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U.S. researchers assess lathes used to manufacture nuclear fuel rods during part of an inspection of the Yongbyon plant. North Korea is suspected of having developed enriched uranium and plutonium stockpiles. However, it has finally agreed to cooperate with the U.S. in phasing out its nuclear activities.  (Source: AP)

An aerial view of the Yongbyon nuclear facility in North Korea, a suspected site of nuclear enrichment. North Korea will destroy the prominent tower on Friday as part of its plans to dismantle the facility.  (Source: DigitalGlobe-ISIS)
North Korea agrees to a full public accounting of its nuclear stockpile

Many countries around the world have begun to dismantle their nuclear arsenals, but the U.S. continues a modest program of nuclear development, both offensive and defensive with research into missile shields and new missile designs

The U.S. is not alone either.  India and Pakistan both have developed declared nuclear arsenals since the 90s in an ongoing brinkmanship power play.

Other countries, including Iran and North Korea are suspected or known to have produced nuclear power and weapons grade materials in secret.  Because of this, both countries were dubbed part of the "Axis of Evil" by President Bush several years ago.

Now North Korea has agreed to a full public accounting of its nuclear assets and has agreed to scale back its nuclear production.  The move was a culmination of a series of talks led by fellow-communist neighbor China, which included four other nations, including the U.S.

President Bush welcomed the move and said it would allow the U.S. to remove North Korea from its list of states which support terrorism.

One particularly interesting detail of accounting should be North Korea's revelation of its plutonium stocks.  It is unknown how much plutonium has been amassed by the country's nuclear operations.  Plutonium is primarily used in the creation of nuclear weapons, while uranium, from which plutonium is produced, is primarily used for nuclear power generation.

North Korea has also agreed to dismantle a major reactor, which was shrouded with controversy.  Bush has agreed to call for the removal of North Korea from the terror list, but warned that North Korea must show its cooperation in a "verifiable" way.  He stated, "The United States has no illusions about the regime in Pyongyang, yet we welcome today's development as one step of a multi-step process."

He added a warning, "If North Korea continues to make the right choices, it can repair its relationship with the international community.  If North Korea makes the wrong choices, the United States and its partners in the six-party talks will respond accordingly."

As part of the deal, North Korea will "acknowledge" international concerns about its nuclear proliferation and uranium enrichment activities.  While it has not agreed to destroy its current plutonium stocks, it is willing to agree as part of the agreement to suspend future enrichment activity.  It has also not agreed to reveal if it has any nuclear bombs, so it may have a trump card or two up its sleeve.

In exchange the nation will receive economic and energy assistance.

It will be monitored to assure that the dismantlement of its nuclear program proceeds earnestly.  On Friday, North Korea will take an important step in the dismantlement of its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, by imploding the cooling tower.  The power production section of the plant is currently being dismantled.  U.S. officials warn that the cooling tower's destruction is nothing more than a symbolic gesture and much work remains.

In a surprising development, North Korea invited the international press to cover the tower's destruction.  North Korea typically bans foreign media.

The other nations involved in the talks have been South Korea, Japan, and Russia.  The U.S. backed off its initial demands that North Korea confess to a large enriched uranium stockpile, which U.S. intelligence officials believe exists.  The U.S. also backed down from its accusations that North Korea supplied Syria, a terror state, with nuclear weapons technology and/or materials.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said the deal was far from ideal, but it was the best that could be accomplished.  The documents from the talks will now be reviewed for completeness and accuracy.

An irony is that North Korea's removal from the terror list will have no real effect on U.S. sanctions against the nation and similar sanctions exist for a variety of reason through other measures.  Thus sanctions remain, but the nuclear tensions between the communist state and the West will temporarily ease.





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