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US Defends North Korea Nuclear Deal As Good First Step

Christopher Hill (L), US Assistant Secretary of State and top negotiator to six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme, meets with a crowd of journalists at his hotel lobby in Beijing, 13 February 2007. Hill warned there was a lot more work to do after a deal was reached, but said he was pleased about the agreement, in which North Korea said it would shut down key nuclear facilities within two months in exchange for badly needed fuel, as part of a broad agreement aimed at ending the regime's controversial nuclear programme. Photo courtesy AFP.
by David Millikin
Washington (AFP) Feb 13, 2007
The United States hailed a landmark deal struck with North Korea Tuesday to rein in its nuclear program as a sign the erratic communist regime may finally be ready to abandon its 30-year quest to be a nuclear power. But US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned that tough negotiations remain ahead for the complex multi-phase agreement, which in the first stage only requires Pyongyang to freeze a major nuclear facility and let in UN inspectors.

The key steps requiring North Korea to reveal the full extent of its nuclear program, dismantle all facilities and give up its atomic arsenal are to be dealt with in later phases -- a process critics say is unlikely to succeed given Pyongyang's poor record of honoring agreements.

"This is not the end of the story," Rice told a hastily arranged press conference after the deal was struck overnight in Beijing.

"The goal is the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. This is a good beginning to that effort," she said.

President George W. Bush also issued a statement saying the six-party negotiations that yielded Tuesday's deal "represent the best opportunity to use diplomacy to address North Korea's nuclear program".

The six-party talks, begun in 2003, involve China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, North Korea and the United States.

The deal requires North Korea within 60 days to shut down and seal "for the purpose of eventual abandonment" its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon and readmit UN nuclear inspectors.

In exchange, Pyongyang will receive 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil as "emergency energy assistance".

In a second phase, North Korea is to reveal a list of all its nuclear program and materials while the US will begin a process of normalizing relations with Pyongyang.

In tandem, North Korea's five partners will provide Pyongyang with the equivalent of one million tonnes of fuel oil in the form of economic and humanitarian assistance -- twice the economic reward offered by the US in a 1994 bilateral denuclearization pact which collapsed in 2002.

Conservative critics, led by Bush's former UN ambassador, John Bolton, slammed the agreement as a climbdown that offers North Korea rewards in exchange for "very minimal commitments".

Bolton said a "grave flaw" in the deal is that it makes no mention of North Korea giving up its stocks of nuclear arms or weapons-grade plutonium. Pyongyang is believed to possess enough fissile material to make up to 13 bombs.

Rice rejected the criticism and suggestions Tuesday's agreement was virtually identical to the 1994 deal reached under president Bill Clinton and which she and Bush have both strongly criticized.

She argued that as a multilateral agreement, which includes key North Korean allies China and Russia, Tuesday's agreement is far more enforceable than Clinton's bilateral approach.

"All the major players in the region now share a stake in its outcome as well as a demand for results and accountability," she said.

She insisted that North Korea is implicitly bound to give up its nuclear arsenal.

"The joint statement covers the fact that North Korea must declare and abandon all of its nuclear programs, and everybody understands what 'all' means," she said.

Rice also rejected charges the deal would be seen as a reward for bad behavior by nations like Iran, which is the target of a US-led campaign to halt its nascent uranium enrichment program.

"Why shouldn't it be seen as a message to Iran that the international community is able to bring together its resources" to confront proliferators, she said.

Rice was closely involved in the final stages of the negotiations, speaking numerous times Monday with chief US negotiator Christopher Hill and then waking at 4:15 am Tuesday to call him for confirmation of the deal, she said.

But she used a reference from her favorite sport, American football, to express caution about the final outcome.

"This is still the first quarter, there is still a lot of time to go on the clock, but the six parties have now taken a promising step in the right direction," she said.

earlier related report
Korean Nuclear Accord Leaves Key Questions Unanswered Say Analysts
by P. Parameswaran
Washington (AFP) Feb 13 - The groundbreaking accord with North Korea to close down its key nuclear facilities still leaves many questions unanswered such as when Pyongyang's atomic program will end and how its nuclear arsenal will be dismantled, analysts said Tuesday. Under Tuesday's agreement clinched at six-nation talks in Beijing, no deadline has been set for North Korea already with a bad track record to complete the process of disbanding its nuclear weapons.

The accord also does not deal with the removal of an unknown number of atomic bombs in North Korea's possession or even the enormous plutonium the erratic regime has chalked up for making between seven and 13 bombs, analysts said.

The agreement among the United States, the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan just says that Pyongyang would have 60 days to shut down its main Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allow United Nations nuclear inspectors back into the country.

A number of key issues -- including dismantling presumably the entire nuclear arsenal in the reclusive nation -- has been deferred to an eventual phase.

The energy-starved regime would receive a first tranche of 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil -- part of an eventual one million tonnes if the accord progresses as spelt out and the North permanently disables its key nuclear facilities.

"The agreement is worthwhile in comparison to the status quo but obviously there are some key omissions -- the most significant is that there is no deadline for them to complete the elimination process," said Robert Einhorn, a top US weapons expert.

"It does say that steps should be taken to disable the (Yongbyon) facility but there is no time frame and furthermore, it doesn't address the removal of the nuclear bombs and fissile materials produced for such weapons," said Einhorn, a key nonproliferation official during the administration of president Bill Clinton.

North Korea has produced enough plutonium from the Yongbyon facilities to make up to 13 nuclear bombs, experts said.

The hardline communist state also has a sophisticated uranium enrichment program, as the United States had claimed in October 2002 and which led to the nuclear standoff, they said.

But the uranium based program was not mentioned in the agreement.

"The US decision to defer confrontation of North Korea over its uranium program weakens the rationale for the Bush administration's diplomatic approach over the past five years," said Bruce Klingner, an Asia expert with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

"Moreover, it calls into question the necessity of instigating the crisis in 2002 when it was unwilling to stay the course," he said.

The agreement's "vague provisions and deferred requirements give Pyongyang loopholes that it will seek to exploit," Klinger said.

But the United States and the four other nations which negotiated with Pyongyang had agreed to a set of benchmarks for implementation even though the North Koreans would not sign on to them, said Michael Green, a senior director for Asian affairs at the US National Security Council until a year ago.

North Korea could only get the subsequent 950,000 tonnes of fuel oil if it carried out certain steps that the five had agreed to in principle, said Green, who had participated in six-party talks when he was President George W. Bush's key Asia advisor.

He still felt several critical issues were not answered by the agreement, including the uranium program "and whether or not they come clean on that.

"We still don't know whether they are stalling for time ... The track record is not good," Green said. "But as a first step there is actual substance here and I think is important."

The US-based Arms Control Association, which has advocated for more effective diplomatic engagement to halt North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, said the pact was a "long overdue first step" while warning that "the danger is not past and further progress is necessary.

"While it would be preferable to secure more dramatic and faster action toward the verifiable dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons, the perfect (goal) should not be the enemy of this necessary initial step," the association's executive director Daryl Kimball said.

The step-by-step process agreed to under the agreement is seen as a rollback of the Bush administration's earlier demand for a "complete, verifiable, and irreversible" dismantlement of Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal when six-party talks started in 2003.

"It sounds like the Bush administration has put things back to where they were at the end of the Clinton administration -- only now the North Koreans have tested a nuclear weapon and have enough plutonium for seven to 10 nuclear bombs," Einhorn said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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