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     Feb 14, 2007
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North Korea accord: Now for the hard part
By Donald Kirk

SEOUL - All sides have managed to save face in an agreement that puts off the biggest questions while promising the first halting steps toward an end to North Korea's nuclear program.

The agreement reached at the six-party talks in Beijing on Tuesday fulfills US envoy Christopher Hill's promise while in Seoul on his way to Beijing of a "first tranche" in a "step-by-step process" - and is more or less what he worked out last month with North Korea's envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, in Berlin.

The immediate question is whether North Korea will take the initial

step as signed on Tuesday afternoon in Beijing and shut down its nuclear facilities, including its 5-megawatt reactor at the nuclear complex at Yongbyon, within 60 days as specified in the agreement.

North Korea may insist on waiting until the other signatories to the agreement, the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, have come up with 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil - an "emergency" shipment that is just the first of many those countries have agreed to provide.

If North Korea does fully cooperate and disable the complex, the other five countries will pour in another 950,000 tons of heavy fuel for a grand total of 1 million tons. That's half as much as North Korea demanded, but Pyongyang is fully expected to up the ante when the time comes to talk about the huge unanswered questions.

North Korea's ultimate goal remains a massive influx of the electrical aid that was to have been supplied by the twin light-water nuclear reactors promised in the 1994 Geneva Framework Agreement.

That agreement broke down for another question that remains unanswered in Tuesday's agreement - North Korea's program for developing warheads with highly enriched uranium. Hill's predecessor, James Kelly, after visiting Pyongyang in October 2002, returned to Washington claiming that North Korea had acknowledged the program after he and members of his team showed maps and other evidence picked up by US satellites.

North Korea has strongly denied the existence of any uranium program, and the omission of any mention of it appeared to some observers as a flaw in the new deal. Until that issue is resolved, the US is not seen as likely to go along with any deal for energy aid beyond the heavy fuel promised on Tuesday.

North Korea's refusal to talk about the uranium program contrasts with its boasts of having gone back to producing warheads with plutonium at their core at Yongbyon after expelling inspectors sent by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the end of 2002.

North Korea, under the latest agreement, must agree to invite IAEA inspectors to return, giving them the right to traipse around Yongbyon as they were doing from 1994 to 2002, making certain the freeze remains in place.

The production of warheads at Yongbyon raises yet another issue - will North Korea be willing to see them destroyed under terms of the agreement, and will the IAEA inspectors be able to travel to test storage sites outside Yongbyon?

The question is critical since North Korea conducted its first underground nuclear test last October. The explosion was the equivalent of less than a kiloton of TNT, probably considerably below Pyongyang's expectations, but signs from North Korea in the run-up to Hill's meeting with Kim Kye-gwan in Berlin were that another test was likely.

Disposal of North Korea's nukes will be especially difficult since it is far from certain how many actually exist. Estimates go up to a dozen, but there has been absolutely no hard confirmation.

Hardline conservatives, notably former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, are expected to criticize the deal as 

Continued 1 2 

Lost in translation at the six-party talks (Feb 13, '07)

Korea nuke talks: Optimism is in the air (Feb 9, '07)

The changing South Korean position (Feb 7, '07)


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