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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 65, July - August 2002

Waiting Continues for US-North Korea Talks

Despite numerous diplomatic promptings, announcements of progress and declarations of intent, the US and North Korea have yet to resume negotiations on missile, nuclear and other non-proliferation and security issues.

On April 30, the White House issued a statement seemingly heralding imminent talks: "The Permanent Mission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the United Nations has informed the State Department that the DPRK is prepared to begin talks with the United States. The United States will work to determine the timing and other details in coming days. In June 2001, the President proposed talks without preconditions to address a broad range of US concerns with regard to the North's missile program and exports, implementation of the Agreed Framework, and conventional military posture, and other areas."

North Korea's approach to the US, made at the UN on April 29, reportedly included an invitation for a senior administration official to visit Pyongyang for preliminary talks. Earlier, on April 18, Thomas Hubbard, US Ambassador to South Korea, stated that the purpose of such a visit - likely to be made by Ambassador Charles Pritchard, US envoy for Korean affairs - would be "a general first meeting...and then hopefully we can agree on a formula for ongoing negotiations". Hubbard added that a major concern the US was certain to raise was the urgent need for full IAEA inspections of North Korea's nuclear materials. Without such inspections, the Agreed Framework process to provide North Korea with new light-water reactors (LWRs) would be in evident peril: "North Korea needs to begin the process of coming to terms with the IAEA soon if the project is going to continue without delay".

In Moscow on May 14, North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun told the Itar-Tass news agency that "the conditions and atmosphere" for a visit by Pritchard "have not yet been created." The Minister added: "Korean-American talks are, of course, vital to improve current relations. They can take place at any time, but the appropriate conditions must be created for this."

In New York on May 23 - addressing the annual General Conference of the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Organisation (KEDO) charged with implementing the Agreed Framework - Ambassador Pritchard managed to sound upbeat about a thaw proceeding at glacial pace:

"I'll get right to the bottom line, which is positive: the United States and North Korea are moving towards opening a dialogue on a broad range of issues of concern to everyone here today. ... As Secretary Powell and others have repeatedly made clear, the United States has been prepared to talk to the DPRK any place and at any time, without preconditions. We have also made clear that we anticipated North Korea would have its own issues to raise. North Korea responded positively late last month, and we are now working out the details and logistics that will make that trip possible. I am optimistic about where these talks may lead in the long run, though I have no illusions about how tough the going will be along the way."

Pritchard outlined to the members of KEDO's Executive Board - the US, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union - the implications of the President's decision on April 1 (see last issue) to waive the administration's requirement to certify full North Korean compliance with the terms of the Agreed Framework:

"The US Congress...has required the President to make certain certifications before funding can be obligated to KEDO. The language has varied from year to year, but Congress clearly harbors deep concerns about North Korea's missile program, about its deteriorating relations with South Korea...and about the degree of its cooperation with the...IAEA... This year the President decided to waive all three certifications contained in the annual funding bill. But he determined that continued funding of KEDO is vital to the national security interests of the United States because it enhances our non-proliferation objectives and enhances stability in Northeast Asia, and he directed that the US government furnish KEDO a record-high contribution of $90.5 million. It is important to understand that in this process the administration did not declare the DPRK to be in violation of the Agreed Framework. Rather, the waiver is meant to highlight for the DPRK areas where we see the need for improved implementation."

On April 3 (see last issue) North Korea announced its willingness to resume discussions with KEDO officials, broken off in the general freezing of US-DPRK relations after the election of George W. Bush. KEDO delegations duly visited North Korea in late April and again in early May to discuss next steps in preparing construction of the LWRs.

Reports: US awaits word on talks from North Korea, Reuters, April 18; North Korea - officials to resume negotiations with KEDO, Global Security Newswire, April 24; North Korea invites US official to visit Pyongyang, Associated Press, April 29; Text - White House says US, N. Korea prepared to begin talks, Washington File, April 30; North Korea willing to resume talks with US, Reuters, April 30; US prepares to resume talks with North Korea, Reuters, April 30; Officials make progress in KEDO negotiations, Global Security Newswire, May 6; Nuclear team in North Korea, but South talks off, Reuters, May 7; North Korea says conditions not ripe for US talks, Reuters, May 14; Public statement by Ambassador Charles H. Pritchard, US Representative, KEDO General Conference, May 23, 2002, KEDO website (http://www.kedo.org).

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