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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 33, December 1998 - January 1999

Doubts Continue to Plague Framework Agreement

As reported in recent issues, the implementation of the October 1994 US-North Korea Framework Agreement has been thrown into doubt by American suspicions over an underground site in Kumchangni, which the US fears may be being used to store and reprocess nuclear-weapons materials. Under the Agreement, an international consortium (the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Corporation, KEDO) is to replace North Korea's existing, suspended graphite-moderated nuclear reactors with Light Water Reactors (LWRs) incapable of producing weapons-grade fissile materials. North Korea maintains that the Kumchangni site is innocuous, and is requesting that, if the US carries out any inspection, it pay $300 as compensation for the allegation's slur against Pyongyang.

During the period under review, officials from the two sides met to discuss the Kumchangi issue in New York, 4-5, 10-11 December and 5 January; and Washington, 7-8 December. Talks in Geneva were scheduled for 16-17 January, but there was no evidence or suggestion that any significant progress had been made toward resolving the impasse. On 13 January, US Defense Secretary Cohen made clear that the US would not budge on its demand to inspect the site. Speaking in Tokyo, Cohen said: "We are insisting that we have inspection rights to make sure we satisfy ourselves that that particular site is not being developed for the purpose of circumventing the agreed framework and building a nuclear capability." For its part, North Korea continued to insist on compensation for any inspection. In the intriguing words of an unnamed Foreign Ministry official on 11 January: "Our demand for compensation is very just because once we open an object which is very sensitive in view of our national security...we cannot use it for its original purpose."

On 19 December, the Japanese media quoted a recent report by the Japanese Defence Agency naming three sites in North Korea believed to be part of a nuclear weapons programme: Kumchangni; a facility for developing and testing trigger devices at Kwisong; and an underground facility of unspecified utility at Taechon. Earlier, on 8 December, the Japanese media reported unnamed Government sources claiming that North Korea was constructing three underground sites in the north of the country for launching ballistic missiles. The Defence Agency refused to confirm or deny the speculation. A month later (6 January), the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper reported that the Japanese Government had determined that North Korea was starting to deploy medium-range Nodong ballistic missiles at up to 10 sites: again, the speculation was neither confirmed nor denied.

The deadline for the completion by KEDO of the new reactors is 2003. On 12 January, the senior South Korean official in KEDO, Chang Sun-sop, was quoted as telling the Jiji news agency that it would be "physically impossible" to meet this deadline: "Delay beyond the deadline agreed upon in the 1994 Agreement appears unavoidable."

Reports: Japan says no information on North Korea missile bases, Reuters, 8 December; Conclusion of third round of US-DPRK bilateral talks on suspect underground construction, US State Department, 11 December; Report - North Korea in arms build-up, Associated Press, 19 December; North Korea believed to be deploying ballistic missiles, Kyodo, 6 January; Next round of US-DPRK bilateral talks on suspect underground construction, US State Department, 7 January; N. Korea, US in nuke inspection fight, Associated Press, 11 January; Impossible to finish N. Korea reactors by 2003 - KEDO, Reuters, 12 January; Cohen meets Japan defense chief on North Korea, Reuters, 13 January.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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