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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 13, February - March 1997

US-North Korea Framework Agreement:
Threats and Distractions Kept at Bay

Implementation inches nearer

Steady, if slow, progress seems to be being made towards the replacement of North Korea's inoperative nuclear reactors with two light-water reactors (LWR), to be constructed at an estimated overall cost of $4.5 billion near the northeast coastal town of Sinpo. The project - agreed as part of an October 1994 Framework Agreement between the US and North Korea - is the responsibility of the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Corporation (KEDO), based in New York and dominated by officials from the US, Japan and South Korea.

On 11 February, it was announced that KEDO would be sending a 30-member survey team to North Korea. According to a South Korean Foreign Ministry official: "The seventh site survey team will be deployed in North Korea on 22 February... The surveyors [will] stay for a maximum of five months."

On 21 February, it was announced that the visit had been put back until 1 March. The delay was reportedly advised on security grounds, following the defection to South Korea of a senior North Korean official, Hwang Jang Yop.

North Korea-Taiwan agree nuclear waste deal

On 11 January, North Korea signed an agreement with the Taiwan Power Corporation (Taipower) to store nuclear waste from Taiwanese reactors. According to varying reports, the $75 million deal will lead to the shipment of between 60,000-200,000 barrels of waste to North Korea over a two year period.

The deal caused an immediate international outcry. Naturally, especial concern was voiced in South Korea. On 3 February, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Young-Shik warned of the possible detrimental impact on KEDO's reactor-replacement plans:

"If a large amount of nuclear waste is allowed in the Korean peninsular...we are worried that this will have a negative impact when we seek public support and parliamentary approval for the huge project cost... The South Korean people are paying for the reactors and the National Assembly must consent all funds towards them... The Taiwanese side has a dangerous perception that if it pays enough money it can export whatever amount of nuclear waste to a third country without any due consideration of the moral, humanitarian and environmental aspects of the matter... I hope the situation will not be pushed to the extreme."

However, Song was at pains to dispel fears that South Korea was about to pull out of the KEDO project, although he did not rule out such a drastic course of action:

"There is no change yet in our position that the reactor project should proceed... The two should be solved quietly...and diplomatically between South Korea and Taiwan. ... Right now, we have no intention to link the waste deal to the 1994 accord..."

On 13 February, a member of South Korea's National Assembly, Suh Sang-Mok, claimed that Song was right to predict a strongly negative public and parliamentary response: "If this kind of deal goes through. it will create very bad public opinion...which will put the National Assembly in a very difficult position to approve the government request for finance."

On 30 January, Shen Guofang, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, said that "China's government and people express their resolute opposition" to the deal. Shen added:

"The technological demands of nuclear waste management are very serious... If it is not managed properly, or unexpected events occur, it can pollute surrounding countries and regions. The Chinese side is highly concerned about this..."

On 5 February, South Korea asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to help monitor and assess the adequacy of the arrangements being made by North Korea and Taiwan for shipping and storing the waste. According to a Foreign Ministry spokesperson: "South Korea and the IAEA need to discuss closely what they could do to thwart Taiwan's bid to export nuclear waste to North Korea from legal and moral standpoints." On 24 February, it was reported that the IAEA had told the Vice President of Taipower, Tsai Mao-Tsun, that it did not intend to become involved. However, the same day it was also reported that the US - which has expressed itself uneasy about the deal -had asked the Agency to report on the situation. According to Secretary of State Albright: "We are going to be pressing them [Taiwan and North Korea] to do in fact everything they can to make sure that all environmental safeguards are met."

Reports: Protests won't stop N. Korea nuclear deal - Taiwan, Reuter News Reports, 20 January; Taiwan-S. Korea nuclear waste row escalates, Reuter News Reports, 30 January; China slams Taiwan's North Korea nuclear plan, Reuter News Reports, 30 January; Waste could harm nuclear project in N. Korea - Seoul, Reuter News Reports, 3 February; South Korea backs down from threat to leave nuclear deal, Agence France-Presse International News, 3 February; Nuclear reactor survey mission to North Korea for 23 February - report, Agence France-Presse International News, 7 February; S. Koreans lobby against Taiwan-N. Korea nuclear deal, Reuter News Reports, 13 February; Nuclear team trip to N. Korea delayed 1 week, Kyodo News Service, 21 February; IAEA not to interfere in Taiwan's nuclear shipments to North Korea, Agence France-Presse International News, 24 February.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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