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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

Uneasy Aftermath To US-North Korea Breakthrough

Despite the undoubted significance of the recent breakthrough in diplomatic relations between the US and North Korea, involving a partial lifting of US sanctions and a North Korean commitment not to conduct ballistic missile tests, tensions and difficulties remain evident, particularly with regard to the implementation of the 1994 US-North Korea Agreed Framework. As reported in the last issue, the new deadline for completion of the accord, by which the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Corporation (KEDO) is to provide North Korea with new, proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors, has slipped from 2003 to 2007 or 2008. On February 3, Vice Premier Jo Chang-dok made clear both his fear that the deadline could slip further and his view that compensation was already owing for the loss of energy supply entailed in the suspension of North Korea's existing nuclear reactors: "The US should own responsibility for having caused such acute shortage of electricity in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] that brought enormous losses to it and make compensation…in any form… In fact, it was only DPRK that suffered losses due to its unilateral freezing of the building of [its] nuclear power base. The US, however, ahs not honestly fulfilled its commitments… Due to the unreasonable US delaying tactics the LWR [Light-Water Reactors] construction is not likely to be completed even in 2010, to say nothing of 2003…" Earlier, on December 23, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson was quoted as observing:

"If construction is not completed as promised…our economic loss caused by [this] failure, to say nothing of what we lost due to the sacrifice of our independent nuclear power industry, will have to be counted or another step of weighty importance will have to be taken. … We…cannot remain a passive onlooker to the recent rumour that the project of the reactor construction will be finished in 2007 or 2008 at the earliest."

North Korea is also expressing dissatisfaction with three, interrelated examples of what it perceives as US double-standards: refusing to remove Pyongyang from its list of 'rogue states,' even while engaging in a diplomatic rapprochement; testing new anti-ballistic missile systems while urging further North Korean restraint in its missile testing programme; and refusing to condemn or prevent the attempted acquisition by South Korea of ballistic missiles capable of striking anywhere in North Korea.

On January 22, reacting to the failed US BMD flight test (See News Review, page 57), a spokesperson for North Korea's Foreign Ministry characterised the development as "one more grave challenge and magnanimity and good faith shown by [North Korea]…in its efforts to settle the outstanding issues through negotiations. …" The spokesperson added: "What matters is the US assertion that such a [BMD] drive is intended to cope with a non-existent 'missile threat' from the DPRK and other countries. … [We will now] take our moratorium into a serious consideration…[and] make an appropriate decision, watching [Washington's] future movement."

The US and South Korea discussed Seoul's missile plans in early February. According to Chang Chul-kyan, a spokesperson for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, on February 6: "WE anticipate progress in this week's talks… WE need a missile strong enough to provide a deterrent to North Korean threats." South Korea is currently bound by an agreement with Washington not to develop ballistic missile with a range in excess of 300 kilometres (112 miles); it would like to see the permissible range extended to at least 300 kilometres (188 miles), and possibly as much as 500 kilometres (310 miles).

Despite these problems, US and North Korean officials, led by Ambassador Charles Kartman and Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, held apparently constructive talks in Berlin from January 22-28, during which North Korea accepted a US invitation to send a high-level delegation to Washington later this year.

Note: in early January, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) placed on their website (http://www.fas.org) satellite pictures, taken in November 1999, of North Korea's ballistic missile test-firing range. According to John Pike, Director of FAS's Space Policy Project, speaking on January 11, the group's purpose in posting the images was to dispel the scare-mongering about North Korean's missile infrastructure: "This is their Kennedy Space Centre. All they've got connecting the building where they assemble the missiles and the launch pad is a dirt road through the middle of a rice paddy… This facility was not designed to support a large test programme. That suggests to me the North Koreans are developing an unreliable missile to deter us rather than a reliable missile to attack us…" Pentagon spokesperson Kenneth Bacon retorted the same day: "I'm not sure that the fact that the launch facility is primitive makes the missiles any less threatening…We've always known that North Korea has primitive facilities, that it is far behind us technologically, but [also] that it devotes an enormous amount of money, energy and manpower to developing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them…" And, on January 12, State Department spokesperson James Rubin commented: "we believe there are risks and there are threats. We don't believe we've been exaggerating the threat, and perhaps the FAS might be underplaying it a bit."

Reports: N. Korea says US responsible for any KEDO delays, Reuters, December 23; US group puts N. Korea missile site pictures on web, Reuters, January 11; DoD news briefing, January 11; US State Department Daily Briefing, January 12; US, N. Korea discuss missiles, ties, Associated Press, January 22; N. Korea reconsiders missile test moratorium after US firings, Agence France Presse, January 23; US says 'good progress' in talks with N. Korea, Reuters, January 28; N. Korea wants off terrorism list, Associated Press, January 30; US, Democratic People's Republic of Korea agree to high-level visit, US State Department statement, January 31; N. Korea accuses US of delaying nuclear project, Reuters, February 3; Missile accusations in Korea, Associated Press, February 5; N. Korea threats overshadow talks, Associated Press, February 6.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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