January 4, 2008 / 3:42 AM / 12 years ago

U.S. says still waiting for North Korean inventory

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Friday it had already accounted for its nuclear arms programme as required under an international disarmament deal — an assertion quickly rejected by the United States, which urged Pyongyang to produce a declaration soon.

A North Korean soldier looks through a pair of binoculars at the truce village of Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, about 34 miles north of Seoul, August 22, 2007. North Korea said on Friday it would boost its war deterrent, a day after the United States said it was sending its nuclear envoy back to Asia to discuss an atomic disarmament deal on which Pyongyang has missed a deadline. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

The United States and several allies said this week that North Korea had not met a December 31 deadline to provide a full inventory of its nuclear arms programmes, as it was obliged to by the deal it struck with regional powers earlier in the year.

Breaking days of silence on the missed deadline, the North’s KCNA news agency quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying: “We have already drawn up a nuclear report in November and have notified the United States of it.”

In Washington, the White House and State Department said the United States and other countries in the six-party nuclear negotiations were in fact still waiting for the declaration.

“Unfortunately, we have not yet received a complete and correct declaration and we urge North Korea to deliver one soon so that we can all get the benefits offered in the six-party process,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said none of the other five countries in the six-party talks — China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States — had seen the final declaration that the North was obliged to deliver.

“They’ve not yet provided what they have said is their final declaration to the chair of the six-party talks, the Chinese, and we’re still waiting for that,” he told reporters, adding that Washington remained committed to the nuclear deal.

“THEIR OWN WAY”

The United States and its allies reacted mildly when North Korea missed the declaration deadline — part of deal in which Pyongyang would shed its nuclear program in phases in exchange for 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid and a removal from a U.S. terrorism blacklist.

But McCormack said Washington was “not lowering the bar” on North Korea’s commitments and said U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill would push for progress in a trip next week to Japan, South Korea, China and Russia.

Asked why North Korea would make a public assertion that all of the other five negotiating partners knew to be false, McCormack said: “They’re engaging the international media in their own way.”

“It’s just all part of the diplomatic process — you have private dialogue and you also have private statements,” he added.

The disabling of North Korea’s nuclear reactor — a key part of the first phase of a complex nuclear deal struck after years of diplomatic wrangling and Pyongyang’s test of a nuclear

bomb in late 2006 — was still on course, he said.

The United States and South Korea have said the North has been cooperating in disabling facilities at its Yongbyon complex, including a Soviet-era reactor, a plant that produces nuclear fuel and another that turns spent fuel into plutonium.

The North said it had slowed the pace of disablement because aid was not coming as quickly as it expected and blamed the United States for delaying the deal by not taking it off a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But Pyongyang’s spokesman said the nuclear deal “can be smoothly implemented.”

The North’s statement on Friday also said it had answered U.S. suspicions about a program to enrich uranium for weapons.

“When the U.S. side raised ‘suspicion’ about uranium enrichment, the DPRK (North Korea) allowed it to visit some military facilities in which imported aluminium tubes were used as an exception and offered its samples ..., clarifying with sincerity that the controversial aluminium tubes had nothing to do with the uranium enrichment,” the spokesman said.

Additional reporting by Paul Eckert in Washington; editing by Stuart Grudgings

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