Trump Rejects Notion He Has Made Too Many Concessions to North Korea


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President Trump incorrectly claimed on Twitter on Sunday that North Korea had “agreed to denuclearization.”

Credit
Doug Mills/The New York Times

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As negotiations over a summit meeting with the ruler of North Korea accelerate, President Trump on Sunday disputed any suggestion that he had made too many concessions at the outset of an unpredictable and potentially volatile diplomatic exercise.

From his Florida estate, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to criticize Chuck Todd, the host of “Meet the Press,” who had questioned on his program whether the president had gotten anything in return for the “huge gift” he had given the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, by agreeing to meet with him.

On the show, Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, had an answer teed up — that the North Koreans had given the United States “an agreement to stop testing” nuclear weapons.

But from his Twitter account, the president chose to answer Mr. Todd directly.

“Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Wow, we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”

North Korea has not in fact agreed to denuclearization. It has told the South Koreans that it is willing to discuss the issue, but Mr. Kim has made no such statement to his own people, as he did with his declaration that his country did not need to conduct further nuclear testing.

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Trump Rejects Notion He Has Made Too Many Concessions to North Korea


Photo

President Trump incorrectly claimed on Twitter on Sunday that North Korea had “agreed to denuclearization.”

Credit
Doug Mills/The New York Times

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As negotiations over a summit meeting with the ruler of North Korea accelerate, President Trump on Sunday disputed any suggestion that he had made too many concessions at the outset of an unpredictable and potentially volatile diplomatic exercise.

From his Florida estate, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to criticize Chuck Todd, the host of “Meet the Press,” who had questioned on his program whether the president had gotten anything in return for the “huge gift” he had given the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, by agreeing to meet with him.

On the show, Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, had an answer teed up — that the North Koreans had given the United States “an agreement to stop testing” nuclear weapons.

But from his Twitter account, the president chose to answer Mr. Todd directly.

“Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Wow, we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”

North Korea has not in fact agreed to denuclearization. It has told the South Koreans that it is willing to discuss the issue, but Mr. Kim has made no such statement to his own people, as he did with his declaration that his country did not need to conduct further nuclear testing.

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News Analysis: Will Kim Jong-un Trade His Nuclear Arsenal to Rebuild Economy?


Despite lingering doubts about his nation’s ability to strike the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, Mr. Kim appeared to be making clear he intends to enter negotiations with Washington the way the Soviets did decades ago, as an established nuclear power.

The big question is whether he will relinquish his nuclear weapons.

South Korean policymakers argue that Mr. Kim is signaling a willingness to dismantle his nuclear arsenal for the right incentives, including economic aid, a peace treaty and other security guarantees from Washington — measures he needs to rebuild the North’s economy.

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Mr. Kim is willing to discuss denuclearizing his country if provided with the right incentives, according to South Korean policymakers.

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Korean Central News Agency

“He is seeking the kind of rapid economic growth seen in China,” said Lee Jong-seok, a former unification minister of South Korea. “The North Korea he envisions is different from his father’s North Korea.”

Mr. Lee also noted: “We have looked only on the nuclear side of Kim Jong-un’s rule, trying hard not to look at the other side. He is ready to bargain away nuclear weapons for the sake of economic development. If he were content with just feeding his people three meals a day, he would not give up his nuclear weapons.”

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior North Korea expert at the Sejong Institute, a research think tank in South Korea, said Mr. Kim’s announcement would further raise “his people’s expectation for economic improvement.”

But North Korea has long said that its nuclear weapons are not bargaining chips, and Mr. Kim himself has called them “a treasured sword of justice” and “a powerful deterrent firmly safeguarding” his people’s “rights to existence.”

Lee Sung-yoon, a Korea expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, called Mr. Kim’s decision just a replay of an old North Korean tactic — trying to confuse enemies with dramatic gestures in an attempt to win concessions, without ever intending to give up nuclear weapons.

“History repeats itself as farce,” he said, adding: “Kim Jong-un’s ploys are unoriginal and rather lazy.”

American officials say they have been repeatedly cheated by the North in previous talks on denuclearization. A deal in 1994 eventually collapsed when the United States accused the North of secretly enriching uranium. Another deal in 2005 fell apart in a dispute over how to verify a nuclear freeze. In 2012, the North launched a long-range rocket after agreeing to a moratorium on missile testing.

Mr. Kim’s decision to make the economy the nation’s priority and suspend nuclear tests was unanimously adopted at a Workers’ Party meeting on Friday. He also pledged to neither use nor proliferate nuclear weapons unless faced with a nuclear threat.

