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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 10, November 1996

US-North Korea Accord

On 15 November, North Korea warned that the October 1994 US-North Korea Framework Agreement was in danger of collapse. Under the Agreement, North Korea suspended the operation of its heavy-water nuclear reactors pending their replacement with light-water reactors by a US-Japan-South Korea consortium (the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Corporation, KEDO). Significant recent progress in preparing for the implementation of the Agreement appears to be being outweighed, at least temporarily, by the wider political repercussions of an incident in September in which a submarine from the North ran aground in the South. South Korea is reported to be urging a delay in KEDO's preparations in the absence of an apology from North Korea. According to Mitchell Reiss, Assistant Executive Director of KEDO, on 21 October, South Korea had decided "not [to] send technicians" to the proposed site of the new reactors at Sinpo.

The North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) complained bitterly on 15 November:

"We cannot keep the nuclear programme frozen any longer only to get heavy oil - the shipments of which may be suspended any time, with no importance given to when light-water reactors will be provided. ... The Framework Agreement, which was concluded by sincere efforts of the DPRK [Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea] and the United States two years ago, marking an epoch-making occasion in ensuring peace in the Peninsular...is...now at stake... If the US is interested in the implementation of the bilateral agreement even a little bit, it must take a reasonable view of the present situation and have a responsible position. ... Now we do not feel it necessary to continue wasting time since the US has unilaterally delayed the implementation of the agreement, breaking its promise..."

The US appears to be both working to save the Agreement while sympathising with South Korea's call for a delay. Speaking at the US Embassy in Tokyo on 18 October, Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord stated:

"We both [the US and South Korea], despite the submarine incursion and related events, wish to preserve the Agreed Framework, move ahead with KEDO, move ahead with mutual obligations under the Agreed Framework... But clearly, a cooling-off period is required. ... Whatever delay there may be for security or other reasons, this is not a strategic shift."

Speaking in Washington on 24 October, KEDO Executive Director Stephen Bosworth, expressed confidence that the Agreement was experiencing turbulence rather than engine failure:

"...it is clear that KEDO does not exist in a political vacuum. Acts such as the submarine incident do have consequences, and those consequences can in some instances affect KEDO. They can certainly affect our timing... I have no reason to believe they have in any way affected the fundamental, underpinning commitments of the three governments but there could be some effect on our timetable..."

To a lesser extent, the Agreement was also overshadowed in late October and early November by numerous reports of an imminent North Korean ballistic missile test, likely to be of the Rodong-1, which has a range of 1,000 kilometres, thus making it capable of striking Japan. Japan's Vice Foreign Minister, Sadayuki Hayashi, told reporters in Tokyo on 21 October that "if a missile is actually test-fired, it would raise serious concerns about the Northeast Asian situation... We hope North Korea will not take any action that might damage peace and stability in this region."

On 23 October, a North Korean Foreign Ministry statement carried on KCNA maintained that "as far as the missile firing test is concerned, it belongs to our sovereignty, and no one else is entitled or has any ground to meddle with it." However, on 8 November, US State Department spokesperson Nicholas Burns declared that "it now appears that North Korea has decided not to conduct a missile test."

Reports: US-N. Korea atomic pact must be maintained, Lord says, Kyodo News Service, 18 October; N. Korea missile test said to affect E. Asia peace, Kyodo News Service, 21 October; N. Korea says missile test is its right, Kyodo News Service, 23 October; Submarine incident could slow North Korean reactor project, Agence France-Presse International News, 24 October; North Korea may be experimenting with long-range missile - report, Agence France-Presse International News, 2 November; North Korea says it won't test long-range missile, AP Datastream Washington News Wire, 8 November; North Korea won't conduct missile test - US, Agence France-Presse International News, 8 November; N. Korea says nuclear accord with US in jeopardy, Reuter News Reports, 15 November; N. Korea says can't keep nuclear programme frozen, Reuter News Reports, 15 November; North Korea threatens to restart nuclear program, AP Datastream International News Wire, 15 November.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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