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US Congress Sceptical Over Nuclear Accord With North Korea

AFP file photo of Henry Hyde speaking at Beijing's Tsinghua University, 10 December 2002. Hyde cautioned that "any energy deal for North Korea will not be an easy matter for consideration by the Congress at a time of overwhelming national concern."

Washington (AFP) Oct 06, 2005
The United States Congress expressed scepticism Thursday over a tentative nuclear deal reached with North Korea and warned that legislators might find it difficult to approve energy aid to the Stalinist state.

Reminding that North Korea had reneged before on its promise to give up nuclear weapons, US legislators demanded a solid final agreement with Pyongyang to ensure that it kept its side of the bargain.

"Such a final deal must be air tight to ensure that we have not given away the farm with little in return beyond more broken promises from Pyongyang," said Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House's international relations committee.

The committee conducted a hearing Thursday on the "Statement of Principles" achieved at the six-party talks in Beijing last month in which North Korea committed to giving up its nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees, normalization of relations and energy and other aid.

But North Korea insisted even before the ink on the deal was dry that any dismantlement of its atomic weapons network would begin only after it received light-water reactors from the United States to allow it to generate power under a civilian atomic scheme.

The United States maintained however that discussions on a peaceful nuclear program for North Korea cannot take place until Pyongyang disbanded its nuclear weapons arsenal in a verifiable manner.

Hyde cautioned that "any energy deal for North Korea will not be an easy matter for consideration by the Congress at a time of overwhelming national concern," referring to the recent devastation caused by hurricanes in the US Gulf coast that left thousands without electricity and oil prices rocketing.

"More shipments of heavy fuel oil to Pyongyang when the price of gasoline in the United States averages three dollars a gallon will be met with an angry shriek," said the Republican representative from Illinois.

Ranking Democratic Representative Tom Lantos warned that Congress "will not have the patience or the will to long tolerate dilatory negotiating tactics in Beijing when the (six-party) talks resume next month."

The hurricane disaster, which cost the United States billions of dollars in property damage, including on oil refineries, "will cause the American people to be inwardly focused for quite some time," Lantos said.

The interim accord with North Korea mirrors an agreement then-President Bill Clinton's administration struck with the hardline communist state 11 years ago in which energy aid was a key element.

The agreement collapsed after the North reneged on its promise and carried out a secret program to enrich uranium, triggering the current crisis in 2002.

The North has always denied a uranium-based program but it raised the stakes in February by declaring that it had produced nuclear weapons and would manufacture more.

Hyde pointed out that in the recent agreement, "there is no precise mention of HEU (highly enriched uranium), the eye at the center of the current North Korean storm."

The absence of such a provision has left many guessing whether, under a future peaceful nuclear program, North Korea could produce enriched uranium, which can be fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors or raw material for nuclear bombs.

James Leach, the Iowa representative, expressed concern that North Korea was continuing to reprocess plutonium and construct new nuclear reactors while the six party talks were continuing.

There is no provision in the interim accord for North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons program during the talks with the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

Satellite photos have showed that the North's main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon was operating -- a sign that Pyongyang could still produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Christopher Hill, the chief US negotiator to the talks, said the United States would take steps to protect itself and its allies from North Korea's "proliferation and illicit" activities as the interim accord was implemented.

He said the six parties would draw up "timelines and sequencing of actions" for North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms program at the next round of talks.

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Analysis: Big News From N. Korea?
Seoul (UPI) Oct 06, 2005
North Korea watchers in Seoul are paying close attention to possible breaking news from the communist nation over the weekend or early next week.

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