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Farmworkers in Sangwon, North Korea, in 2017. Mr. Kim has said he would not let his people “tighten their belt again.”

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Wong Maye-E/Associated Press

Washington, Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo welcomed the move, although they cautioned that the suspension of tests was just one step toward denuclearization. The announcement made no mention of further steps.

Mr. Kim did pledge to create an “international environment favorable for the socialist economic construction.” Analysts said that will give him political cover for negotiating reductions in his arsenal.

“This reads more like an arms-control offer from a nuclear nation than an isolated regime coerced into disarmament,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists. “It is a carefully circumscribed statement. It describes a partial cap of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs but not disarmament. Even under these restrictions, North Korea could continue to expand its capabilities significantly.”

But Mr. Mount said that a suspension of testing is important because “by most technical or military standards, North Korea has not completed an advanced nuclear arsenal.”

“It would be a significant accomplishment to halt their progress while we negotiate steps to roll back these programs,” he added.

In recent weeks, some officials and analysts in South Korea have argued that a much more fundamental shift might be underway in North Korea.

Under byungjin, Mr. Kim accelerated the North’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs, declaring late last year that it had completed a nuclear deterrent. At the same time, he has introduced market-oriented reforms, initiating a building boom in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

He also has announced plans to open special economic zones in his country, where he hopes to attract foreign investors, a dream that can be realized only if international sanctions against North Korea are eased.

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In a turnaround, Mr. Kim has begun a series of stunning diplomatic initiatives, like visiting President Xi Jinping of China last month.

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Ju Peng/Xinhua, via Associated Press

Mr. Kim’s father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, ruled North Korea with the songun, or “military first,” policy, which focused resources on the military, favoring top generals with lucrative rights to export minerals and seafood. The military stood behind him as he led the country through a famine in the 1990s that killed more than two million people.

In 2012, in his first public speech as North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un said he would not let his people “tighten their belt again,” a startling admission of failure by a member of a ruling family that is seen as godlike and faultless.

In 2013, his Workers’ Party adopted the byungjin policy, arguing that economic growth could occur only if the nation was secure. In a party congress in 2016, Mr. Kim said that byungjin was not a temporary step but a permanent strategy. In another party meeting in October, he said North Korea was “absolutely right” when it pursued byungjin.

Exaggerating American hostility and creating a sense of empowerment through nuclear weapons has become a hallmark of state propaganda legitimizing Mr. Kim’s dynastic rule. Mr. Kim also has engineered bloody purges, killing scores of top generals, his uncle and his half brother, to establish unchallenged authority.

Mr. Kim began his shift toward declaring victory on the nuclear front with a speech on New Year’s Day in which he said the United States would never “dare to ignite a war against me and our country.” He has since engaged in a diplomatic whirlwind, visiting Beijing to confer with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and initiating the upcoming meetings with President Moon and President Trump.

His ultimate motives remain uncertain. Some analysts say that Mr. Kim is driven by a desperate need to ease sanctions that have crippled his country, and may try to get away with a temporary and deceptive freeze of his nuclear program. Others argue that he is acting in confidence that his nuclear weapons give him new leverage to rebuild the economy.

If Mr. Kim is serious about economic growth, though, he will need the world’s help, analysts say. They point to the example set in the 1980s by China’s paramount leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping, whose opening to the West was critical to his country’s boom.

“Whether Kim Jong-un will become the Deng Xiaoping of North Korea will depend on whether the international community, including the United States and South Korea, can provide security guarantees and opportunities for economic development so that it will denuclearize,” Mr. Cheong said.

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Treaty to Formally End Korean War Is Being Discussed, South Confirms


China said on Wednesday that it wanted to play a positive role in formally ending the war, in which an estimated three million Chinese soldiers fought. But it stopped short of endorsing the idea of a treaty, which is likely to involve extensive negotiations and would require the recognition of North Korea by the United States.

“China’s attitude is open and supportive to any peaceful means to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue through consultations,” Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said when asked at a news briefing in Beijing about supporting a possible treaty.

China has promoted the idea of a peace treaty from time to time over the past two decades, to little avail. This time, analysts said on Wednesday, Beijing’s enthusiasm for the idea is likely to be tempered by rising tensions with the Trump administration over trade and Taiwan. Chinese officials are livid over Washington’s move this week to prevent American suppliers from selling parts to the Chinese tech giant ZTE, they said.

“If the two countries cannot settle the trade issues, that will have a significant impact on China’s attitude toward helping the United States on North Korea,” said Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at the Beijing-based Renmin University. “The ongoing situation with trade is complicating and undermining cooperation.”

