WASHINGTON (AP) North Korea handed detailed nuclear weapons records to the United States on Thursday, an important peek into the isolated regime's bombmaking past but not enough to answer criticism that the Bush administration is grasping for a disarmament deal at any cost.
The technical logs from North Korea's shuttered plutonium reactor would give outside experts a yardstick to measure whether the North is telling the truth about a bomb program that the poor nation has agreed to trade away for economic and political rewards.
"Our top three priorities are going to be verification, verification, verification," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
A U.S. diplomat collected the eight boxes of records during a three-day visit to Pyongyang. McCormack said getting the papers was the main reason for the trip.
Privately, State Department officials hope the approximately 18,000 secret papers will build confidence among conservative critics of the recent, relatively flexible U.S. posture toward North Korea, an isolated dictatorship President Bush once termed part of an "axis of evil."
The Bush administration's comprehensive 2007 disarmament deal with the North requires some congressional approval, and GOP unease is growing.
The North is five months past a deadline to produce a complete record of its weapons programs or an alleged side business selling nuclear know-how to other countries, and U.S. officials announced no new deadline for the summary.
The North claims it met its obligations, but has also agreed to a new tentative deal to break the impasse. That deal would have the North acknowledge U.S. concerns about an illicit uranium program and alleged sale or transfer of nuclear know-how to other nations but would not require the North to spell everything out.
The deal would set up a system to verify that North Korea is telling the truth and does not restart banned nuclear activities.
Terms of the deal do not satisfy some congressional Republicans whose votes the administration will probably need to provide money promised for weapons disposal and other pledges to the North.
"It is greater transparency on one part of North Korea's nuclear program, but none on the others," Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said of Thursday's document dump. Royce is the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee's panel on terrorism and nonproliferation.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., the Intelligence Committee's senior Republican, said he hasn't seen the details but that he's skeptical of their import.
"Any mediocre performance by North Korea is taken as an earth-shattering positive development by our State Department," he said. "It appears they will say anything to get a deal."
On and off Capitol Hill, conservative skeptics say the North has lied and reneged before, and that the Bush administration is applying less scrutiny because it badly wants a foreign policy victory in Bush's final year in office.
Bush's former United Nations ambassador, John Bolton, called the deal an abdication that glosses over the possibility that the North could still build weapons or pass valuable information to others.
"The Bush administration can wish away these possibilities and still achieve its deal," Bolton wrote Thursday in the Wall Street Journal. "But it cannot wish away the underlying reality, the full scope of which we simply do not know. That reality, whatever its reach, will still be there to haunt President Bush's successor and threaten international peace."
The administration tried to blunt criticism and increase pressure on North Korea by releasing a previously secret dossier on North Korea's alleged role in building a nuclear reactor in Syria. The documents released last month detail the similarities to the North's Yongbyon reactor but say little about U.S. ally Israel's obliteration of the site in an air strike last September.
North Korea agreed in recent weeks to blow up the cooling tower at Yongbyon, a largely symbolic display but one intended to demonstrate good faith in its nuclear talks with the U.S. and four other nations.
The destruction would come after North Korea produces the missing list and after the U.S. reciprocates by removing North Korea from the State Department's list of nations that sponsor terrorism. Diplomats say North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is particularly keen to lift that stigma.