The United States today called North Korea's decision to unveil a new uranium enrichment program to a group of visiting American scientists a "publicity stunt" and said it will take some time to consult with allies about how to proceed.
"The fact that North Korea invited these scientists to come to Pyongyang and did a show-and-tell, that by itself is valuable information. We'll compare that with other things that we know, and we'll make a formal assessment as to what we think, you know, this capability represents and what the implications are," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.
Questions remain, however, about how the capability and intentions of North Korea's uranium program, as well as its origins. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested the facility had been unknown to the United States.
"I hadn't known about this specific facility before, but the fact that they were going -- that they wanted their own enrichment capability is not a surprise," Gates said.
Hours before the news broke Saturday the Obama administration scrambled its top North Korea negotiator, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, to consult with allies in Asia as it tries to chart a response.
Today the State Department spokesman suggested it would not provide further incentives for North Korea to return to the negotiating table.
"We will not be drawn into rewarding North Korea for bad behavior," Crowley said. "They frequently anticipate doing something outrageous or provocative, and forcing us to jump through hoops as a result. We're not going to buy into this cycle."
Last week a team of American scientists, led by Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University, returned from a trip to North Korea during which they were invited to visit a previously undisclosed nuclear facility that North Korea says is capable of enriching uranium.
The North Koreans claim the facility is meant to produce fuel for an electric power plant, but the United States fears it could be used to further Pyongyang's nuclear weapons ambitions.
Gates yesterday expressed doubts about North Korea's intentions.
"I don't credit that at all," he told reporters traveling with him in Bolivia.
In an interview with the New York Times, which first reported the scientists' findings on Saturday, Hecker said he was "stunned" by the sophistication of the facility.
Hecker said he was shown a room full of "hundreds and hundreds" of recently installed centrifuges and manned by "an ultra-modern control room." The North Koreans claimed 2,000 centrifuges were already operating at the facility, he said.
Robert Carlin, another Stanford university expert who was on the trip to North Korea, told ABC News Sundday that the facility they were shown was well beyond the capacity they had believed the North Koreans possessed.
"Everyone thought they were still at a very early stage, maybe past experimental but just beginning to move into a more serious production," he said.
According to a full version of Hecker's report, which was shared Monday with ABC News, "the uranium enrichment facility was ultra-modern and clean."
Though enriching uranium to weapons-grade is technically challenging, "the uranium enrichment facilities could be readily converted to produce highly-enriched uranium (HEU) bomb fuel," the report said.