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President Xi Jinping of China, left, and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in Beijing last month. As a signatory to the armistice that ended the Korean War, China would have to be involved in a treaty bringing it to a formal close, South Korean officials say.

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Korean Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At the same time, Mr. Cheng said, China’s relations with North Korea have rapidly warmed in the wake of Kim Jong-un’s surprise visit to Beijing last month. That could give China leverage with North Korea against the United States as Washington works out the terms of the meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

South Korean officials said on Wednesday that they hoped Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon, during their meeting next week, could jointly announce a willingness to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and ban military hostilities there, as a precursor to a peace treaty.

But Mr. Cheng and other Chinese analysts expressed skepticism that a peace treaty would be signed anytime soon. “If the United States is to sign with North Korea, it needs to do several things,” Mr. Cheng said. “It has to talk to China, and the United States has to recognize North Korea diplomatically.”

Only countries with diplomatic relations can sign a treaty, he said. “A treaty is not a memorandum or a communiqué.”

Some analysts in South Korea have suggested that Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim could agree to withdraw weapons and troops from the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone, which was created with the armistice and still divides the Koreas. Despite its name, the zone is the world’s most heavily armed border. Although the armistice allows only rifles and pistols within the area, both sides have deployed much heavier weapons and operate guard posts inside the zone.

In the past, the North’s conditions for its denuclearization have included the withdrawal of the 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea, a demand that Washington and Seoul have adamantly rejected. But Mr. Kim has recently indicated that he could be more flexible about the American military presence in the South if his country no longer felt threatened by it, according to officials and analysts in Seoul.

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South Korean soldiers at the so-called truce village of Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas. Despite its name, the zone, established with the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War, is the world’s most heavily armed border.

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Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We think that North Korea is more realistic about the security environment on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Chung said on Wednesday, referring to Mr. Kim’s decision not to object to recent joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States. The North has typically used such drills as a pretext to conduct weapons tests and reject dialogue.

In 2000, Mr. Kim’s late father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, told the visiting South Korean president Kim Dae-jung that he could support the American military presence as a peacekeeping force in the region, according to South Korean officials who attended their meeting.

“I am quite sure that if relations between North Korea and the United States improve, the North will not demand the withdrawal of American troops in signing the peace treaty,” Lee Jong-seok, a former South Korean unification minister, said during a forum on Wednesday.

Formally ending the war would not necessarily mean that Mr. Kim would demand that all American troops be removed, said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul. “There could be a partial withdrawal,” he said. “Remember, all this maneuvering is going on while the United States and South Korea are conducting joint military exercises.”

Still, Mr. Kim seems likely to demand at least a major reduction in troops, said Hugh White, a senior military strategist who worked at the Australian Department of Defense and is now a professor at Australian National University. One outcome, he said, could be a substantial troop withdrawal in exchange for Mr. Kim’s scrapping his intercontinental ballistic missile program.

Such an agreement could appeal to Mr. Trump with his “America First” perspective, Mr. White said. From that point of view, “it could make sense to withdraw from Korea if in return Kim Jong-un scrapped the ICBM program and thus ceased to threaten the continental United States,” he said.

That, Mr. White noted, would transform the American military presence in Asia. “It would be a big win for China,” he said.

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What is the O.P.C.W., and Can It Referee on Chemical Weapons in Syria?


Its job is to monitor compliance with that treaty, and to work toward ridding the world of chemical weapons. It also has a role in verifying the elimination of those weapons.

The group describes itself as “an independent, autonomous, international organization with a working relationship with the United Nations.”

In 2013, Syria signed the convention and agreed to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpiles. On a joint mission with the United Nations, the organization arranged for the transport of all chemical weapons the Syrian government had declared for disposal overseas.

Over 96 percent of state-declared stockpiles around the world have been destroyed under the watch of the organization. However, as seems to be the case in Syria, that doesn’t necessarily mean that countries no longer have chemical weapons, because there is no way to guarantee that they declared everything they had.

How can inspectors work in a war zone?

The organization was not created to work in battle zones and has had to adapt to send its inspectors to countries at war. In 2014, allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria prompted the group to dispatch a fact-finding mission to the country, the first time it had sent a team to an area of active conflict. (They first visited Syria in 2013.)

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Residents of Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, protested last April after a suspected chemical weapons attack on their town.

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Omar Haj Kadour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Collecting samples while making sure they can be used for evidence takes time, and such missions can turn investigators into targets. While working in Syria in 2014, for example, their convoy came under fire.

