Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The State Department yesterday confirmed that North Korea discussed another deal with the United States for a nuclear reactor program during closed-door talks in Beijing last week, as three lawmakers urged the Bush administration not to resurrect a reactor deal with Pyongyang.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said North Korean negotiators “did raise the reactor issue, but it’s not something that we entertained.” He said the United States will not agree to provide North Korea reactors until it first agrees to abandon its nuclear arms programs.

Mr. Ereli’s comments were in response to a story in The Washington Times yesterday that said the U.S. negotiator told the North Koreans construction of a light-water reactor is possible if the communist country gives up its nuclear program and rejoins international nuclear control agreements.

The story, citing anonymous U.S. officials, set off a debate within the U.S. government over whether its chief negotiator, Joseph DeTrani, had exceeded his instructions, which limited discussion of light-water reactors.

Mr. Ereli said the U.S. goal in the six-party talks, which ended Friday, was to build a consensus for North Korea to agree to “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement.”

“We’re not prepared to provide inducements to North Korea for compliance with its international obligations,” Mr. Ereli said. “Talking about one aspect of North Korea’s nuclear program or another aspect of the nuclear program is not where we’re at.”

The United States, Japan and South Korea agreed to provide North Korea with two light-water reactors as part of the 1994 Agreed Framework, in exchange for Pyongyang stopping all work on nuclear arms. That agreement collapsed after North Korea’s disclosure in October 2002 that it had a covert uranium enrichment program that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

A light-water nuclear reactor is supposed to be safer because it limits the possibility of using it for making weapons.

On Capitol Hill, three members of Congress wrote yesterday to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, urging the administration to withdraw any offer of a reactor to North Korea.

“This idea should be taken off the table immediately,” the lawmakers said.

The letter was signed by Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican; Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, and Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, who were commenting on The Times article. Mr. Cox is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and Mr. Hyde is chairman of the International Relations Committee.

“North Korea has a long and dangerous history of violating the international nonproliferation agreements it has signed,” the letter stated. “We urge you to step up America’s public diplomacy on this issue to ease any ambiguity in the U.S. position and to ensure that Kim Jong-il’s negotiators fully comprehend that this aspect of the Agreed Framework will not be resurrected.”

According to Bush administration officials familiar with the talks, North Korean negotiator Ri Gun asked whether the light-water reactors would be supplied if North Korea addressed its “highly enriched uranium program” during a side meeting with Mr. DeTrani.

The officials said Mr. DeTrani indicated to the North Koreans that reactor construction could be “one element” of a U.S. policy response.

Mr. Gun’s comment marked the first time since 2002 that the North Koreans acknowledged having the secret uranium enrichment program since the program was disclosed in October 2002, setting off the Northeast Asian nuclear crisis.

Mr. DeTrani also told the North Koreans that before the reactor deal could be discussed, Pyongyang would have to rejoin the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to return to monitor North Korean nuclear activities.

Mr. Ereli said yesterday that getting North Korea to rejoin the NPT and agree to additional international nuclear monitoring are “critical first steps.”

The Pyongyang government pulled out of the NPT in January 2003 and expelled IAEA inspectors in December 2002.

Mr. Ereli declined to discuss the specific exchanges at the Beijing meetings, which included representatives of China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

The spokesman also stated that “as a matter of policy, that we do not see a future for the light-water reactor project.”

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