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N. Korea's Kim responds favorably to Bush overture

December 15, 2007|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has responded to President Bush's letter on nuclear arms disclosures, indicating a willingness to adhere to commitments to provide details on his country's weapons activities, administration officials said Friday.

Kim sent a response through diplomatic channels, which was conveyed verbally on Wednesday to State Department officials by a North Korean official in New York, Bush administration officials said. The North Korean leader was responding to the Dec. 1 letter, in which Bush, addressing Kim as "Dear Chairman," reminded him of Pyongyang's commitment to provide details on its weapons by year's end.

Bush hasn't made public the contents of his letter to Kim, and administration officials would not give details on Kim's reply.

"Suffice it to say we haven't heard anything from North Korea that would indicate that they are backing away from their commitment to fulfill their obligations," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

On Oct. 3, North Korea reaffirmed a commitment to provide details by the end of the year about its nuclear program, including the number of weapons in its arsenal and the extent of its program to enrich uranium, which can be used in a power plant or a nuclear warhead.

Pyongyang agreed, among other things, to list precisely how much weapons-grade nuclear material it has produced and whether it has provided nuclear material or information to others.

Bush, addressing reporters in Washington, said he hoped his North Korean counterpart would follow through.

"I got his attention with a letter," Bush said. "And he can get my attention by fully disclosing his program, including any plutonium he may have processed and converted some into that -- into whatever he's used it for. We just need to know. As well, he can get our attention by fully disclosing his proliferation activities."

On Thursday, U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said he believed North Korea's declaration of weapons activities would arrive "around the year end." McCormack said Friday that the disclosures would probably arrive "within a few days" of Dec. 31.

In another positive sign, officials said Pyongyang may have halted any nuclear technology aid to Syria. Hill testified in a closed session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday and would not discuss the issue when asked afterward.

But Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she "came away with the sense that if anything ever had occurred in the past, it is not occurring now. And I think our negotiators feel that with good confidence."

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