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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 30, September 1998

Progress on Framework Agreement Despite Satellite Launch

As reported in the last issue, the US announced on 31 August that North Korea had conducted a test flight of its Taepo Dong 1 ballistic missile. On 4 September, North Korea announced that the launch was actually of a rocket carrying a satellite. According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA):

"Our scientists and technicians have succeeded in launching the [country's] first artificial satellite aboard a multi-stage rocket into orbit. ... The rocket is of three stages. The first stage was separated from the rocket 95 seconds after the launch and fell on the open waters of the East Sea of Korea [the Sea of Japan] 253 km off the launching station... The second stage opened the capsule in 144 seconds, separated itself from the rocket...and fell on the open waters of the Pacific, 1,646 km off from the launching station... The third stage out the satellite into orbit 27 seconds after the separation of the second stage... [The satellite] will contribute to promoting scientific research for peaceful use of outer space. ... The satellite is now transmitting the melody of the immortal revolutionary hymns Song of General Kim Il Sung and Sing of General Kim Jon Il... The rocket and satellite which our scientists and technicians correctly put into orbit at one launch are a fruition of our wisdom and technology 100%. ..."

On 14 September, the US conceded that the launch had been of a satellite, though officials claimed it had not been a success. State Department spokesperson James Rubin also stressed that the military implications of the launch were obvious and serious: "We have concluded that North Korea did attempt to orbit a very small satellite. We have also concluded the satellite failed to achieve orbit... The North Koreans have demonstrated in this launch a capability to deliver a weapons payload against surface targets at increasing ranges, confirming the inherent capability to threaten its neighbours... [The launch represents] a threat to US allies, friends and forces in the region."

Echoing this assessment, Japan's Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura stated on 15 September: "Whether or not a satellite was attached to it, the rocket was launched and flew over Japan. What's more, they did it without advance warning and notice." The UN also was heavily critical of North Korea, with a 15 September UN Security Council statement, delivered by Council President Hans Dahlgren (Sweden), expressing "concern" and "regret", particularly at the lack of prior notification, which "runs counter to the promotion of confidence among the countries in the region."

Despite the consternation at the launch felt in Washington, Tokyo and Seoul, September saw important progress in shoring up the 1994 US-North Korea Framework Agreement, under which an international consortium dominated by the US, Japan and South Korea - the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Organization (KEDO) - is to replace North Korea's suspended, graphite-moderated nuclear facilities with light-water reactors. In recent months, North Korea has been threatening to pull out of the Agreement and restart its existing nuclear facilities, complaining that the US was failing to honour its obligations, both with regard to the new reactors and in providing fuel oil to compensate for the interim loss of nuclear power generation. For its part, the US complained that North Korea was not following through its obligations to allow the IAEA to account for and supervise the storage of radioactive equipment and materials from the suspended reactors.

On 10 September, following seven meetings between US and North Korean officials in New York between 21 August and 5 September, the US State Department announced a series of measures to help get the Agreement back on track (see Documents and Sources). Most importantly, North Korea "will resume canning of remaining spent fuel rids starting in mid-September." According to Rubin (10 September): "If we weren't able to achieve" agreement on this undertaking "we could have been facing very seriously the possibility of a breakdown in the Agreed Framework and a return to the brink of crisis." More broadly, the State Department announcement reported that North Korea "has agreed to resume missile talks on 1 October, which will allow us to press strongly our concerns...[which have been] heightened by the recent launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea."

The announcement of the breakthrough was followed by other positive signs. On 21 September, the State Department announced it would be delivering 300,000 tons of food supplies to North Korea by the end of the year. On 30 September, against the express wishes of Congress, President Clinton authorised an additional $15 million for the provision of heavy fuel oil to North Korea. State Department spokesperson James Foley told reporters that the additional expenditure was urgently required: "We continue to believe very strongly that it's important to go forward with the implementation of the Agreed Framework. And it is essential in this regard for the US to live up to its commitments just as we demand, obviously, that North Korea fulfill all of its obligations..."

Earlier, in New York on 24 September, Secretary of State Albright discussed the situation with her counterparts from Japan (Komura) and South Korea (Hong Soon-Young). The three ministers issued a 'Joint Statement on North Korea Issues' which, while presenting a united front, perhaps alluded to some unease in Tokyo and Seoul about the principled but determinedly conciliatory approach of the US in its dealing with Pyongyang: "Secretary Albright explained that the recent US-North Korea talks resulted in mutual reconfirmation of US and North Korean commitment to the Agreed Framework. ... The three Ministers agreed to continue to consult and coordinate fully and Secretary Albright stated that the US would continue to fully respect the positions of the Governments of Japan and the Republic of Korea in implementing the Agreed Framework, including the Light-Water Reactor project."

On 29 September, KEDO Executive Director Desaix Anderson of the United States presented the Organization's Annual Report to its General Conference in New York. The report painted a gloomy financial picture: "As was the case last year, KEDO remains critically short of funds for heavy fuel oil [HFO] and has a significant debt obligation to individual suppliers that have provided HFO on credit..." Without "substantial contributions both inside and outside of the region," the report warned, "the financial problems plaguing KEDO's purchase of HFO will continue." The report stated that KEDO had thus far delivered 216,025 metric tons of HFO to North Korea in the 1997-98 period, but was due to deliver a further 284,000 metric tons by 21 October: an obligation it would be unable to meet without an additional $29 million of funds - almost twice the amount announced by the Clinton Administration the next day. More positively, the report noted that preparations for the construction of the new reactors were now complete and "we are ready to move on the full-scale construction."

Aside from KEDO's financial problems, the Framework Agreement is threatened by continuing bellicose statements from North Korea, and equally uncompromising statements and actions in the US Congress. At the start of the month (2 September), the Senate passed the Financial Year 1999 Foreign Aid Spending Bill after inserting a clause prohibiting the provision of any aid to North Korea without Presidential certification to Congress that Pyongyang does not have a nuclear-weapons programme and is not exporting ballistic missiles to States which may pose a threat to the United States. At the end of the month (28 September), a North Korean Government statement, carried on KCNA, stated that whether the State's "launch of [an] artificial satellite is used for military purposes or not entirely depends on the attitude of the US and other hostile forces."

Reports: Senate approves IMF money, Associated Press, 3 September; N. Korea says launched first satellite, not missile, Reuters, 4 September; Successful launch of first satellite in DPRK, Korean Central News Agency, 4 September; US determined to deal with N. Korea, Associated Press, 10 September; US says accord with North Korea has been salvaged, Chicago Tribune, 11 September; US retracts missile assessment, Associated Press, 14 September; US concludes N. Korea tried to launch satellite, Reuters, 14 September; US, Japan, S. Korea map strategy toward North, Reuters, 15 September; UN Council regrets N. Korea's recent test launch, Reuters, 15 September; UN urges against N. Korea launches, Associated Press, 15 September; Japan will not review measures against N. Korea, Reuters, 16 September; US pledges aid to N. Korea, Associated Press, 21 September; Text - US, Japan, ROK Joint Statement on North Korea issues, United States Information Service, 25 September; N. Korea threatens military launch, Associated Press, 25 September; KEDO needs money to supply North Korea energy, Reuters, 29 September; US sending $15 million in fuel oil to N. Korea, Reuters, 30 September; US gives N. Korea fuel oil as talks resume, Reuters, 30 September.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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