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A Nuclear-Free North Korea

"Our first and highest priority is ensuring the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The choice facing North Korea is very clear. If the government continues to violate international law and destabilize the region by pursuing a nuclear weapons program, the other members of the Six-Party talks -- China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S. -- will lead international efforts to further isolate North Korea.

On the other hand, if the North Korean government verifiably abandons all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, it stands to gain humanitarian and development aid, non-nuclear energy assistance, and a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.

There has been some limited progress on North Korean denuclearization. Based on a 2007 agreement, North Korea, after initially only freezing the program, is currently disabling its three core nuclear facilities at Yongbyon. U.S. and International Atomic Energy Agency personnel are on the ground monitoring the work.

As the denuclearization of North Korea moves forward, verification will continue to be a serious challenge. "We will not just trust North Korea," said Secretary Rice, "to fulfill its commitments. Rather, we are insisting on verification, including on-site access to facilities and sites in North Korea."

"Even as we work toward denuclearization," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "we will continue to press the North Korean regime to improve the lives of its people":

"We have helped to resettle refugees fleeing lives of repression and misery in North Korea. We have raised the issue of human rights. We have helped to facilitate talks between Japan and North Korean concerning the tragic cases of Japanese abductees. The United States will never be silent in our support for human rights. The non-negotiable demands of human dignity are not bargaining chips."

North Korea's nuclear weapons program developed over decades. It is a danger to the region and to the world. The best way to put North Korea out of the nuclear weapons business and to pursue respect for human rights is by working together with Japan, South Korean, China, and Russia.