Breakthrough agreement with N Korea?


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

February 13, 2007

In Shift, Accord on North Korea Seems to Be Set

BEIJING, Tuesday, Feb. 13 ‹ The United States and four other nations reached a 
tentative agreement to provide North Korea with roughly $400 million in fuel oil
and aid, in return for the North¹s starting to disable its nuclear facilities 
and allowing nuclear inspectors back into the country, according to American 
officials who have reviewed the proposed text.

While the accord sets a 60-day deadline for North Korea to accomplish those 
first steps toward disarmament, it leaves until an undefined moment in the 
future ‹ and to another negotiation ‹ the actual removal of North Korea¹s 
nuclear weapons and the fuel that it has manufactured to produce them.

Bush administration officials said they believed that the other nations 
participating in the talks ‹ China, Japan, South Korea and Russia ‹ would 
consent to the tentative agreement as soon as Tuesday. The parties still await a
final confirmation from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il. The tentative 
agreement was forwarded to the respective national capitals Tuesday morning.

In essence, if the North agrees to the deal, a country that only four months ago
conducted its first nuclear test will have traded away its ability to produce 
new nuclear fuel in return for immediate energy and other aid. It would still 
hold on to, for now, an arsenal that American intelligence officials believe 
contains more than a half-dozen nuclear weapons or the fuel that is their 
essential ingredient.

The accord also leaves unaddressed the fate of a second and still-unacknowledged
nuclear weapons program that the United States accused North Korea of buying 
from the Pakistani nuclear engineer Abdul Qadeer Khan in the late 1990s, in what
appeared to be an effort to circumvent a nuclear freeze the North negotiated in 
1994 with the Clinton administration.

Negotiations had appeared near collapse on Sunday over North Korea¹s demands for
huge shipments of fuel oil and electricity.

Under the new tentative agreement, the oil and aid for North Korea would be 
provided by South Korea, China and the United States ‹ meaning that President 
Bush would need to win Congressional approval. That proved difficult for the 
Clinton administration, which constantly fought hawks in Congress over providing
fuel oil to the impoverished nation under the earlier accord.

Japan has declined to participate in providing oil or aid until it resolves 
separate issues with North Korea about the abduction of some of its citizens by 
the North, American officials said.

In Washington on Monday night, administration officials declined to call the 
first phase of the new agreement a ³nuclear freeze.² The term has echoes of the 
Clinton accord, which Mr. Bush had criticized because it failed to force the 
North to ship its nuclear fuel out of the country before it received significant
aid. The officials insisted that the current agreement was different because the
North will not receive light-water nuclear reactors, like the ones it was 
promised in the 1994 agreement, and because the agreement will also be signed by
the North¹s immediate neighbors, including China.

Beijing was the North¹s ally in the Korean War and its protector for decades, 
but relations have been strained and the Chinese leadership was apparently 
pressuring the North to accept the new agreement.

³If they renege on this,² said one senior administration official, who would not
speak on the record because the deal had not been signed, ³they are sticking 
their fingers into the eyes of the Chinese.²

Nonetheless, some administration officials acknowledged that they had concluded 
that a step-by-step accord was their only choice and that it would be impossible
to set a schedule for the North¹s disarmament without taking initial steps to 
build trust.

³Everybody had to make some changes to try to narrow the differences,² the chief
American negotiator, Christopher R. Hill, told reporters as he returned to his 
hotel at 2:41 a.m. on Tuesday.

Mr. Hill was expected to meet again on Tuesday in Beijing with envoys from 
China, South Korea, Japan, Russia and North Korea to learn if each nation has 
approved the deal. He said he had been in frequent contact with Secretary of 
State Condoleezza Rice during the late-night negotiations and that he believed 
the Bush administration would support the agreement. ³We feel it is an excellent
draft,² he said. ³I don¹t think we are the problem.²

If Mr. Hill is correct, it marks a major change of course for an administration 
that has been beset by six years of virulent internal arguments over whether to 
negotiate with North Korea or squeeze the government of Mr. Kim until it 
collapses. Hawks in the administration, including many allies of Vice President 
Dick Cheney, have opposed any deal that would provide aid to the North before it
disgorges its arsenal.

Even before the preliminary agreement was signed in Beijing, one of Mr. Cheney¹s
protégés, John R. Bolton, who left his post as American ambassador to the United
Nations just two months ago, denounced the accord. ³This is a very bad deal,² he
said on CNN, urging President Bush to reject it. He added that ³it contradicts 
fundamental premises of the president¹s policy,² and he said that it made the 
administration ³look very weak.²

Gary Samore, who was the top nonproliferation official in the Clinton White 
House and who negotiated with North Korea, commended the Bush administration for
negotiating an accord with the North, but said: ³Unfortunately, it is three 
years, eight bombs and one nuclear test too late. But better late than never.²

Under the details of the deal, as described by American and Asian officials, the
$400 million in aid would be disbursed to the North as it meets its initial 
commitments, probably over the course of a year. The first of those must be 
completed in the next 60 days, including the ³permanent disablement² of the 
country¹s existing nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, its main nuclear complex 
north of the capital, Pyongyang.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, whose inspectors were kicked out of 
North Korea four years ago, also would need to be invited back in. And the North
would have to prepare a ³complete declaration² of all its nuclear facilities, 
turning that over to all of the parties in the talks and the I.A.E.A.

That would pave the way for a second phase, in which ³working groups² would 
negotiate the details of disarmament, including turning over weapons and fuel. 
Other groups would explore normalization of relations, a peace treaty formally 
ending the Korean War, and other economic aid in return for disarmament.

But the disarmament process promises to be enormously complex, far harder than 
dismantling Libya¹s comparatively small nuclear complex three years ago. Libya 
never produced nuclear material. North Korea is believed to have made one or two
weapons, or the fuel for them, nearly two decades ago, and perhaps a half-dozen 
or more since 2003. But American officials are uncertain exactly how many 
weapons the North possesses, and in the second phase of the accord, the North 
would have to explain what it did with the uranium-enrichment equipment that it 
is said to have purchased from Dr. Khan.

³We don¹t know what state that program is in,² one senior official with access 
to the intelligence information said Monday. ³We only know what they appear to 
have bought,² based in part on Pakistani interrogations of Dr. Khan.

United Nations sanctions against North Korea put into place after last year¹s 
nuclear test are expected to remain in effect for the next year, American 
officials said.

Some experts doubt that the North will ever agree to turn over its weapons, 
which it considers its main bargaining chip with the West, and Mr. Kim¹s only 
insurance policy against being toppled. ³This is a freeze with a promise to 
negotiate subsequent disarmament,² said Mr. Samore. ³And a North Korean promise 
to negotiate later is pretty worthless.²

Mr. Hill acknowledged that he had a lot of negotiating ahead of him. ³This is 
only one phase of denuclearization,² he said. ³We¹re not done.²

If the deal is approved, Mr. Hill added, the new working groups could be quickly
established while chief negotiators would likely reconvene in Beijing as soon as
next month. He said the tentative agreement would create a succession of 
deadlines that would need to be met as a precondition of the deal.

North Korea had nearly scuttled the negotiations in recent days by insisting on 
a huge energy aid package. Varying reports in Asia suggested that North Korea 
had demanded two million tons of heavy fuel oil and two million kilowatts of 
electricity in exchange for its approval of any new agreement, far less than it 

Jim Yardley reported from Beijing, and David E. Sanger from Washington.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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