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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 31, October 1998

US, North Korea Discuss Missiles; Progress on Framework Agreement

On 1-2 October in New York, US and North Korean officials discussed issues of missile production and proliferation. The talks, the first of their kind this year, came in the wake of North Korea's 31 August launch of a satellite on a multi-stage, long-range ballistic rocket. They did not produce any agreement, other than a commitment to meet again before the end of 1998. In the words of North Korean negotiator Han Chang On (2 October): "We disagreed in almost all matters. ... [T]here has been sincere exchange of opinions...but...no agreement." The same day, State Department spokesperson James Rubin observed:

"We told the North that we fully shared Japan's concern about the [31 August] flight test, which overflew Japanese territory without prior notification... The United States made clear...that further launches of long-range missiles or further exports of such missiles or their related technology would have very negative consequences for efforts to improve US-North Korean relations..."

A crucial aspect of those relations is the October 1994 Framework Agreement between the two sides, under which North Korea has suspended its graphite-moderated nuclear-power facilities, which the US feared was producing fissile materials for nuclear weapons, and is awaiting their replacement by light-water reactors (LWRs). The replacement is to be carried out under the auspices of the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Organization (KEDO). In an interview with Reuters on 17 October, South Korea's representative on KEDO's Executive Board, Chang Sun-sup, stated that the major phase of LWR development was expected to begin early next year, with the "preliminary construction for the reactors" scheduled for completion on 15 January. South Korea is committed to footing 70% of the LWR project's $4.6 billion costs, with Japan scheduled to contribute $1 billion and the European Union 75 million ECU. The US is committed to meeting other KEDO running costs, and supplying North Korea with heavy fuel oil as compensation for the temporary cessation of nuclear power generation.

This cost-distribution scheme had seemed in jeopardy following North Korea's 31 August launch, in protest at which Japan announced a freeze on its contributions to KEDO: this threat was lifted, however, on 21 October. On 20 October, Japan had reacted cautiously to an offer by Taiwan - with which Japan has no formal relations - to contribute funds to KEDO. According to Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura (20 October): "We should not tell [Taiwan] to actively participate. Even if there is an offer, we must deal with it cautiously." The offer was made by Taiwanese officials visiting Beijing, led by special envoy Koo Chen-fu. According to a statement issued by the Taiwanese delegation, the offer was made by Chen-fu to China's Vice Premier Qian Qichen. The statement read: "Taiwan considers that the [KEDO] project is of great importance to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."

In Vienna on 5 October, a fresh round of discussions commenced between the IAEA and North Korea on the issue of the Agency's verification of claims by North Korea concerning the amount and status of fissile materials it had produced and was storing. The Agency has been trying since 1994 to be granted access for full inspections. Although North Korea agreed in September to resume the canning of spent fuel, which could otherwise be used for nuclear-weapons purposes (see last issue), there is little sign of a more general breakthrough. As IAEA spokesperson Hans-Friedrich Meyer remarked on 5 October: "There is no indication of any surprise outcome. One can only hope."

On 21 October, as part of its year-end omnibus spending package, the US Congress dedicated $35 million to fund the latest shipment of heavy fuel oil to North Korea. However, the money will only be available in March 1999, and only following Presidential certification that North Korea is proceeding satisfactorily in terminating both its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

Reports: N. Korea defiant over US demand, Associated Press, 2 October; Little progress in US-Korea missile talks, Reuters, 4 October; N. Korea, UN to resume nuke talks, Associated Press, 5 October; Interview - major N. Korea reactor work to start '99, Reuters, 17 October; Japan cautious over Taiwan's N. Korea nuclear fund, Reuters, 20 October; Congress to act on array of foreign policy goals, Reuters, 20 October; Japan to resume nuke aid to N. Korea, Associated Press, 21 October.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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