Joe DiTrani on the Not-Quite-Agreed Framework and N. Korea’s Uranium Program

[Update: Welcome Think Progress readers.  If you believe that our suspicions about highly-enriched uranium all  rest on slender  aluminum tubes, see also, and see also also.]

Ambassador Joseph DiTrani, formerly a member of Chris Hill’s negotiating team and now the North Korea Mission Manager at the Directorate of National Intelligence, piped up in the Senate today when Sen. Jack Reed asked a fairly obvious question — what has changed since HEU was a deal-breaker in 2002?   His answer, though not earth-shaking, is interesting:

  Jack REED:  Admiral McConnell, we all recall about six years ago when the administration essentially took apart the agreed framework with North Korea.  The major rationale at the time was the discovery of a highly enriched uranium program beyond the plutonium that had been capped, was being inspected by the IAEA.   
    Now, we have another agreement.  It looks somewhat like the framework; not entirely, correct.   
    But the question remains, what of the HEU, the highly enriched uranium, program?   
    Several possibilities exist.  One:  It was never really a real program.  Or something has happened in the interim to change the program.
    Can you shed any light on the HEU program and why now we can enter into an agreement with the North Koreans?
    MCCONNELL:  No, sir, I cannot personally shed any light, but perhaps my colleagues can.
    I know that the primary focus in the current time frame was on the plutonium in the reactor.
    MCCONNELL:  I don’t personally know and haven’t yet caught up to that intelligence, if it exists, with regard to highly enriched uranium.
    REED:  I would be happy to have you defer to someone.
    DETRANI:  Sir, I would add…
    LEVIN:  Could you identify yourself, please?
    JOSEPH DETRANI, MISSION MANAGER FOR NORTH KOREA, OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:  Joseph DeTrani.  I’m the mission manager for North Korea with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
    LEVIN:  If you could stand up and talk real loud or…
    DETRANI:  Yes, sir.
    REED:  Or take the mike here from Dr. Fingar.
    DETRANI:  If I might, sir, on the uranium enrichment program in 2002 October, we confronted the North Koreans in Pyongyang with information they were acquiring materials sufficient for a production- scale capability of enriching uranium, which was in violation of the North-South Denuclearization, the NPT, and also the spirit of the agreed framework.
    They were confronted with that information in October 2002, and at that time they admitted to having such a program.  And immediately thereafter, that’s when they pulled out of the NPT, they asked the IAEA to leave and so forth.
    The U.S. persists in our negotiations with them, saying that we need a declaration that speaks to your acquisitions, that spoke to a production-scale uranium enrichment capability.
    My understanding is of the 13 February agreement, this agreement speaks of all nuclear programs.  And, indeed, the North Koreans are very aware of when we speak of all nuclear programs, we are also including their acquisitions of materials necessary for production- scale uranium enrichment program, indeed, which they were making in the late ’90s through the early 2000s.  And we still see elements of that program.

    So the short answer to your question, sir, is that is still on the table, and North Korea still must answer the issue of their acquisitions of materials, to include centrifuges that even President Musharraf in his book speaks to — a few dozen centrifuges, P1 and P2s — that were in violation of all those agreements.  They need to address that issue as part of the denuclearization process.
    REED:  How different is that from 2002 when we confronted them and asked them to detail their experiments, their acquisition of centrifuges?  It seems to be equivalent.
    DETRANI:  Well, we’ve never walked away from that issue, sir.  We are still looking for them to… 
     REED:  But we walked away from the agreed framework?   
      DETRANI:  Well, they pulled out of the NPT.  They asked the IAEA to leave, after admitting to having made those acquisitions, sir.
    And that’s why the six-party talks kicked in after the three parties met in April of 2003.
    REED:  Do you have any further indication of whether that program has progressed in the last six years, one; or two, the evidence — the credibility of the evidence that we had initially, suggesting they had a program rather than aspirations?   
    DETRANI:  Sir, we had high confidence.  The assessment was with high confidence that, indeed, they were making acquisitions necessary for, if you will, a production-scale program.
    And we still have confidence that the program is in existence — at the mid-confidence level, yes, sir, absolutely.
    REED:  Thank you.

I have to say that the words “mid-level confidence” comfort me more than they may comfort some, though I’ve described the case as “compelling.”  There will be times when  “mid-level confidence” is  the best we can do with regimes and programs this secretive, and why not just be honest about that?  That’s still an unacceptable level of risk when we’re talking about loose HEU.

Thanks to a  friend for sending.