A preliminary review of thousands of nuclear documents turned over to the United States by North Korea shows they appear to be a complete accounting of their plutonium production, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
While translation and analysis of the 18,822 Korean-language documents is still under way, officials said an early look indicates they include full details of North Korea's plutonium program dating back to 1986. The officials cautioned, however, that a full assessment is not done and experts are still poring through the files.
"It appears to be a complete set," said Sung Kim, the U.S. diplomat who traveled to North Korea to pick up the documents in seven large boxes and returned to Washington on Monday. He said a full review by an interagency team from the departments of State, Energy and intelligence organizations would take several weeks.
The documents include daily operational logs, production notes and receipts, he told reporters.
"These documents are an important first step," Kim said.
'Looks pretty good'
Earlier, a senior State Department official said the cache appeared to include "all the production records from the period. The initial assessment is that it looks pretty good, that they have pretty much given us what they said they were going to give us."
North Korea says the documents consist of operating records for the 5-megawatt reactor and fuel reprocessing plant at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, where it had produced its stock of weapons-grade plutonium. These, combined with a nuclear fuel fabrication plant, constitute the facilities in Yongbyon.
Washington plans to scrutinize the technical logs from the North's main nuclear reactor to find whether the regime is telling the truth about its atomic programs. Production of the records is a key element in the international effort to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.
The current phase of denuclearization obliges North Korea to declare and disable all its nuclear programs. It is to be followed by the third and final phase in which Pyongyang must give up all its fissile material.
But six-party talks hit a snag after North Korea failed to provide a satisfactory description of its nuclear programs by the end-of-2007 deadline set by North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
The documents are limited to those on North Korea's plutonium program, thus not covering the country's alleged enrichment of weapons-grade uranium and suspicions that Pyongyang has shared nuclear technology with countries such as Syria.
Food aid agreement close
The United States has said it will remove Pyongyang from a list of terror-sponsoring nations and exempt it from the Trading with the Enemy Act as the process of denuclearization moves forward.
U.S. diplomats also appear close to an agreement with the North over distribution of promised U.S. food aid, the official said. The U.S. takes pains to keep the two issues separate, saying food is a humanitarian issue that should not be linked to U.S. goals in other areas, but officials acknowledge that the North may not make the same distinction.
North Korea has relied on foreign aid to feed its 23 million people after its economy was devastated by natural disasters and mismanagement in the mid-1990s. As many as 2 million people are believed to have died from famine.
The food situation in the North worsened this year after a devastating flood swept the country last summer and South Korea's new conservative government stopped sending aid.
A previous offer of U.S. aid broke down over U.S. demands that it be able to monitor the distribution to ensure it reached the needy. The administration accuses the regime of widespread corruption. The North now seems more receptive to greater U.S. oversight, the official said.
The developments together suggest a better footing for the United States and North Korea after months of rancor and deadlock. Ridding the North of nuclear weapons that threaten Asia and, in theory, the U.S. West Coast, would give the Bush administration a foreign policy victory in its final year.