U.S. to Ship Oil To North Korea

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2007

President Bush yesterday authorized the first U.S. shipment of heavy fuel oil to North Korea in five years, a reward to Pyongyang for moving forward with its agreement to end its nuclear programs.

The president's order means the United States soon will send 50,000 metric tons of fuel worth about $25 million to the impoverished and isolated Stalinist government. In justifying the move, the White House cited North Korea's recent commitment to complete an inventory of its nuclear programs and disable its existing nuclear facilities by the end of the year.

"It's action for action," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council. "We feel like the North Koreans are taking the right steps in living up to their obligations under the agreements."

The shipment represents another step in a complex sequence of actions and rewards built into an accord forged in February by the United States, North Korea, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The agreement promises energy-starved North Korea a total of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil over the course of the denuclearization process. So far, South Korea and China have provided 50,000 tons each. Russia will provide the next installment, while Japan refuses to participate until North Korea addresses its abductions of Japanese citizens.

But Bush's order yesterday also marked a dramatic shift for an administration that cut off fuel shipments to North Korea in 2002 when U.S. officials accused Pyongyang of operating a secret uranium enrichment program. After the fuel cutoff, North Korea restarted its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, extracting weapons-grade plutonium for bombs and eventually announcing last fall that it had tested one.

Critics have questioned the administration's decision to restart fuel shipments before North Korea completely shuts down its program. And the six-party deal has come under renewed criticism since Israel's Sept. 6 attack on a suspected nuclear site in Syria that was reportedly set up with the help of North Korea.

Sources have told The Washington Post that Israel shared satellite imagery and other intelligence with Bush this summer indicating that North Korean nuclear personnel were in Syria. Bush has refused to discuss anything concerning the situation and Johndroe said yesterday that he had no comment. Syria and North Korea have both denied that they were collaborating on a nuclear program.

The United States also announced this week that it is renewing long-standing sanctions against North Korea for transferring missile technology, although administration officials downplayed the significance of the action and said it would not affect the nuclear deal.

Despite the new sanctions and the Israeli airstrike, the six-party talks resumed in Beijing this week and the nuclear agreement with North Korea appeared to remain on track. North Korea has shut down the Yongbyon reactor and agreed to admit inspectors from the United States, China and Russia. U.S. officials want to map out the next phase of action by the end of the year.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company