Handsome rewards

The most recent document signed by the six parties on 3 October last year commits North Korea to providing "a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programmes".

It was meant to have been handed over by the end of 2007. Now that it has been - albeit a little late - North Korea can expect to be well-rewarded.

North Korea embassy in Beijing
2002: N Korea pulls out of previous deal after US accuses it of having secret uranium programme
October 2006: North Korea carries out its first test of a nuclear weapon
February 2007: North Korea agrees to end nuclear activities in return for aid
July 2007: North Korea closes its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows IAEA inspectors in
December 2007: North Korea misses a deadline to hand over a declaration of its nuclear work
Exactly what the deal means to the various parties has dominated a meeting of the Group of Eight in Kyoto.

For a start, it obligates the United States to take parallel action towards normalising diplomatic relations with the once-pariah state.

The US will begin, almost immediately, the process of removing North Korea from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, as well as terminating the country's inclusion under the Trading with the Enemy Act - steps that will free Pyongyang from a variety of burdensome restrictions on international trade and financial transactions.

Its crumbling command economy will also be given a boost with a million tonnes of heating oil or other forms of aid of equivalent value.

But if the rewards are so handsome, why the delay in producing the document?

"Let me be clear," US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said in February this year, "complete and correct, means complete and correct".

Uranium enrichment

America's chief envoy to the six-party talks went on to explain what he expected to see on North Korea's list.

Right-wing South Korean former special military commandos with a rocket saying "made in North Korea"
Some critics are sceptical about how much North Korea will reveal
"This declaration must include all nuclear weapons, programs, materials, and facilities, including clarification of any proliferation activities," he said.

He also insisted that the document had to address concerns related to North Korea's alleged uranium enrichment programmes.

The point being made was obvious - that the world needed to know what North Korea had, in order to know what North Korea needed to get rid of.

With Pyongyang denying any involvement in uranium enrichment, or the alleged transfer of nuclear technology to Syria, for the last six months the diplomatic effort has gone into finding an acceptable compromise formula for what should be on the list.

And it seems that the North Koreans have got their way.

"The Japanese government believes that a complete declaration is necessary for complete abolition," the Japanese Foreign Minister, Masahiko Komura, recently told journalists.

"But there's a view that it's better to ease the stalemate and move forward," he said.


The document handed over is thought to focus on North Korea's plutonium reprocessing activities at its Yongbyon reactor site.

When the contents are made public, many observers believe there will be no mention of its existing weapons stockpiles, or any evidence of involvement in uranium enrichment.

So has the US gone soft on North Korea?

G8 ministers at Kyoto State Guest House, Japan
The North Korea issue has dominated a meeting of G8 foreign ministers
Critics doubt that North Korea ever intends to fully disarm, and claim that it is being allowed to blackmail the international community.

But the US administration points to some real achievements.

The Yongbyon reactor, the source of the nuclear material for the North's only successful weapons test to date, is being taken apart under American supervision.

And the steps being taken towards diplomatic normalisation can easily be reversed if Pyongyang refuses to allow teams of inspectors to verify the truth of its somewhat limited list.

It might be argued that the US approach marks a shift from Zealpolitik to Realpolitik in its dealings with North Korea, only a few years since President George W Bush included it on his "axis of evil".

Today the strategy is not one of isolating the regime, but engaging it and trying to win small pragmatic steps towards the bigger goal.

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