Last year, while looking into further allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, investigators did not visit the town of Khan Sheikhoun because of security fears. Instead, they relied on witness accounts and samples collected from the site. That opened their conclusions to criticism from Russia and Syria, which contended that Damascus had disposed of all its chemical weapons.

Can the O.P.C.W. point the finger?

No. The organization’s job is to establish whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them.

“It’s dealing with things it wasn’t really intended to deal with,” said Richard Guthrie, a chemical weapons expert and editor of CBW Events, a website that tries to document uses of chemical and biological weapons.

When the Chemical Weapons Convention was being negotiated, Mr. Guthrie said, “the concern was large-scale use of chemical weapons on the battlefield — that had happened in the Iran-Iraq war.” But that is different from identifying the relatively small-scale use of chemical weapons, like the alleged case in Syria, or the attack on the spy and his daughter in Britain.

Until the end of last year, the organization had a mandate to pass on its findings to a Joint Investigative Mechanism, established by the United Nations Security Council, which would try to identify the perpetrators of attacks. But last year Russia vetoed the extension of that mandate.

That leaves a disconnect: Even if the organization finds that chemical weapons were used in Douma, the question of who is to blame could remain unresolved.

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Kim Jong-un’s China Visit Strengthens His Hand in Nuclear Talks


In images and in words, Mr. Kim and Mr. Xi signaled that they had repaired the relationship between their countries, which had soured as Mr. Kim had accelerated his nuclear program and Mr. Xi had responded by endorsing — and enforcing — more punishing sanctions proposed by the United States.

“The friendship between North Korea and China that was personally created and nurtured together by former generations of leaders from both our sides is unshakable,” Mr. Kim told Mr. Xi, according to Xinhua. Mr. Xi went out of his way to recall the warm friendship between his father, a high-ranking Communist Party official from the Mao era, and Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, the North’s previous leader.

It is too soon to say whether the meeting marks a softening of China’s posture toward Mr. Kim or of its commitment to international sanctions against North Korea. But the visit served to highlight Beijing’s unique leverage over North Korea, even as Mr. Trump is threatening China with a trade war.

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Mr. Kim, Mr. Xi and their wives at a banquet in Beijing this week. The visit highlighted Beijing’s unique leverage over North Korea, even as President Trump is threatening China with a trade war.

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North Korean Central News Agency

Mr. Trump can talk about maintaining “maximum pressure” on the North, but ultimately China — the North’s main trade partner — still decides what that means, because it can choose how strictly to enforce sanctions.

“China is saying to the United States and the rest of the world: Anyone who wants a deal on anything on the future of the Korean Peninsula, and certainly something which deals with nukes, don’t think you can walk around us, guys,” Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who is on good terms with the Chinese leadership, said in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

The Chinese government said it had briefed the White House on Mr. Kim’s visit, adding that Mr. Xi had sent a personal message to Mr. Trump. On Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump expressed optimism on Twitter about the potential for diplomatic success, saying there was “a good chance” that Mr. Kim would “do what is right for his people and for humanity.”

But there was little in the public accounts of Mr. Xi’s discussions with Mr. Kim to support such a positive assessment. Though Xinhua quoted Mr. Kim as saying he was open to talks with Mr. Trump and committed to denuclearization, North Korea’s own state media made no mention of either.

Xinhua also quoted Mr. Kim as proposing “phased, synchronized measures” by South Korea and the United States — a phrase that suggests a desire to negotiate a gradual drawdown of his arsenal, but which also echoes the North’s position in past talks that dragged on and ultimately failed. One major difference between then and now is that North Korea has a far more advanced nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, John R. Bolton, meanwhile, has expressed little patience for extended negotiations. He has said that North Korea should be asked to park its nuclear arsenal at the Oak Ridge nuclear facility in Tennessee.

If China decides to soften its stance on sanctions and act as North Korea’s protector, Mr. Kim will enter the talks with Mr. Trump in a considerably stronger position than he otherwise would have.

“It is very unlikely that Kim Jong-un consulted with the Chinese before offering to meet Trump,” said Sergey Radchenko, a professor of international relations at Cardiff University in Wales. “This in itself was a rebellious affront to the Chinese leadership. But by doing this, Kim immeasurably strengthened his negotiating position vis-à-vis the Chinese. He came to Beijing not as a supplicant but as an equal.”

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Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, left, in Beijing with then-President Jiang Zemin of China in 2000. When this visit took place, Mr. Kim — like his son today — had held power in North Korea for about six years and was preparing for a summit meeting with South Korea’s president.

