North Korea accord still intact

1 October 1998

The Clinton administration declared the bilateral US nuclear agreement with the Democratic Peoples Republic of (North) Korea to be still intact in early September. But the US/North Korea agreement could be undermined by the US Congress, which has been growing skeptical of North Korean intentions.

The Clinton administration view was expressed by State Department spokesman James Rubin who said, following a round of talks in New York, that the two countries had agreed on a framework for resolving US concerns that North Korea is secretly building a clandestine underground nuclear facility. The underground facility was discovered by US intelligence agencies.

To resolve US concerns, North Korea issued a statement in which it agreed to allow international inspectors to visit the suspect site provided the US pays compensation if the visit shows no wrongdoing.

North Korea will also resume the task of sealing spent fuel rods at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

The Clinton administration further guaranteed to provide North Korea with 284 000 t of heavy fuel oil this year, and said the US is considering donating 300 000 t of food in a humanitarian gesture.

Under the 1994 accord, North Korea is obligated to suspend nuclear weapons related activities at the Yongbyon complex in return for two LWRs, fuel oil to meet energy needs until the reactors begin operating in 2003 and 2004, and an eventual end to US economic sanctions. US officials insisted that the secret underground complex, while not at Yongbyon, must be inspected.

In September, however, a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee voted 29-16 to “zero out” funding for the North Korea deal in fiscal year 1999. Although the full Congress may restore the funding, Washington insiders expect any such measure to include new requirements. It might, for example, require that the White House certify that North Korea has suspended all nuclear weapons activities.

Both the US and North Korea also agreed to resume talks on 1 October about North Korea’s missile programme. Concerns about North Korean intentions were raised on 31 August after a North Korean rocket flew over Japan and landed in the ocean. North Korea said the rocket misfired in an attempt to launch a satellite.

Japanese concerns over the missile firing, which led Japanese officials to threaten to withhold their $1 billion contribution to the project, may be another major obstacle.

South Korea, which wants the US/North Korea agreement to proceed, had agreed in August to provide 70% of the cost of the new reactors. How to allocate such costs became a significant barrier because of the Asian financial crisis that resulted in a greatly devalued South Korean won.

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