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North Korea, U.S. at Odds over Light Water Reactor

Posted September. 21, 2005 07:22,   


North Korea’s insistence on September 20 that it be given a light-water reactor before it gives up nuclear weapons suggests that the negotiations over the North Korean nuclear issue will be long and tough.

It took three years for Pyongyang to declare it will give up nuclear weapons, dating back to October 2002 when the current nuclear crisis was precipitated by North Korea’s declaration that it possesses nuclear weapons. Given that fact, it is expected to take even longer for the North to eventually renounce its nuclear weapons.

Vague Joint Declaration Causing Controversy-

North Korea bases its argument on the fact that there is no clear regulation about what should come first between the provision of a light water reactor and its renouncement of nuclear weapons.

The joint declaration does not mention the timing of the nuclear renouncement and only stipulates that a return to NPT and compliance with IAEA safeguards should be done “at an early date.” On the issue of the light-water reactor, the declaration merely mentions that there will be discussions on that matter “at an appropriate time.”

According to common sense, it seems that “early date” comes before “appropriate time.” However, strictly speaking, one cannot say that North Korea violated the joint declaration.

The U.S. and North Korea are making conflicting arguments since they interpret the vague declaration in their own way.

The U.S. and the North, Apparently One, But Differing Widely In Opinion-

It appears that the North will carry out the declaration in the following order: discussions on the light water reactor; the provision of light water reactor; a return to the NPT and compliance with IAEA regulations; the renouncement of its nuclear weapons. It is highly likely that for the North, freezing nuclear activity goes together with the implementation of IAEA safeguards.

On the contrary, Washington seems to have in mind the following order: the freezing of nuclear activity; a return to NPT and implementation of IAEA safeguards; discussion of the light water reactor issue; the implementation the nuclear renouncement process; renouncement of nuclear weapons; and the construction of a light water reactor.

Christopher Hill, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said, “Talking about North Korea’s right to peaceful use of nuclear energy in advance is like talking about theory, not fact.” His remark confirms Washington’s stance.

In general sense, if the North returns to NPT and complies with IAEA safeguards, it is allowed the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The light water reactor is included in the concept of peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The problem is that if the issue of the light water reactor is not resolved, solutions to the nuclear standoff, such as abandoning of nuclear weapons and rewards for the North for doing so, cannot move ahead.

The Abandonment of Nuclear Weapons and Construction of the Light Water Reactor-

In the fifth round of the six-party talks in November, discussion will take place on when and in what order nuclear facilities will be dismantled, the kind and the amount of energy that will be given to North Korea in return, when it will be offered, when the discussion on the light-water reactor will take place, and when the reactor will be provided to the North, according to the government.

What’s clear is that before the dismantlement of nuclear weapons, a freeze that stops operation of nuclear facilities should come first. Monitoring by international inspection agencies such as the IAEA will also be conducted.

There may be controversy over which step of the dismantlement of nuclear facilities can be viewed as the renouncement of nuclear weapons.

Renouncement of nuclear weapons can mean removing nuclear weapons and getting rid of key nuclear functions, which are irreversible steps. Renouncement could also mean the complete removal of the remains of nuclear facilities.

Western Europe had the experience of closing old-fashioned nuclear power plants. The region had frozen nuclear facilities for years in order to prevent harmful effects on the surrounding areas, and then it dismantled the facilities. Dismantling alone took years.

Due to the differing opinions of the U.S. and the North, and depending on the results of future negotiations, it will be a long time before the discussion of the light water reactor and construction of it starts. This prospect signals the degree of intensity of the tug of war between Washington and Pyongyang.

Jong-Koo Yoon jkmas@donga.com