By Crain, Charles
Arms Control Today , Vol. 33, No. 7
AS DIPLOMATS SEEK to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, some U.S. lawmakers and Bush administration officials are pushing to end a program designed to provide North Korea with civilian nuclear energy.
Since last year, the United States and several allies have been building two light-water reactors in North Korea whose construction was a key component of the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea agreed to freeze its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program in exchange for the reactors and other aid. In 1995 the United States, South Korea, and Japan established the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to build the two reactors. KEDO remains in the early stages of its work-having established basic infrastructure and poured concrete for the first reactor-but none of the nuclear components for the reactor have yet been delivered.
Reuters reported on August 26, the day before negotiations commenced between North Korea and the United States and four other countries, that the program to build nuclear reactors in North Korea would probably be suspended in September. Citing U.S. officials, the report said the suspension was a compromise between the United States, which wants to end the program entirely, and South Korea and Japan, which prefer a suspension.
In addition, a June South Korean embassy release had said the United States has proposed stopping the construction of two reactors in North Korea, but the release said South Korea opposes such a move.
A State Department source, however, said August 26 the United States was not lobbying for a suspension. He said decisions about KEDO's future would be made by its board when it meets in September.
A diplomatic source familiar with KEDO and with the negotiations said a suspension of KEDO's work would probably result in the program's demise. "KEDO is like a train-it's hard to stop and hard to get back on track," the source said. He said there was less than a 50 percent chance the program would be restarted after a suspension.
Meanwhile, some members of the U.S. Congress are seeking to ensure that KEDO will not continue, regardless of decisions taken by the Bush administration or other KEDO member states.
An amendment to the House energy appropriations bill that passed July 18 would prohibit the government from allowing U.S. hardware or technical information from being transferred, directly or indirectly, to states the United States identifies as sponsors of terrorism.
Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA) said he is confident the Senate will approve similar language to end U.S. support for the reactors project and that President George W. Bush would sign it into law. A spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) said he expected one or more senators would add similar language to the Senate bill.
Cox said he has spoken with a number of senators' offices and has received especially strong support from Senator John Kyl (R-AZ). In an August 20 op-ed in the Asian Wall Street Journal, Kyl wrote, "After eight years of the Agreed Framework. …