N. Korea Nuclear Accord Reached
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
North Korea will begin disabling key nuclear facilities within weeks and start disclosing details of its nuclear programs under a six-nation agreement to be announced this week, U.S. and Asian diplomats said yesterday.
Success on the deal appears to have been aided by a "side understanding" between Washington and Pyongyang that could accelerate the removal of North Korea from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The United States also appears willing to accept, initially, more limited action to disable three key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon than it originally sought, with the understanding that additional work to incapacitate the facilities would occur later. In exchange, North Korea is expected to disclose the extent of its weapons-grade plutonium, including how much was used in a nuclear test last year.
North Korea also will allow nuclear experts from Russia, China and the United States to examine aluminum tubes procured from Russia that could have been used in a uranium-enrichment program, diplomats said.
But diplomats said it is unclear whether North Korea will admit to acquiring centrifuges for use in such a program, as the United States has charged. The Bush administration in 2002 accused North Korea of having a clandestine uranium-enrichment program, and the accusation led to the collapse of a 1994 deal that had frozen the facilities at Yongbyon.
The flurry of diplomatic activity, coming nearly a year after North Korea shocked Asia by conducting its first nuclear test, demonstrates both increasing flexibility by the Bush administration in its waning months and increased willingness by North Korea to close parts of its nuclear program for potential economic benefits.
The Bush administration had once insisted on "complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement" before North Korea could receive benefits, but it has significantly moderated its stance since the North Korean nuclear test.
China plans to release the text of the agreement as early as today, after President Bush formally gave his approval yesterday during a breakfast meeting with Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the chief negotiator; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Vice President Cheney; and three other top officials. Hill flew back from Beijing, the site of talks that included South Korea, Japan and Russia, to brief Bush on the details.
Removing North Korea from the terrorism list would be a largely symbolic move, but it is highly prized by the North Korean government. It is problematic for Japan, which wants North Korea to first settle questions concerning the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents. North Korea has pressed for an exact date, but diplomats said no date appears in the final text.
Pyongyang also wants to be free of financial sanctions imposed by the U.S. Trading With the Enemy Act, a 1917 law that allows for a near-total economic boycott of countries at war with the United States.
Hill said that the terrorism list is a "delicate issue" and that being "too explicit about when it might happen is not helpful in terms of Japanese-North Korean relations. We are trying to handle it with sensitivity."
Still, he acknowledged that Pyongyang and Washington have a series of side understandings that amplify and clarify language in the six-party text. He indicated that one of those understandings encourages North Korea to be more forthcoming with the Japanese about the abductions.