WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea missed a year-end deadline to give a full account of its nuclear weapons under a disarmament-for-aid deal struck with regional powers and the United States.
“It’s unfortunate, but we are going to keep working on this,” said U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey as Monday’s deadline of midnight North Korean time (10 a.m. EST/3 p.m. British time) passed.
North Korea, which tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006, gave no explanation for missing the deadline, which had been agreed in February in talks between United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
The United States and allies South Korea and Japan issued coordinated statements on Sunday lamenting Pyongyang’s failure to deliver the expected declaration to release an inventory of its atomic activities in exchange for aid.
But the United States seemed to temper its disappointment.
“The important thing is not whether we have the declaration by today,” said Casey. “The important thing is we get a declaration that meets the requirement of the agreement, which means it needs to be full and complete.”
In Tokyo, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official urged Pyongyang “to provide a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs as quickly as possible.”
“It is unfortunate that this declaration has not been provided yet,” the official said.
In early November, North Korea began disabling its aging Yongbyon nuclear complex, which is also required under the nuclear deal. A U.S. official who has been on hand at the site north of Pyongyang said the North has been cooperating.
The process is the first tangible action the secretive state has made to take apart its nuclear arms programme since it began its quest for atomic weapons in earnest in the 1980s.
Yet, shortly before the deadline passed, it blamed the United States for hurting prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula by continuing to harbour an intention to attack it — something Washington has repeatedly denied.
“The reality testifies once again that there is no change in the U.S. intention to invade us with force and occupy the whole of Korea, although the U.S. is uttering ‘peace’ and ‘dialogue,’” the North’s communist party newspaper said in a commentary.
“Dialogue and war attempts can’t stand together.”
U.S. officials estimate North Korea has produced about 110 pounds (50 kgs) of plutonium, enough for about eight nuclear weapons, and launched a clandestine programme to enrich uranium for weapons.
However, analysts said the nuclear deal would not be jeopardised for now.
Earlier this year. North Korea missed a separate deadline without retribution to freeze its Yongbyon reactor because of a dispute over its international finances.
It had lived up to its obligations after that dispute was settled.
If the destitute North meets the conditions of the six-nation deal, it receive 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid and Washington would take it off its terrorism blacklist, which could help it tap into international finance.
A leading Chinese academic said it was important for all parties to the nuclear disarmament talks to keep influencing North Korea, and that was why China had taken a sanguine stance over the deadline.
“There has been no strong evidence between February 13 and October 1 that North Korea has truly made up its mind to denuclearize,” said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University’s International Security Programme.
“None of the parties involved are convinced yet that North Korea is really ready to denuclearise. Everyone was a bit disappointed but agreed the situation was not too bad,” Zhu said.
Additional reporting by John Herskovitz and Yoo Choonsik in Seoul, George Nishiyama in Tokyo and Chen Aizhu in Beijing; Writing by Chris Wilson; Editing by Doina Chiacu