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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 29, August - September 1998

US-North Korea Framework Agreement Complicated by Suspected Missile Test

On 31 August, the US announced that North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea - DPRK) had conducted the first test-flight of its Taepo Dong 1 ballistic missile. According to Lee McClenny, Director of the US State Department's Office of Press Relations, briefing reporters within hours of the test, the missile, possessing a range of over 1,500 kilometres, was launched from the east of North Korea, flying over Japanese territory before landing in the Pacific. McClenny described the development as being of "deep concern to the United States because of its potentially destabilising impact in Northeast Asia and beyond." He added, however, that the US was determined not to let the development derail the October 1994 US-North Korea Framework Agreement on replacing North Korea's nuclear facilities. Japan reacted with consternation to the news of the test-flight. In the words of chief Government spokesperson Hiromu Nonaka (31 August): "We see this as a very dangerous act." Editor's Note: On 4 September, North Korea claimed that the launch was actually of a "multi-stage rocket" attempting to launch its first satellite into orbit - a claim subsequently concurred with by US officials who nonetheless stressed the militarily destabilising implications of the development: see next issue for details and reaction.

The period preceding the launch was a rocky one for the Framework Agreement. As reported in recent issues of Disarmament Diplomacy, North Korea has been issuing periodic threats to withdraw from the Agreement, and restart its suspended nuclear facilities, in protest at what it claims is the failure of the US to honour its obligation to adequately fund the reactor-replacement project and to supply North Korea with replacement fuel during the reactor-construction period. Although the Agreement is not being implemented by the US alone but by the multinational Korean Energy Development Organization (KEDO) - to which the three main contributing nations are the US, South Korea and Japan - the basic North Korean demand appears to be the lifting of US sanctions. A 13 August Foreign Ministry statement set out Pyongyang's version of events since April this year:

"[T]he DPRK suspended the storage of spent fuel rods at the final stage in April because of a serious imbalance between the DPRK and the United States in the implementation of the [Agreement]... It decided to wait until the United States takes an appropriate step concerning...implementation... In fact, all our nuclear activities have been frozen and the safeguarding of spent fuel rods has reached a final stage in accordance with the [Agreement]... But the US side has not taken substantial steps for lifting sanctions as part of efforts to renounce the hostile policy towards the DPRK. Though nearly one year has passed since the groundbreaking ceremony of [the site of the new] light-water reactors, the project has not begun on a full scale. The insufficient supply of heavy oil has plunged our economy into a great confusion. Now that the two sides are obliged to perform their duties simultaneously...we could not continue unilateral performance of our duty. Accordingly, we could not but stop the safekeeping of spent fuel rods. Later, the US worked to some extent for the supply of light-water reactors and heavy oil and proposed to have DPRK-US high-level talks and discuss problems arising in the implementation [process]... We, therefore, decided to respond to the proposal. We will sincerely approach the talks with a constructive stand and make every possible effort to keep the Framework Agreement in effect. We will decide our future action according to the results of the talks."

A number of high-level meetings between the two sides took place in New York in August. On 23 August, speaking between two rounds of meetings (21 & 24 August), US Defence secretary William Cohen reassured reporters that North Korea was indeed honouring its side of the bargain:

"We believe that the Agreed Framework is still in place... We have not received any information that would indicate that they have violated that Agreement as of yet. It's something that we are now following with great interest."

Cohen was speaking in the wake of a 17 August report in the New York Times claiming the existence of a vast underground facility, 25 miles north of Yongbyon, the site of the suspended nuclear reactors. According to the paper, the underground complex is being used to reconstruct North Korea's ability to reprocess nuclear waste into weapons-grade fissile materials. If the story were true, it would obviously be a flagrant violation of the Framework Agreement.

In late July, KEDO reported that it had reached a new agreement on sharing the costs of implementing the Agreement; it also revealed a new, lower, estimate of what those costs were expected to be. According to a 28 July KEDO Press Release:

"The Executive Board members of...KEDO - the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States - reached agreement, ad referendum, today on cost-sharing arrangements for the Light Water Reactor [LWR] Project...

During the meeting, the Executive Board members also agreed to revise the budget estimate for the project to $4.6 billion to reflect exchange rate changes and discussed other issues. The original budget estimate agreed in November 1997 was $5.18 billion.

These agreements will be adopted by the Executive Board following approval by respective capitals."

According to a US State Department Press Release of 27 August - announcing the appointment of Ambassador Charles Kartman as US representative to the KEDO Executive Board, replacing Ambassador Paul Cleveland - this new cost-sharing arrangement can be broken down as follows: "[T]he Republic of Korea [has] pledged 70% of the estimated LWR project cost...and Japan [has] pledged the yen-equivalent of $1 billion." This would leave around $400 million of costs to be shared by the other KEDO members.

On 24 July, the Australian Government announced a contribution of $1.2 million to KEDO. According to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer: "The Government regards the Korean Peninsular as a potential major security flashpoint and views KEDO as making a valuable contribution to maintaining stability on the peninsular and in Northeast Asia more generally."

Reports: Australia to contribute $1.2m to KEDO, United Press International, 24 July; KEDO Executive Board Meeting, KEDO Press Release, 28 July; KEDO agrees on funding for North Korea nuke plants, Reuters, 28 July; Foreign Ministry spokesman on DPRK-US talks, KCNA, 13 August; N. Korea threatens nuclear start-up, Associated Press, 13 August; Report - N. Korea hiding big nuclear complex, Reuters, 17 August; US says N. Korea may be restarting nuclear program, Reuters, 18 August; No evidence N. Korea reneged on pact, Associated Press, 18 August; N. Korean, US officials hold talks in New York, Reuters, 21 August; US, N. Korea hold nuclear talks, Associated Press, 24 August; US defense chief - Pyongyang hasn't violated nuclear pact, Chicago Tribune, 24 August; US concerned over N. Korea launch, Associated Press, 31 August; Text - Kartman named US representative to KEDO, United States Information Service, 28 August; North Korea's latest missile test raises US concern, United States Information Service, 31 August; N. Korea says launched first satellite, not missile, Reuters, 4 September.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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