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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 34, February 1999

Talks But No Breakthrough on Framework Agreement Impasse

The period under review saw more talks but no breakthrough in discussions between the United States and North Korea over an underground facility in North Korea - Kumchangni - which the US suspects is being used to store and possibly reprocess nuclear-weapons materials. As reported in recent issues, the controversy is threatening to derail the entire Framework Agreement signed by the two sides in Geneva in October 1994, specifying the suspension of North Korea's existing graphite-moderated nuclear facilities - capable of producing weapons-grade materials - and their replacement with non-proliferation friendly light-water reactors (LWRs). North Korea maintains that the Kumchangni site is harmless, but is insisting that before it agrees to any inspections the US will agree to pay compensation of $300 million if no incriminating evidence is uncovered. As US State Department spokesperson James Rubin again made clear on 9 February, that demand will not be met: "We will not pay compensation to be permitted to ensure that an agreement is being properly implemented, and that is our principled position..." On 16 February, the State Department announced that the two sides would next meet to discuss the issue in New York on 27 February.

By the end of January, hints of a breakthrough were in the air. After talks in Geneva, North Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan told reporters (24 January) there had been "some narrowing of opinion". He added: "If paying the compensation is difficult, they should give some political, economic benefit in other form..." On 28 January, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry official as claiming: "The US... hinted that it [is] affirmatively taking into account [the]...demand for compensation... That can be said to be definite progress." On 31 January, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper in Japan reported that an announcement of an agreement on inspections was expected very soon.

Another issue complicating the situation is North Korea's ballistic missile programme, and in particular the diplomatic repercussions from a 31 August test-flight, passing over Japanese territory, of a Taepo Dong-1 missile which North Korea claimed had successfully placed a satellite in orbit. On 4 February, the chief spokesperson for the Japanese Government, Hiromu Nonaka, told reporters that unless North Korea gave an undertaking not to conduct any more launches, there would be no prospect of resuming deliveries of food aid, suspended in early September. Furthermore, Nonaka noted, any further launches would gravely undermine Japan's participation in the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Corporation (KEDO), the body entrusted with implementing the Framework Agreement: "We have informed the leaders of the United States and South Korea" - the two other main participants in the Corporation - "that [another launch] could lead to a suspension of our contributions to KEDO."

Reports: US, N. Korea discuss nuclear site, Associated Press, 24 January; N. Korea reports progress with US, Associated Press, 28 January; N. Korea, US close to resolving nuclear row - paper, Reuters, 31 January; No food until N. Korea missile launches stop - Japan, Reuters, 4 February; US won't pay to see N. Korea site, Associated Press, 9 February; Text - next round of US-North Korea talks slated for Feb 27, United States Information Service, 16 February.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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