US has plan to dismantle North Korea nuclear program within a year: Bolton

WASHINGTON, July 1 (Reuters) - White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday he believed the bulk of North Korea's weapons programs could be dismantled within a year, although some experts say the complete process could take far longer.

Bolton told CBS's "Face the Nation" that Washington has devised a program to dismantle North Korea's weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological and nuclear - and ballistic missile programs in a year, if there is full cooperation and disclosure from Pyongyang.

"If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they're cooperative, we can move very quickly," he said. "Physically we would be able to dismantle the overwhelming bulk of their programs within a year."

He said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will likely discuss that proposal with the North Koreans soon. The Financial Times reported that Pompeo was due to visit North Korea this week but the State Department has not confirmed any travel plans.

Some experts disputed Bolton's optimistic time frame.

"It would be physically possible to dismantle the bulk of North Korea’s programs within a year," said Thomas Countryman, the State Department's top arms control officer under President Barack Obama.

"I do not believe it would be possible to verify full dismantlement within a year, nor have I yet seen evidence of a firm DPRK decision to undertake full dismantlement."

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U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un leave after signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un after they signed documents that acknowledged the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un walk during their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Anthony Wallace/Pool via Reuters TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attend a signing ceremony during a summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un walk during their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Anthony Wallace/Pool via Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during the signing of a document after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un react during their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Anthony Wallace/Pool via Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un look at each others before signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. They are flanked by Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk in the Capella Hotel after their working lunch, on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Kevin Lim/The Straits Times via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
U.S. President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Kevin Lim/The Straits Times via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un react at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures next to North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un before their bilateral meeting at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
TOPSHOT - Pedestrians walk in front of a screen showing a news report displaying portraits of US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Tokyo on June 12, 2018. - Trump and Kim have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
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North Korea is completing a major expansion of a key missile-manufacturing plant, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing researchers who have examined new satellite imagery from San Francisco-based Planet Labs Inc.

Images analyzed by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California shows that North Korea was finishing construction on the exterior of the plant around the time North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, the report said.

The Chemical Material Institute in Hamhung makes solid-fuel ballistic missiles, which could allow North Korean to transport and launch a missile more quickly, compared to a liquid-fuel system that requires lengthy preparation.

Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist and Stanford University professor, has predicted it would take around 10 years to dismantle and clean up a substantial part of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear site.

South Korea media reported on Sunday that U.S. envoy Sung Kim, the American ambassador to the Philippines, met with North Korean officials at the border on Sunday to coordinate an agenda for Pompeo's next visit to North Korea.

U.S. intelligence is not certain how many nuclear warheads North Korea has. The Defense Intelligence Agency is at the high end with an estimate of about 50, but all the agencies believe Pyongyang is concealing an unknown number, especially smaller tactical ones, in caves and other underground facilities around the country.

TRUST BUT VERIFY

North Korea agreed at the summit to "work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," but the joint statement signed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12 gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might surrender its nuclear weapons.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in nuclear talks with the United States, NBC News quoted U.S. officials as saying on Friday.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that North Korea does not intend to fully give up its nuclear arsenal and is considering ways to hide the number of weapons it has. It also reported Pyongyang has secret production facilities, according to the latest evidence they have.

Bolton refused to comment on intelligence matters but the United States was going into nuclear negotiations aware of Pyongyang's failure to live up to its promises in the past.

"We know exactly what the risks are - them using negotiations to drag out the length of time they have to continue their nuclear, chemical, biological weapons programs and ballistic missiles," he said.

"There's not any starry-eyed feeling among the group doing this," he said. "We're well aware of what the North Koreans have done in the past."

Asia expert Patrick Cronin called the NBC and Washington Post reports "extremely worrisome."

Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said he had heard from U.S. and South Korea officials that Pompeo was expected to return to Pyongyang at the end of this week and that Sung Kim was working to prepare the way for that trip.

The U.S. side was "working to see whether they can prepare for high-level talks between Secretary Pompeo and Kim Jong Un and others in Pyongyang that would be a specific denuclearization road map, or at least significant dismantlement steps that could fill in a roadmap," he said.

Republican Senator Susan Collins said she was troubled by the news reports. "North Korea has a long history of cheating on agreements that it’s made with previous administrations," she said on CNN's "State of the Union." Collins stressed the need for "verifiable, unimpeded, reliable inspections" of the North's weapons programs.

Another of Trump's fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate, Lindsey Graham, echoed the need for skepticism.

"If it is true that they are saying one thing and doing another, nobody should be surprised," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." (Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Lindsay Dunsmuir, Howard Schneider, John Walcott, Soyoung Kim; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Nick Zieminski and Michael Perry)

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