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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 28, July 1998

US Admits Difficulties Over North Korea Framework Agreement

The US has been seeking to assure North Korea that the Framework Agreement signed between the two States in October 1994 - under which new, light-water reactors (LWRs) are to be built in North Korea, replacing graphite-moderated reactors feared by many to be producing fissile materials for nuclear weapons - remained on track. Officials did concede, however, that funding problems had been encountered, and remained to be dispelled. Speaking on CNN Television on 6 July, Secretary of State Albright stated: "We wanted other nations to help us on this... [W]e are going back to Congress to get more funds. It would be a disaster to let this fall apart. ... For a few million dollars we cannot let this unravel..."

The same day, State Department spokesperson James Rubin insisted: "We are sure we are going to be able to fulfill our side of the bargain." One important aspect of that 'bargain' is the provision by the US of 500,000 tons of heavy fuel per year, to compensate for the loss of nuclear power caused by the suspension of operations at North Korea's graphite-moderated facilities. Rubin told reporters that so far this year only 152,000 tons had been delivered, expected to rise to 218,000 by the end of July. Rubin pointed out that the responsibility for providing the fuel, and implementing the Framework Agreement, lies not with the US Government but the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Corporation (KEDO), the main contributors to which are the US, Japan and South Korea. Rubin urged a greater multilateral effort: "No one country is obligated to solve this problem. It's an international job to put the money together. ... We are working very hard to help KEDO raise additional funds from other countries, but so far, it has not been able to raise sufficient funds for its heavy fuel oil deliveries this year..."

As Secretary Albright suggested, the sums involved are not vast: according to Congressional testimony in mid-July (see Documents and Sources), $50 million per year for fuel-provision, double previous estimates. The total cost of implementing the Framework Agreement is currently put at between $4-5 billion.

North Korea is expressing great concern about the whole project, and proclaiming its preparedness to pull out of the Agreement completely. Its latest warning came in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on 18 July:

"The Light Water Reactor (LWR) project...has...been at a standstill. To our disappointment, there has been another ominous rumour regarding the project. Recently, the Japanese Mainichi Shimbun [newspaper] quoted KEDO...sources as saying the construction of two LWRs may be completed after 2007, not by 2003 [which is] the agreed year. The rumour implies that the prospect of the project is indefinite and it may peter out without result. ... The rumour came when nearly four years had passed since the adoption of the Agreement but the United States has failed to settle even the cost-sharing arrangements in KEDO, start the construction and supply heavy oil as scheduled. ... The LWR is not a present the United States gives to the DPRK. It is what [the] United States promised and what it is obliged to do. The United States should know that if it fails to keep its promise, we will take another choice. ... If the Agreement is left without any real meaning and the project is delayed, we cannot but reconsider the building of our own nuclear power industry."

On 15 July, the General Accounting Office (GAO) released a report, commissioned by Congress, into the amount of weapons-grade material possessed by North Korea at the time the Framework Agreement was concluded. In the paraphrase of State Department spokesperson James Rubin, commenting on the report on the day of its release, there is evidence of a "significant discrepancy" between actual stocks and North Korea's declaration, the accuracy of which has yet to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Senator Frank Murkowski (Republican - Alaska), instrumental in commissioning the GAO study, commented (15 July):

"We may never know how much bomb-grade plutonium the North Koreans have diverted into their weapons programme. ... I am critical of the Agreement because we were too quick to provide North Korea with the goodies before we knew the truth..."

Reports: US vexed over N. Korea fuel, United Press International, 6 July; US says will find funds for N. Korea oil supply, Reuters, 6 July; US confident of N. Korea commitments, Associated Press, 6 July; N. Korea oil freeze costs US, Associated Press, 15 July; N. Korea accused on nuke discrepancy, Associated Press, 15 July; N. Korea may restart nuclear program, Associated Press, 18 July; LWR project is not US present to DPRK, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), 18 July.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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