North Korean breakthroughs and setbacks

19 September 2005

North Korea promised on 19 September to "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes" and re-sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty "at an early date" in exchange for energy assistance, economic aid and security assurances. But soon after, the totalitarian state broadcast messages repeating its right to peaceful nuclear technology.

The breakthrough deal, which punctuated two years of six-nation talks, was described by a US negotiator as a “win-win situation.” US assistant secretary of state, Christopher Hill, said now would be the best time to shutdown activities at the Yongbyon site, which hosts two reactors and a plutonium reprocessing facility.

China, Japan, Russia, North and South Korea and the USA have been participating in negotiations.

Pledges in the accord included that the USA and North Korea would respect each other's sovereignty and right to peaceful coexistence. Both the USA and South Korea affirmed that they have no atomic weapons on the Korean Peninsula and no intention of attacking or invading North Korea.

A ceasefire brought the end of the Korean War between the Chinese-backed north US/UN-backed south in 1953. No official peace agreement has ever existed.

But the good news did not last long. Although the statement signed by all parties included a clause calling for promises to be kept "in a phased manner in line with the principle of 'commitment for commitment, action for action'," Pyongyang is expected to make things difficult. The North Korean media did not mention the news on the night of the announcement, but early the next day, 20 September, state radio carried messages reiterating the country's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy saying that the USA 'should not even dream' that Pyongyang would give up its nuclear arsenal before the completion of the two 1000MWe KSNP PWRs under construction at Kumho.

"There will be no such thing as giving up first," said vice-foreign minister Kim Kye-Gwan.

The Kumho units were being built under the auspices of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO) until 2003. KEDO was set up by North Korea and the USA to implement energy projects in North Korea, serve the global goal of non-proliferation and promote peace and stability on the peninsula. Since North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions came to light in 2003, the project has been on hold, with the site and undelivered components maintained in place for possible eventual completion.

Both Japan and the USA have rejected the demand for the completion of the Kumho units but the issue will nevertheless be 'discussed' sometime before the next round of talks, in Beijing this November.

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