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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 35, March 1999

Framework Agreement Apparently Back on Track as US Reviews Policy

On 16 March, the US and North Korea announced agreement on an issue which has bedevilled recent efforts to maintain progress on implementing the 1994 Framework Agreement between the two States. The Agreement specifies the suspension of North Korea's graphite-moderated nuclear reactors, capable of producing weapons-grade fissile materials, and their replacement with light-water reactors (LWR). The US has been expressing concern, however, that an underground facility at Kumchang-ni may constitute part of an ongoing, clandestine nuclear-weapons programme. The North Koreans, angrily rebutted the suggestion, and demanded $300 million compensation from the United States if the site was inspected and found to be innocuous. After numerous meetings on the issue, including an intensive series of consultations in New York between 27 February and 15 March, North Korea dropped its demand for compensation. The US will now conduct an initial inspection of the site in May, with further inspections anticipated. In recognition of the breakthrough, the US announced a "bilateral pilot agricultural project" to help relieve the widespread malnutrition in North Korea. See Documents and Sources for the text of the announcement and statements applauding it.

The breakthrough occurred as former US Defense Secretary William Perry moved toward the conclusion of a review of US policy towards North Korea; a review prompted in part by consternation in the US Administration and Congress at the suspicions surrounding Kumchang-ni, and North Korea's 31 August ballistic missile test flight, referred to earlier in this Review. In Tokyo on 10 March, Perry issued a statement on the progress of his review:

"This is my second visit to Japan in the course of my review of US policy toward North Korea. ... I do not need to explain to the people of Japan how seriously North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs threaten the US, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. ...

Our policy study has been underway about three months since our preliminary consultations in Seoul and Tokyo. Last week, I gave President Clinton a detailed report on the preliminary findings of our review. He directed that I return to Seoul and Tokyo to share these findings with the Governments of South Korea and Japan. ... Today, I had detailed and substantive discussions of the North Korea issue with Prime Minister Obuchi, Chief Cabinet secretary Nonaka, Foreign Minister Koumura, and State Minister for Defense Norota. I found that they have a similar assessment of the situation and of the need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, as we devise a comprehensive approach to the threats posed by North Korea. I will report their views to President Clinton later this week."

Speaking to reporters in Washington on 11 March, Perry made clear that a significant redirection of US policy was possible: "Any recommendation that I give to President Clinton will deal both with the possibility that North Korea will respond to positive proposals and the possibility that they may not. If they do not, then sterner measures will be necessary."

On 8 March, five senior Republican Representatives wrote to Perry urging an overhaul of US policy "from the ground up," in light of the fact that "North Korea's nuclear ambitions, chemical-biological capability and its burgeoning missile capability present a clear and present danger to the security of the United States." The letter continued: "Given our lack of access to, and knowledge of, the North Korean leadership, we cannot depend on diplomacy alone to handle the North Korean missile threat. ... Your report should call for expanded cooperation and funding of a Northeast Asia Defense Organization (NADO) permitting the US to combine its financial and technical strengths with allies and friends including Japan and South Korea in the development of a regional theater ballistic missile defense..."

The authors of the letter were: Dick Armey (Texas), House Majority Leader; Christopher Cox (California), Chair of the Policy Committee; Benjamin Gilman (New York), Chair of the International Affairs Committee; Henry Hyde (Illinois), Chair of the Judiciary Committee; and Joe Knollenberg (Michigan), member of the Appropriations Committee.

Reports: Lawmakers seek tough N. Korea policy, Associated Press, 8 March; Republicans push Perry to resolve N. Korean issues, Kyodo, 8 March; US envoy seeks fresh approach to N. Korea - Seoul, Reuters, 9 March; Text - Mar. 10 press release from USIS Tokyo on Perry's visit, United States Information Service, 11 March; 'Sterner measures' seen for N. Korea, Associated Press, 11 March; US adviser suggests sterner steps against N. Korea, Reuters, 11 March.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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