Credit
Xinhua, via Associated Press

Many analysts said they believed China had initiated the visit, essentially telling Mr. Kim that he could no longer afford to be cavalier about his bigger, richer neighbor, and telegraphing to Mr. Trump that America could pay heavily for keeping China on the outside.

Beneath the new bonhomie in the official accounts of Mr. Kim’s trip, the edgy nature of the seven-decade-old China-North Korea relationship was still apparent.

No agreements between the two leaders were announced, even on basic issues. Mr. Xi, in his public comments, made no reference to Mr. Kim’s expected meeting with Mr. Trump, an omission that may have reflected Mr. Xi’s displeasure at being left on the sidelines.

There was also no public comment in Beijing about what Mr. Kim was planning to offer Mr. Trump or what role China would play as the talks approached, questions that are of the utmost importance to China.

While China supports the international effort to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons, it has also been careful not to press the North hard enough to risk a collapse of the Kim regime, which could potentially lead to a united Korean Peninsula, under an American security umbrella, on China’s border.

“China needs to know North Korea’s calculations,” said Da Wei, a professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing. “Kim knows the negotiations cannot fully succeed without China’s support. China’s involvement will make any solution more viable.”

Some analysts said Mr. Kim was repeating a pattern set by his father, who visited China shortly before his 2000 summit meeting with South Korea’s then-president, Kim Dae-jung. Kim Jong-il was then about six years into his tenure as North Korea’s leader, just as his son is now.

“Now six years into his own reign, Kim III seeks to play the role of the proactive, peace-seeking statesman,” said Lee Sung-yoon of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

He may hope to get Mr. Trump to settle for “another faulty, open-ended, non-biting nuclear deal” that would make it “politically near-impossible for the U.S. to talk about, let alone implement, a pre-emptive strike, John Bolton at the head of the National Security Council notwithstanding,” Mr. Lee said.

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How to Spot a Nuclear Bomb Program? Look for Ghostly Particles


Dr. Bernstein said the United States will contribute $30 million over six years to the project.

Neutrinos, particles with no electrical charge and little mass that travel at close to the speed of light, are generated by nuclear fusion, as in the sun, where hydrogen atoms merge into helium, releasing heat and light. Antineutrinos are the antimatter version of neutrinos and are created when atoms fall apart in fission reactions like the decay of uranium. The fission of uranium also produces plutonium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.

Antineutrinos rarely interact with anything. That makes them very difficult to detect, but it also means there is no known way to shield a reactor and prevent antineutrinos from flying out.

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An illustration of a cutaway view of the Watchman antineutrino detector.

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Jim Brennan/Sandia National Laboratories

The vast majority of antineutrinos from the Hartlepool reactor would pass unimpeded through the new detector, but calculations by the scientists indicate that two to four a day would collide with a hydrogen nucleus — a proton — in a water molecule.

When this collision occurs, the proton transforms into a neutron and ejects a positron, the antimatter version of an electron. Because the positron moves so quickly through the water, it emits the optical equivalent of a sonic boom, called Cherenkov radiation. (Watchman is a shortening of Water Cherenkov Monitor of Antineutrinos.)

Mixed in the water will be the element gadolinium, which will absorb the neutron generated in the collision, emitting a second flash of Cherenkov light.

The demonstration will scale up previous work that was able to detect antineutrinos at a distance of about 80 feet from a reactor core. Detectors as large as the one at Boulby could be placed near the nuclear infrastructure of a state that had agreed to shut down its nuclear reactors, allowing international authorities to verify compliance. Potentially, much larger detectors could monitor sites hundreds of miles away in hostile nations that do not allow inspections.

The same apparatus would also assist astronomers studying supernovas, the explosions of distant stars. In 1987, several large neutrino detectors detected a few handfuls of neutrinos and antineutrinos from the explosion of a star more than 160,000 light-years away.

Watchman would similarly detect such cosmic explosions, but with improved acuity. The presence of gadolinium in the new detector would make it possible to differentiate neutrinos, which would generate just one flash of Cherenkov light, from antineutrinos, which would generate two.

“We couldn’t do that in 1987,” said Robert Svoboda, a professor of physics at the University of California, Davis and a member of the Watchman team.

For neutrino scientists, Watchman will also finance the development of improved technology to record the Cherenkov flashes. These are to be deployed in a second phase of Watchman and then could be used in other neutrino experiments.

“There’s this nice duality between basic science research and nonproliferation,” Dr. Bernstein said.

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