Deadline Set for Yongbyon Disablement
On Oct. 3, China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States issued a joint statement in which North Korea pledged to complete the disablement of its plutonium-production facilities and provide a full accounting of all of its nuclear programs by the end of this year. Shortly following the talks, and for only the second time since the Korean War, North and South Korea held a summit meeting to discuss expanded economic cooperation and movement toward a permanent peace mechanism.
Using the three facilities slated for disablement, North Korea has accumulated an estimated stockpile of about 50 kilograms of separated plutonium, or enough for up to 12 nuclear weapons. North Korea is believed to have used some of this material in its first nuclear test on Oct. 9, 2006. (See ACT, November 2006.) If kept active, the facilities would be capable of producing at least an additional bomb’s worth of plutonium annually.
U.S. officials also contend that North Korea has embarked on a uranium-enrichment program, which could provide another means of obtaining fissile material for nuclear weapons. U.S. negotiators made less progress than they had hoped in winning North Korea’s agreement to disable these facilities, if they exist.
October 3 Statement Sets Deadlines
The Oct. 3 statement marks the latest move to implement a September 2005 umbrella agreement that ultimately calls for North Korea’s nuclear disarmament in return for incentives from the United States and the other parties. In February, Pyongyang agreed to declare and disable all of its nuclear programs in return for shipments of fuel oil and moves toward improved diplomatic relations. The first phase was completed in July when North Korea shut down its Yongbyon facilities. (See ACT, March 2007; September 2007.)
The Oct. 3 pledge continues these agreements but adds some specifics. In particular, it set a year-end deadline by which North Korea must disable its five-megawatt reactor, reprocessing facility, and nuclear fuel fabrication plant at Yongbyon and provide a “complete and correct declaration of all of its nuclear programs.” It also reaffirmed Pyongyang’s commitment not to engage in nuclear proliferation.
Questions of North Korean proliferation have become more acute due to press reports that the target of the Israeli air strikes in Syria on Sept. 6 was a nuclear facility constructed with assistance from Pyongyang. Since these reports have surfaced, U.S. officials have asserted that issues of proliferation must be addressed in the six-party talks. During an Oct. 17 press conference, President George W. Bush stated, “[W]hen it comes to the six-party talks…the issue of proliferation has equal importance with the issue of weaponry and North Korea has said that they will stop proliferating.” He added, “[I]f they don’t fulfill that which they’ve said, we are now in a position to make sure that they understand that there [will] be consequences.”
In line with reciprocal commitments, China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States agreed to provide an additional 900,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil, or its equivalent, to North Korea by year-end. The United States pledged to provide the initial funding for disabling the Yongbyon facilities and will lead an expert group to prepare for disablement.
The United States and Japan also pledged to continue discussions on normalizing relations with North Korea, although no timeline was included for progress on these issues. The United States has pledged to move toward easing bilateral and multilateral sanctions against North Korea, including removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Tokyo has tied normalization with Pyongyang to North Korea addressing the abduction of Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In addition to disabling the plutonium-production facilities, the United States had initially sought to disable North Korea’s alleged uranium-enrichment facilities by the end of the year. Although North Korea has not publicly acknowledged such facilities, U.S. officials claim North Korean negotiators did so privately in October 2002. (See ACT, November 2002.) Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill told reporters Sept. 14 that the issue of uranium enrichment “is something that all have agreed must be resolved by the end of the year in terms of including it in a declaration, assuming that is appropriate, which we believe it is, and then disabling whatever uranium-enrichment program there is.”
The Oct. 3 statement did not call for the disablement of the uranium-enrichment program. It omitted any specific reference to uranium enrichment at all.
According to an Oct. 14 report by the Yorimuri Shimbun, confirmed by Arms Control Today with a diplomatic source close to the talks, a draft that negotiators agreed on in late September and sent to their capitals for approval called for a two-stage declaration process. The first stage explicitly required North Korea to provide information about the enrichment program by the end of the year. However, during the final negotiations on the statement, the two-stage process was reduced to a single stage and the reference to uranium enrichment was dropped at Pyongyang’s insistence.
Nonetheless, U.S. officials have expressed confidence that the uranium-enrichment issue will be addressed sufficiently by the year-end deadline. In remarks at the Sydney Institute Oct. 15, Hill stated, “We have good reason to believe that whatever uranium-enrichment program they have going, they will not have going by the end of the year.”
