North Korea, U.S. Meet; Pyongyang Said to Claim Nukes

Article excerpt

NORTH KOREA'S REPORTED disclosure that it has nuclear weapons has left the future direction of U.S. policy toward Pyongyang uncertain, although the United States has not ruled out the possibility of future talks and remains open to a diplomatic solution.

North Korean officials, for the first time, told a U.S. delegation that Pyongyang possesses nuclear weapons during trilateral talks with China in Beijing April 23-25, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stated during an April 28 briefing.

It is not known whether North Korea's claim is true. Boucher stated April 24 that "we have certainly said for years now that we thought North Korea had nuclear weapons. So it would not come as any great surprise for them to say something like that."

A December 2001 National Intelligence Estimate states that "the Intelligence Community judged in the mid-1990s that North Korea had produced one, possibly two, nuclear weapons." Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet seemed to support this view during a February 12 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, stating that North Korea "probably" has "one or two plutonium-based devices."

A January 2003 CIA report to Congress, however, states only that "North Korea probably has produced enough plutonium for at least one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons." The most recent report, released April 10, does not mention the subject.

Crisis Intensifies

The Beijing talks marked the first time the United States and North Korea have met officially since October, when Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly visited North Korea. U.S. officials said that North Korea admitted to having an illicit uranium-enrichment program during the October meeting, but North Korea has denied making such an admission.

Frank Jannuzi, a Democratic staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a February Woodrow Wilson Center report that North Korea also offered to be flexible on "key areas of concern" to Washington, including its ballistic missile development and exports, the future of U.S. forces in Korea, and comprehensive inspections to ensure compliance with its nonproliferation commitments.

North Korea's uranium-enrichment procurement activities are a violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework, as well as several other nuclear arms control agreements. (See page 11.) The Agreed Framework was concluded to resolve the crisis following the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) discovery that Pyongyang had been diverting spent fuel from a plutonium-based reactor for a nuclear weapons program. North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear facilities, and the United States agreed to provide two proliferation-resistant reactors and to supply heating oil each year to North Korea during the reactors' construction.

The U.S. announcement of North Korea's admission of an enrichment program last October prompted the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization-the U.S.-led international consortium responsible for implementing the Agreed Framework-to suspend fuel-oil deliveries to North Korea in November. North Korea responded by announcing in December 2002 that it would restart the reactor to produce electricity, and U.S. officials confirmed in February 2003 that North Korea had done so.

During the weeks following its December announcement, North Korea removed seals and monitoring equipment from its nuclear facilities and expelled IAEA inspectors charged with monitoring the freeze and the spent fuel rods taken from the reactor. On January 10, Pyongyang announced that it was withdrawing from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Renewal of Talks

The April talks represented an easing of the stalemate that has characterized relations between the two countries since October. Until January, the United States maintained it would not engage in formal talks or negotiate with North Korea until it agreed to give up its prohibited nuclear programs. …