- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

President Bush has decided not to certify North Korea's compliance with a 1994 nuclear agreement a first for the United States, which had previously issued the certification each year before sending fuel oil to Pyongyang.

Mr. Bush will waive certification on national security grounds, a move that will still allow the United States to ship 500,000 tons of fuel this year to the energy-starved nation, White House officials said.

In the 1994 deal, known as the Agreed Framework, the United States agreed to provide North Korea with two modern atomic power plants and yearly shipments of fuel oil until the plants were operating. In exchange, North Korea froze its suspected nuclear weapons program.

White House officials insisted that the decision doesn't mean the United States has evidence that North Korea is violating the agreement only that America does not have enough information to make a judgement.

"It's a strong message to North Korea that they need to comply with their international obligations and agreements," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.

The North has been allowing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to monitor the construction site.

But Washington is concerned that Pyongyang hasn't provided a record of plutonium it had previously extracted from a now-mothballed reactor, and that it may be hiding nuclear bomb-making materials. Plutonium is the primary fuel needed to make atom bombs.

"There is no question the president has concerns," Mr. Fleischer said. "We have not been provided with sufficient information by the North Koreans and concerns remain about their compliance with the Agreed Framework."

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the fact that the United States will send $95 million worth of fuel oil to North Korea and will continue to support the reactors' construction is "an indication of our intention to go ahead with the program this year … and to abide by the Agreed Framework as long as North Korea does so as well."

Mr. Boucher said that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had recommended that Mr. Bush opt for a national-security waiver instead of formally certifying compliance.

"We have looked at the various areas of certification in the agreement, and we have found that we could not certify them," he told reporters.

The president's decision comes less than two months after he branded North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, as part of an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address.

Since then, the administration has repeatedly said it is ready to talk to the Stalinist state "anytime, any place, without preconditions." However, except for routine meetings with North Korean officials at the United Nations in New York, no substantive dialogue has taken place.

Current and former U.S. officials said yesterday that Mr. Bush was in a difficult political position, trying to negotiate a compromise among those lawmakers who generally favor cooperation with Pyongyang and those who are suspicious of the deal.

The agreement was adopted after a crisis propelled by the North's withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Wendy Sherman, the Clinton administration's top official on North Korea, praised Mr. Bush yesterday for allowing the fuel oil shipments to continue, but questioned the effectiveness of the signal he was sending Pyongyang.

"This is not the best way to send a message," she said. "The North Koreans are not likely to hear it in nuances and subtleties."

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