Inter-Korean Summit Aimed at Expanding Economic Cooperation
The leaders of North and South Korea met Oct. 2-4 to discuss prospects for reconciliation and unification, only the second time in their 50-year history that the countries have met on the topic. The first such inter-Korean summit was held in June 2000 between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and then-President Kim Dae-jung.
The summit concluded with the adoption of an eight-point joint declaration in which both sides agreed to take steps toward reunification, ease military tensions, expand meetings of separated families, and engage in social and cultural exchanges. The declaration also expressed a “shared understanding” by the two countries “on the need for ending the current armistice mechanism and building a permanent peace mechanism.” In this regard, the two leaders agreed to work toward holding a summit meeting of the “three, or four directly concerned” leaders to declare a formal end to the half-century-old Korean War.
The most detailed aspect of the declaration related to a series of economic development projects that South Korea would undertake in the North. Seoul is in the process of calculating financial plans regarding its pledges to Pyongyang. The Korea Times reported Oct. 8 that South Korean Finance Minister Kwon O-kyu expressed South Korea’s intention to seek outside funding, including from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and private banks, to provide financial assistance for the summit-related projects. He stated, “We will also closely work with international financial institutions to attract funds from outside.”
The most significant project is the establishment of a special economic zone at North Korea’s southwestern port city of Haeju. Other projects include expanding the Kaesong Industrial complex near the North-South border and repairing a number of North Korean railways.
The denuclearization issue was largely left out of the summit discussions. In his Oct. 4 speech delivered following his return to South Korea, President Roh Moo-hyun indicated that he preferred not to bring up the nuclear issue during the meeting, stating that doing so would amount to opening up “a separate threshing ground when there is already the threshing ground for resolving the issue.”
Although the nuclear issue was not a major subject of the summit, the two leaders did receive a briefing from the North Korean envoy to the six-party talks, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan. The summit joint declaration also included a brief reference to the six-party talks, with the two countries pledging “to make joint efforts for the smooth implementation of the 19 September  Joint Statement and the 13 February Agreement made at the six-party talks for the resolution of the Korean peninsula’s nuclear issue.”
Disablement Process Gets Underway
Following through with the joint statement of the six-party talks, two U.S. teams of experts from the Departments of State, Energy, and Defense and the National Security Council were sent to North Korea to continue to determine the steps to be taken for disabling the three facilities at Yongbyon. A State Department official told Arms Control Today Oct. 22 that the first team of eight experts concentrated on the technical procedures for disablement. They were joined Oct. 13 by a group of 12 experts who were tasked with considering health, safety, and other issues.
The full group of 20 experts remained in North Korea to examine the three facilities and engage in talks with the North Koreans on the disablement process until Oct. 18. Unlike the prior team sent to view the facilities in September, the U.S. experts were not joined by officials from China or Russia. (See ACT, October 2007.)
State Department spokesperson Tom Casey told reporters Oct. 18 that the technical process for disablement has been determined and discussed with Pyongyang. The head of the experts delegation to North Korea, Director of the State Department Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Sung Kim, suggested that the physical work on disablement could begin in the middle of November when U.S. personnel would be sent to work with North Korea to start the process.
NK Fuel Assistance to Be Completed This Year
The 900,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil to be provided to Pyongyang comprises the remainder of the 1 million metric tons, or its equivalent, pledged to North Korea in the Feb. 13 action plan. The shipments of oil began in July, when South Korea provided North Korea with 50,000 metric tons just prior to the shutdown of the Yongbyon facilities. China delivered another shipment of 50,000 metric tons in September.
The United States began making preparations for the delivery of a third shipment of 50,000 tons in September, including notifying Congress that $25 million in funding would be used for providing this shipment of nonhumanitarian aid. (See ACT, October 2007.) A State Department official told Arms Control Today Oct. 17 that the logistical procedures for delivering the fuel are still underway.
On Oct. 22, Bush submitted a request to Congress for an additional $106 million for energy assistance to North Korea as part of a broader $196 billion emergency spending request focused primarily on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Speaking to reporters Oct. 3, Hill indicated that the six parties determined that, due to the lack of port and storage capacity in North Korea for the delivery of 900,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil by Dec. 31, one-half of that amount would be provided in fuel oil equivalents. North Korea can only accommodate shipments of about 50,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil each month. The equivalents would include efforts to refurbish power plants and to increase fuel storage capacity. The specific details regarding this assistance are to be determined in meetings of the six-party talks’ working group on economy and energy cooperation.
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