N. Korea Nuclear Accord Reached
Wednesday, October 3, 2007; 10:20 AM
North Korea will disable key nuclear facilities by the end of the year and start disclosing details of its nuclear programs under a six-nation agreement released today in China. 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 appeared willing to accept, initially, more limited action than it originally sought to disable three key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, 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.
According to the text of the document, released by China's official Xinhua news agency, North Korea agreed to disable the 5 megawatt experimental reactor at Yongbyon, a fuel reprocessing plant, and a nuclear fuel rod facility by Dec. 31. The work will be paid for and overseen by the U.S. Alongside that commitment, the document says that the U.S. will "begin the process of removing" North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism and lifting trade sanctions.
The actions outlined by the document are "a major step towards the goal of achieving the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and would "effectively end" North Korea's production of plutonium, said White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, the Associated Press reported.
Under the agreement, 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 released the text of the agreement Wednesday, 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."