Members of Congress are expressing skepticism but also some hope about North Korea's commitments to take steps toward nuclear disarmament made in an agreement in six-party talks in Beijing February 13. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
Under the agreement, North Korea agreed to take steps within 60 days toward eventual dismantling of its nuclear arms development infrastructure.
Pyongyang would shut down its nuclear reactor at Yangbyon, key to its plutonium production, with an eye toward dismantling the facility, and let international inspectors return.
In exchange, North Korea would receive energy assistance, beginning with 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, with additional shipments to follow conditioned on steps to dismantle its nuclear program.
U.S. and North Korean officials are scheduled to hold working level talks next week in New York on the question of normalization of relations, another aspect of the agreement.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told the House Foreign Affairs Committee these talks are part of initial steps, but reported on other movement. "Already there have been contacts between Pyongyang and I.A.E.A chairman in Vienna to begin this process of getting the I.A.E.A. back into North Korea. In addition, the North Koreans have agreed to discuss with the other parties a list of all its nuclear programs, including the plutonium extracted from used fuel rods," he said.
Hill also confirmed another outgrowth of the agreement, talks next week between Japanese and North Korean officials on bilateral normalization steps, with other working groups covering Northeast Asia security, and economic and energy cooperation.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers remain skeptical about the agreement and suspicious about North Korean intentions.
Committee chairman and Democrat Tom Lantos says the deal depends on goodwill he describes as lacking by Pyongyang. "Beyond the first two months, I am concerned that North Korean obfuscation might work to undermine the effectiveness of the denuclearization agreement," he said.
Many lawmakers note the February 13 agreement bears similarities to the accord the Clinton administration negotiated with North Korea, that Pyongyang later violated.
"Given this record, what has changed that has convinced you and the administration that the North Korean regime will abide by its commitments in the February 13th agreement?, said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking Republican on the committee.
Among other things, Assistant Secretary Hill stresses that fuel oil shipments will be tightly linked to Pyongyang's production of a complete and accurate inventory of its nuclear program, including the amount of plutonium it already possesses.
A key to success, he adds, will be cooperation among those in the six-party talks. "Having these partners participating ensures that this approach is more robust than efforts we have been able to do in the past, because it provides stronger incentives to North Korea, but also stronger leverage to make sure that North Korea fulfills its commitments," he said.
Amid ongoing questions about China's commitment, Hill said Beijing has played a constructive role and will remain crucial to success. He says discussions on other issues, such as human rights, should follow later once progress can be assured on nuclear disarmament.
The foreign affairs panel holds a separate hearing Thursday on human rights in North Korea.