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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 37, May 1999

Improved Climate Holds in US-North Korea Nuclear Diplomacy

The period under review saw a continuation of improved US-North Korea relations following the 16 March accord permitting American inspections of a suspected underground nuclear-weapons facility at Kumchang-ni (see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 35). The accord has restored to health the 1994 Framework Agreement between the two sides on the replacement of North Korea's nuclear reactors. On 7 May, it was reported that a team of US technical experts would conduct the first inspection on 20 May. "The purpose of the visit," according to State Department spokesperson James Rubin, "is to fully remove US concerns about the site and about the activities there."

As signalled in the 16 March settlement, on 21 April the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced a shipment of US food aid to North Korea - 100,000 metric tons of food and 1,000 metric tons of food aid; in the words of WFP spokesperson Abby Spring, "the first ever bilateral agreement" between the two sides.

The replacement of North Korea's nuclear reactors is being carried out by the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Corporation (KEDO) at a cost of over $5 billion. Work is scheduled to begin on the replacement light-water reactors (LWRs) in June, and be completed by 2003, though this is widely reported as being considered too ambitious. Following the test-firing of a North Korean ballistic missile over Japanese territory on 31 August 1998, Japan, one of the main contributors to KEDO, threatened to withdraw support for the consortium unless it received guarantees that no further test-flights would be conducted. However, on 3 May, Japan's Foreign Ministry announced that the Government had signed a contract to supply $1 billion funding to the project.

Reports: US organizes first direct food shipment to N. Korea, Reuters, 21 April; Japan to loan $1 bln to KEDO for N. Korea reactors, Reuters, 4 May; US visiting suspect N. Korea site, Associated Press, 7 May; US's Kartman ends talks on N. Korean site visit, Reuters, 16 May.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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