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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 47, June 2000

US-North Korea Discussions

Officials from North Korea and the US met in Rome from May 24-30 to discuss ongoing efforts to implement a 1994 plan to provide North Korea with replacement nuclear facilities. The delegations were led by Ambassador Charles Kartman and Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan.

Describing the talks as "serious and constructive," and noting "we made progress," a US State Department press release stated: "We discussed our respective concerns regarding the implementation of the Agreed Framework… In this regard, the US used this round of talks to launch a new negotiation, called for by [former Defense Secretary] Dr. [William] Perry in his report to the President, on Agreed Framework Implementation." The press release added: "The two sides also agreed to hold a preparatory session on May 31 for the next round of missile talks. One purpose of this preparatory session will be to set the stage for the next formal round of US-North Korea missile talks in the near future."

North Korea is unhappy at the prospect of the initial deadline for completing the new nuclear reactors slipping from 2003 to 2007 or even later. Speaking to reporters in Rome on May 26, Kim Gye Gwan noted: "I told [the US delegation] to make up for electric power losses stemming from the delayed construction of the light-water nuclear reactors… They said they would study [the situation] and then suggest a plan."

Also in late May, US experts made a second inspection of an underground facility at Kumchang-ni, previously suspected by Washington of forming part of a clandestine nuclear weapons programme. A first inspection, in May 1999, found no evidence to support this claim. The second visit, on May 27, found, in the words of a State Department announcement, "conditions unchanged… It remains an unfinished site, the underground portion of which is an extensive, empty tunnel complex. A careful technical analysis of the team's work will now take place before further judgments can be made and reported. Under the terms of the agreement reached with Pyongyang in March 1999, the US may visit the site in the future."

The leaders of North and South Korea, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Dae-Jung, met for an unprecedented summit meeting in Pyongyang in mid-June, amid speculation that the US was on the verge of relaxing economic sanctions against North Korea (a move duly announced on June 19 - see next issue for details and comment). On June 15, while welcoming the summit, Defense Department spokesperson Kenneth Bacon observed: "I think there's a lot of reason for exuberance right now about what's happening on the Korean peninsular, but I think it needs to be somewhat wary or controlled exuberance at this time." Bacon added that the South Korean President remained adamant that "he would like US troops to remain in Korea because they're a stabilising force…" Also on June 15, the US Department of Agriculture announced a donation of 50,000 metric tons of surplus foodstuffs to the World Food Programme's emergency operation in North Korea.

On June 9, the Kremlin announced that in July President Putin would pay the first visit to North Korea by a Russian head of state. Russian officials stressed that the visit would not be used to criticise North Korea for persisting in its missile development and export programme. However, some analysts speculate that President Putin might explore the possibility of using diplomatic and financial incentives to persuade North Korea to adopt a new stance. In the assessment of Sergei Markov, Director of the Russian Institute of Political Studies: "Putin may try to reach an agreement that would place North Korean missiles under international control in exchange for financial assistance - a deal similar to that reached before on [the] North Korean nuclear programme… That would deprive the United States of its key argument in favour of anti-missile defence…"

Reports: US, N. Korea reopen nuclear talks, Reuters, May 24; North Korea accuses US of delaying nuclear power plant project, Agence France Presse, May 26; North Korea - talks in Rome, US State Department, May 30; Second Kumchang-Ni site visit completed, US State Department, May 30; Putin won't pressure North Korea, Associated Press, June 9; US mixes support with caution for Koreas, Reuters, June 15; USDA donation to World Food Program for North Korea, US State Department (Washington File), June 15.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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