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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 36, April 1999

Calmer Waters in US-North Korea Relations

As reported in the last issue, on 16 March the US and North Korea announced plans for inspectors to visit the Kumchang-ni underground facility in North Korea which the US fears forms part of a clandestine nuclear-weapons programme. The first inspection is scheduled for May. North Korea had been demanding compensation from America if the site turned out to be innocuous; the US had refused this request, and the issue was threatening to destabilise the entire 1994 Framework Agreement under which North Korea would be provided with new, non-proliferation-friendly, light-water civil nuclear reactors.

Although no fiscal payment was involved in the agreement, the US has agreed to provide assistance to alleviate food shortages in North Korea. The arrangement was spelt out by Ambassador Charles Kartman, the US Special Envoy on North Korea, in a press conference in New York on 16 March:

"The discussion [between the two delegations] had from the very beginning identified that the Agreed Framework commits both sides to improved relations. The suspicions that were held about this site at Kumchang-ni were proving to be an obstacle to its smooth implementation. And so removing that obstacle meant that the United States would be resuming the progress as envisioned by the Agreed Framework. And so, we began to discuss the possibility of a joint bilateral programme in the agricultural area - specifically, involving potato production - given that the food situation in the DPRK remains quite dire. So we have begun discussing the details of such a pilot programme, and that will continue in the coming days, and we hope that it will be implemented very quickly."

The breakthrough - particularly the commitment to the bilateral food project - was criticised by some members of Congress. According to Benjamin Gilman (Republican - New York), the Chair of the House International Relations Committee (17 March): "It appears that we are pouring good US food aid down a North Korean hole." Gilman added that the 16 March agreement "smacks of a 'food for access' deal, which could lead to further provocative actions on the part of the North Koreans to extort further concessions from the US."

On 22 March, the US State Department announced a considerable increase in food supplies to North Korea. According to spokesperson James Foley: "The US Government has decided to provide additional humanitarian assistance to the amount of 100,000 metric tons of food aid..." The announcement once more enraged Gilman (24 March): "It's evident that the Administration has adopted a policy of accommodation to engage and ultimately to moderate Pyongyang's reckless behaviour, and that seems to be failing..."

The two sides are also holding discussions on the vexed question of North Korea's missile production and export policy. The state of these discussions was summarised for reporters Robert Einhorn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation, at the US Embassy in Tokyo on 2 April:

"[T]he US held missile talks with the DPRK earlier this week, 29 and 30 March, in Pyongyang. We pressed for tight constraints on the full range of North Korean missile activities: exports, production, deployment and flight testing. We also saw the meetings as an opportunity to reinforce a message we have previously provided, that any further flight testing of long-range missiles [following the 31 August 1998 launch of the Taepo Dong 1 ballistic missile], or any further exports of long-range missiles or equipment and technology for long-range missiles, would have very serious negative consequences for the evolution of US-DPRK relations. The talks this week were very substantive, candid, and detailed. But in the eleven hours of time we spent with our DPRK counterparts, I can't say we made any breakthroughs in the negotiations. ..."

On 9 April, the North Korean Foreign ministry issued a statement, carried on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), making clear both that it was seeking financial compensation for the loss of missile-export earnings, and that the US side was proving unreceptive to this demand: "The US insists that it cannot make any compensation in cash. Missile exports will not be suspended if the US refuses to pay cash to compensate for the DPRK's losses..." With regard to the issue of North Korea's own missile forces, the statement was equally blunt: "Having deployed a large number of ballistic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles in many parts of the world, the United States...has posed threats to the DPRK and other countries... Under these circumstances, the DPRK will never suspend the development, production, test and deployment of missiles but go ahead with them..."

Reports: US gets access to N. Korea site, Associated Press, 17 March; Transcript - Kartman/Kim joint statement on US-DPRK talks, United States Information Service, 17 March; US announces new food aid for N. Korea, Reuters, 22 March; GOP criticizes aid to N. Korea, Associated Press, 24 March; N. Korea rejects US missile demand, Associated Press, 31 March; US warns N. Korea against further missile tests, Reuters, 31 March; Text - DAS Einhorn 4/2 remarks on North Korea missile talks, United states Information Service, 2 April; Report - US, N. Korea talked nukes, Associated Press, 5 April; N. Korea wants US compensation to stop missile trade, Reuters, 9 April.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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