North Koreans Visit Arms-Control Center: Action Questioned by Nuclear Experts
Gertz, Bill, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
North Korean officials made a highly unusual visit to an arms-control center sponsored by a U.S. nuclear-weapons laboratory in New Mexico last week, The Washington Times has learned.
Several U.S. officials and private nuclear experts questioned the propriety of such a visit by Foreign Ministry officials from North Korea, a militaristic communist dictatorship that is listed by the State Department as a sponsor of international terrorism.
The June 16 visit to a facility near the Sandia National Laboratory, the premier designer of electronic components for U.S. nuclear warheads, may have compromised important weapons-monitoring techniques, the officials said.
"These guys are just like the Iraqis," one nuclear-weapons specialist said of the North Koreans. "You don't try to schmooze them."
Rod Geer, a spokesman for Sandia, said a group of North Korean Foreign Ministry officials took part in a workshop on arms-control monitoring at Sandia's Cooperative Monitoring Center last week. The center is near the laboratory, which is located on the Kirtland Air Force Base.
The center, like the laboratory, is funded by the Department of Energy. A fact sheet says its purpose is "to promote communication between political and technical experts from around the world."
Officials familiar with the program said it showcases hardware and computer software developed by Sandia for nuclear monitoring and other weapons-tracking programs.
A State Department official said the six North Koreans who went to New Mexico were part of the official delegation to the U.S.-North Korean missile talks held earlier this month in New York.
The visit was approved by security officials from several agencies and was paid for by the Atlantic Council, a private group, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The group was led by Li Hyong-chol, director of American affairs in Pyongyang. "We thought it was an OK thing to do - basically, get them thinking about general principles of arms control. We would like to get them thinking about negotiating ways of solving problems rather than shooting."
The program was "completely unclassified," the official said.
The missile talks began June 12 and were part of a U.S. diplomatic effort to persuade Pyongyang to halt exports of ballistic missiles, in exchange for a U.S. agreement to lift sanctions against North Korea.
Mr. Geer, of Sandia, said the one-day meeting was an "introductory workshop on cooperative monitoring."
"The purpose of the workshop, conducted at an unofficial level, was to begin a dialogue on the role of arms control in national security and on the role of cooperative monitoring in regional arms control," Mr. Geer said in a statement.
Arian Pregenzer, Sandia's director of cooperative monitoring, was quoted in Sandia's internal newsletter as saying the North Korean group was "both thoughtful and articulate. …