Last October, the international community condemned North Korea for testing a nuclear device, and accused it of destabilizing security in Northeast Asia.  As current negotiations with Pyongyang begin to show signs of progress, VOA's Kane Farabaugh sat down with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to discuss the chances for lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

In 1994, with permission from the Clinton Administration, Jimmy Carter made history on an independent trip to North Korea, becoming the first U.S. president to visit the reclusive communist country.

It was considered a successful diplomatic effort that brought an agreement from the North to curb its nuclear development program.

"When the current administration came into the White House, they abandoned that commitment," says Mr. Carter, "and North Korea then began to process plutonium, and now has built up enough plutonium possibly for six or seven explosives."

The Bush administration preferred multilateral talks with North Korea when the U.S. abandoned the so-called 1994 "Agreed Framework" that Mr. Carter helped broker.  Last October, diplomatic efforts reached an all time low when North Korea tested a nuclear device.

"The DPRK has already harvested some 50 kilos of fissile material from the Yongbyong facility," says Ambassador Christopher Hill, the lead negotiator for the U.S. in the current six-party talks with North Korea.

The talks include the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia. They are now the primary tool in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.  As part of the talks, North Korea is required to declare its bomb making capability.  

"They will be required to declare precisely how much fissile material they have in their possession," said Hill.  "The second element that we've been concerned about is to shut down and disable the Yongbyong facility so that our 50 kilo problem doesn't become a one hundred kilo problem or a 150 kilo problem, but rather there will be no more plutonium produced."

President Carter says, "I hope that now, even though it's late, and now they have the capability, that we can put a surveillance on North Korea so that they will not produce any more explosives."

A U.S. team is currently in North Korea preparing the Yongbyong nuclear facility for shutdown.  Hill says it is an important step in bringing the North's nuclear ambitions to an end.

North Korea seeks bilateral negotiations with the U.S. to achieve normalized diplomatic relations, and it also wants off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

"That combination of outside pressure plus the inticements of the accommodation of their neighbors - those two together - might be persuasive on the very strange leaders of that isolated community," said Mr. Carter.

"I'd like to think that the DPRK is beginning to get a taste of what it is like to be a part of a community," said Ambassador Hill.

North Korea has until December 31 to completely shut down its Yongbyong facility and accurately declare its nuclear capability.