- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

President Bush yesterday called North Korea's admission that it operates a clandestine nuclear weapons program "troubling" but put off a decision on whether to continue honoring U.S. obligations under a 1994 agreement that is the cornerstone of efforts to denuclearize the communist regime.
The White House's announcement Wednesday that North Korea had admitted running a secret operation to enrich uranium the fuel for atomic bombs sparked expressions of concern from governments around the globe.
State Department arms control chief John R. Bolton and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia James Kelly were in Beijing yesterday, with North Korea's revived nuclear weapons program at the top the agenda with Chinese officials.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday that the United States had no current plans to take military action against Noth Korea.
"North Korea has to make a choice as to whether it will move forward and try to provide a better life for its people or waste what limited resources it has in developing weapons of mass destruction that will not feed one North Korean child," he said in New York.
Asked whether the United States was contemplating using force against Pyongyang, as it was against Iraq, Mr. Powell responded: "We are not planning anything of that nature right now."
Mr. Kelly travels on to South Korea and Japan for further consultations before returning home.
The Agreed Framework, signed by the Clinton administration in October 1994, called for freezing North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for a promise by the United States to build two civilian nuclear power plants in North Korea and supply it with fuel oil until the plants were completed.
At the time, the deal served to avert a crisis that brought the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear war.
The United States now pays for the oil, costing about $100 million each year, and South Korea and Japan are to pay about $4.5 billion to build the new power plants.
North Korea agreed to close one nuclear reactor, halt construction of two others and to allow international inspections of all nuclear facilities.
"The president believes this is troubling, sobering news," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One as Mr. Bush flew to Atlanta as part of a campaign swing.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he believes North Korea already has "a small number" of atom bombs. But he cautioned against comparing it with Iraq.
"Iraq has unique characteristics that distinguish it and that suggest that it has nominated itself for special attention because of the breadth of what they're doing," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Bush, who has named North Korea, Iraq and Iran as an "axis of evil," took a low-profile approach to North Korea's admission.
"We are seeking a peaceful resolution. This is best addressed through diplomatic channels at this point," Mr. McClellan said.
The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement from its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, that it was deeply concerned by the news.
"We are urgently seeking information from [North Korea] in response to this report, as well as information from the United States that will allow us to follow up on this very serious allegation," said the agency's director-general, Mohamed Elbaradei.
U.S. intelligence analysts concluded early this summer that Pyongyang for more than two years had been pursuing efforts to enrich uranium, which U.S. officials contend can only be used for nuclear weapons.
North Korea at the time of the Agreed Framework was working with plutonium extraction.
Mr. Kelly traveled to Pyongyang earlier this month, in part to confront North Korean officials over the findings, saying a broader easing of ties was impossible if the violations were not addressed.
North Korean officials at first denied the charges but then stunned the U.S. delegation by admitting the nuclear program and hinting at an even more extensive arsenal of unconventional weapons.
North Korean officials said in talks with Mr. Kelly that they had abandoned the 1994 agreement, saying that the United States had violated the accord.
Despite what the Bush administration has deemed a "material breach" of the Agreed Framework, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday declined to say the accord was now null and void.
"North Korea is in serious violation of that framework, and we're consulting with others about what the appropriate steps might be for us to take if North Korea does not eliminate this program in a verifiable manner," Mr. Boucher said.
The U.S.-led international consortium formed to implement the deal, known as the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO, poured the foundations for the first of the nuclear power plants in August.
South Korea and Japan are to pay for the plants, costing about $4.5 billion, and the United States is to pay for fuel oil until the plants are up and running
State Department envoy Jack Pritchard attended the August ceremony, even though the U.S. government had determined weeks earlier that North Korea was cheating.
"A concrete-pouring is a concrete-pouring," said Mr. Boucher, who said the decision on whether to proceed with KEDO projects was also on hold as the administration consulted allies.
The North Korean admission left regional players scrambling to adjust.
The apparent collapse of the basic anti-nuclear agreement for the long-troubled Korean Peninsula clashed sharply with what had been seen as a thawing of Pyongyang's hostile relations with South Korea and Japan dating back to the early days of the Cold War.
South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy," seeking a rapprochement with the North, has come under increasing domestic criticism in the current presidential race. Opposition critics of Mr. Kim's plan seized on the U.S. announcement to press their argument that the effort was misguided.
"If true, it's shocking and shatters the very foundation of U.S.-North Korean relations as well as inter-Korean relations," said Nam Gyung-pil, spokesman for the opposition Grand National Party.
The South Korean government, clearly on the defensive, said it would press ahead with diplomatic overtures to the North. After an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, government officials in Seoul said they planned consultations with Washington and Tokyo but that key programs such as a cross-border rail link to the North would proceed for now.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who made his own precedent-shattering visit to Pyongyang in a bid to improve bilateral ties last month, said he had been told of North Korea's violations before making his trip.
"We hope North Korea will take a sincere stance toward dispelling suspicions over its nuclear program," Mr. Koizumi told Japanese reporters yesterday, adding he will again discuss the matter in meetings with North Korean officials later this month.
Mr. Boucher said Mr. Kelly had thoroughly briefed South Korean and Japanese officials on the North Korean nuclear violations after his three-day trip to Pyongyang ended Oct. 5.
With North Korea remaining silent as the controversy swirled, some floated the notion that Pyongyang's admission to Mr. Kelly was a roundabout way of seeking talks with Washington by getting a damaging admission out of the way.
"We regard it as a sign North Korea is willing to resolve this problem through dialogue," said Yim Sung-joon, top foreign policy adviser to South Korea's Mr. Kim.
Mr. Boucher refused to speculate on the North's motivations.
"We're not drawing any conclusions on why they admitted it," Mr. Boucher said. "The fact is that they did."
But skeptics of the Clinton administration's pursuit of better relations with the North said the revelations confirmed their doubts.
Said House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, "Over the past eight years as the United States has implemented the Agreed Framework in good faith, the North Korean regime has secretly subverted it. Our worst suspicions have been confirmed."

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