|Long live the US-DPRK Agreed
By Peter Hayes
announcement on Wednesday by White House spokesman Sean
McCormack that North Korea is in "material breach" of
the agreement under which it promised not to develop
nuclear weapons bears careful examination.
not yet clear exactly what the North Koreans have done.
The initial leak, via the Reuters news service, stated
that the violation concerns North Korean activities
related to secret enrichment of uranium. Enriched
uranium at high levels can be used for making nuclear
weapons. Enriched uranium at low levels can be used in
reactors, although it is not needed for the kind of
natural-uranium-fueled and graphite-moderated reactors
that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)
was building in the early 1990s when the nuclear crisis
erupted in the Korean Peninsula.
worth noting that the Agreed Framework (click here for the full text of
the agreement, in PDF format) itself does not cover
enrichment. Under the related Korean Peninsula Energy
Development Organization (KEDO) agreement, the DPRK did
agree to not attempt to enrich fuel for the reactors.
But all the Agreed Framework covers explicitly are a
freeze on the DPRK's graphite-moderated reactors and
"related faculties". Enrichment is not a related
facility for graphite-moderated nuclear fuel cycles.
What is unknown is in exactly what form and for
how long this activity has been under way. If the DPRK
were already active in enrichment at the time it made
its declaration of nuclear facilities to the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna,
then it would have violated its safeguards obligations
with the agency and as a party to the Nuclear
If the United States
discovered that the DPRK was engaged in actual
enrichment of uranium, then it is likely that it did so
by observing a large thermal signature from the energy
wasted in the industrial process leaking into the
atmosphere and observed by infra-red sensors on
satellites or aircraft. Alternately, the United States
may have tracked a DPRK acquisition effort to obtain
enrichment-related technology from around the world - or
both. Whether enriched uranium has been made into actual
weapons is another uncertainty that now hangs over the
Whatever - there is no
innocent explanation for the DPRK to be seeking enriched
uranium. In particular, it is inconsistent with the
letter and spirit of the 1997 North-South Korean
Denuclearization Declaration, which states clearly that
both Koreas "shall not possess nuclear-reprocessing and
The United States has likely known about this
activity for some time. It is also well known that
political appointees in the administration of President
George W Bush are opposed to the US-DPRK Agreed
Framework. The DPRK "material breach" is a perfect
opportunity for them to can the Agreed Framework.
The interesting political question is not why
the US emissary to the DPRK, Jim Kelly, presented the
DPRK with an ultimatum on this issue by documenting the
violation to the DPRK. Rather, it is why the DPRK's Kang
Sok-ju reportedly responded to Kelly by admitting the
violation (and lecturing Kelly at length about US
transgressions of the Agreed Framework). Why, if you are
the DPRK, admit to a violation unless you want to
resolve the issue?
And why, if you are
interested in a peaceful resolution of the nuclear
confrontation in the Korean Peninsula, not respond in
kind? After all, there are precedents - most important
the US inspection of the suspect cave at Kumchangri.
The North Koreans' apparent admission raises a
further question: did they undertake the activity in
order to use it to force the United States to engage the
DPRK again after two years of diplomatic neglect in a
form of "enrichment brinksmanship"?
Or were they
simply discovered with their fingers in the nuclear till
again in the course of a clandestine attempt to maintain
their ultimate strategic nuclear option in the face of
the deteriorating conventional military balance in the
Insiders in the Washington nuclear-policy world
have been aware of the alleged and reportedly admitted
violation since shortly after Kelly returned. This
week's developments do not mean that the Agreed
Framework is now nullified - clearly the aim of the
initial leak via Reuters. The White House statement is
circumspect with regard to the future of the Agreed
Framework and states that the US seeks a "peaceful
resolution" of the issue.
In reality, the Agreed
Framework as a policy instrument has been dead for at
least a year. The essence of the Agreed Framework as to
conduct diplomacy and to push forward on issues of
concern to both sides, not the delivery of fuel oil or
reactors under KEDO's rubric.
And of course, the
freeze on North Korean nuclear activities was also
critical. Reports this week that the DPRK itself has
announced that it is pulling out of the 1994 Agreed
Framework simply reinforce the image that North Korea is
determined to go it alone in the face of US power.
At this stage, the only way forward is for the
DPRK to come clean, allow inspections of the suspect
activity, and to implement IAEA special inspections
immediately to resolve the issues outstanding from the
earlier confrontation over suspected reprocessing at the
Yongbyon nuclear site in North Korea.
have enormous leverage at the Demilitarized Zone. If
either side plays hardball, someone will get hurt fast.
The United States has time on its side, and holding
steadfast to its demands that North Korea denuclearize
and be certified clean by the IAEA remains the only
realistic path short of risking all-out war in Korea.
Any illusions in Washington that the North
Korean government will solve this problem by collapsing
and going away should be dispelled thoroughly by this
latest development. Precision strikes are also not
militarily meaningful against the DPRK if it has
weaponized special nuclear materials, as was discovered
in 1994 by US war-planners. And sanctions will not work
against the DPRK, which has two land borders over which
the United States has no control whatsoever.
both sides remain cool-headed, then eventually the two
adversaries can resume their dialogue and reactivate
their limited contact and cooperation. At that time, a
new Agreed Framework will emerge, likely modeled on the
Dr Peter Hayes is executive
director of the Nautilus Institute (http://www.nautilus.org). This
article is used by permission, and originally appeared
on the Nautilus Institute Policy