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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 11, December 1996

US-North Korea Framework Agreement: back from the latest brink?

The threat posed to the 1994 US-North Framework Agreement - stipulating the replacement of North Korea's nuclear facilities - posed by the running aground of a North Korean submarine in South Korea on 18 September appeared to be receding somewhat by mid-December, with a resumption of discussions between the two sides. The talks took place in New York on 10 December, and, according to State Department spokesperson Glyn Davies, "addressed a range of pending issues, including the submarine incident, the Agreed Framework, the proposed four-party talks [the two Koreas, US and China, on the overall political future of the Peninsular], and of course bilateral issues... They were frank and constructive, but I won't be characterising them beyond that..."

It was reported by Davies that the US side at the talks was led by Mark Minton, Director of the State Department's Office of Korean Affairs.

On 3 December, the IAEA announced that it would shortly be resuming discussions with North Korea on the status of its suspended nuclear programme. According to IAEA Director-General Hans Blix: "The next round of technical discussions with North Korea is scheduled to take place in January 1997."

These apparently positive developments came after weeks of unbroken gloom and animosity, with South Korea stridently demanding an apology from North Korea for the submarine incident. For its part, North Korea reacted angrily to reports that the US was supporting South Korea's bid to become a member of the 31-State Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and was preparing to renegotiate a 1979 accord prohibiting South Korea from developing missiles with a greater range than around 180 kilometres (112 miles). According to the official North Korean news agency (Korean Central News Agency, KCNA) on 6 September, these "facts clearly show what an adventurous stage the South Korean puppets have reached in war preparations against the North." The US's desire to see South Korea join the MTCR was confirmed on 3 December by State Department spokesperson Nicholas Burns: "We want to see South Korea become a member of that organization. And we have every reason to believe that will be the case."

Throughout the particularly tense period following the submarine incursion, the US was at pains both to support the Framework Agreement and to present a common front on the nuclear issue with South Korea. On 24 November, in a move announced by US National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, the US and South Korean Presidents (Bill Clinton and Kim Young Sam) "today agreed that we have to continue to pursue the...agreement with the North Koreans on nuclear issues."

On 20 November, a South Korea Foreign Ministry statement had suggested that there was no remaining inclination to 'continue to pursue' the Agreement: "we cannot go ahead with the nuclear project unless North Korea ends hostile activities towards us." That same day, however, it was reported that Paul Cleveland, the Chief Executive of the international consortium (dominated by the US, South Korea and Japan) set up to implement the Agreement, the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Corporation (KEDO), had visited Seoul to urge a moderation of South Korea's tone, and a clearer commitment to restarting the implementation process.

Reports: S. Korea prodded by US to restart delayed nuclear work, Agence France-Presse International News, 20 November; N. Korea refuses contact with tough-talking South, Reuter News Reports, 20 November; US reaffirms commitment to South Korea, nuclear-free North Korea, Agence France-Presse International News, 24 November; US backs South Korean bid to join missile pact, Agence France-Presse International News, 2 December; IAEA to resume talks with North Korea in January, Reuter News Reports, 3 December; US Okays Seoul's plans to develop longer-range missiles, Kyodo News Service, 3 December; N. Korea slams US, S. Korea over missile talks, Kyodo News Service, 6 December; US and North Korea held 'constructive' talks - State Department, Agence France-Presse International News, 10 December; US, North Korea hold talks, Reuter News Reports, 10 December.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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