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US Says Concerns About North Korean Proliferation Remain


The State Department says the United States has continuing concerns about alleged weapons proliferation activity by North Korea despite recent strides in the six-party nuclear disarmament process. A U.S. newspaper report Thursday said North Korea may be helping Syria build a nuclear facility. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department says the latest developments in the six-party process suggest North Korea has made a "strategic choice" to abandon its nuclear program, but there continues to be concern in Washington that Pyongyang may be exporting weapons technology.

The comments here follow a Washington Post report Thursday that U.S. intelligence has acquired information, including satellite photos, indicating that North Korea may be cooperating with Syria on some sort of nuclear facility. The information is said to have been largely provided by Israel.

The newspaper account, quoting U.S. government sources, said the information was preliminary and that some analysts are skeptical that the two countries would be working together in the nuclear area despite past missile cooperation.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack refused comment, as is customary on reports citing U.S. intelligence. But he did say concerns about North Korea's proliferation record remain:

"Our publicly-stated concerns about North Korean behavior, which ranges to proliferation, are out there," said McCormack. "There are public documents from the intelligence community talking about proliferation in general, of which North Korea is a part. You have designations of [North Korean] entities that are involved in proliferation activities. You also have a Security Council resolution that is in force that addresses, in part, North Korea's behavior."

The United States has repeatedly cited North Korean state entities for exporting ballistic missiles and related technology in recent years.

Two U.N. Security Council resolutions last year, including the one condemning North Korea's nuclear test in October, called for international action to prevent trafficking by that country in weapons-of-mass-destruction technology.

North Korea agreed at the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks in February to scrap its nuclear program in return for energy aid and diplomatic benefits, and it shut down its reactor complex at Yongbyon in July.

The State Department says Pyongyang this week gave experts from the United States, Russia and China full access to the Yongbyon site to examine ways to permanently disable the facility under the next phase of the disarmament deal.

Spokesman McCormack welcomed that development as indicating that Pyongyang has made the strategic choice to disarm, and he said he expects Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill to go to Beijing next week for an envoy-level session of the six-party talks.

That session would lay groundwork for the first-ever ministerial level meeting of the six parties - including Japan, Russia and South Korea along with the United States, North Korea and China - expected to be held in the Chinese capital next month.

McCormack also confirmed that the Bush administration has begun consultations with Congress on the possible provision to North Korea of $25 million worth of fuel oil.

The February 13 agreement commits the parties to provide North Korea with a total of one million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid, once it has disabled its nuclear facilities and made a complete declaration of its nuclear holdings.

The accord also created working groups that could open the way to normalized relations between North Korea and both Japan and the United States, and bring a formal end to the 1950's Korean conflict.

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