By Wheeler, Scott L.
Insight on the News , Vol. 19, No. 3
North Korea's expulsion of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the removal of IAEA monitoring devices and the startup of plutonium-producing operations at its Yongbyon nuclear facility have been cited by Bush administration critics as the result of allegedly bellicose rhetoric by President George W. Bush. But according to documents obtained by INSIGHT, and confirmed by highly placed sources, North Korea already had operational nuclear devices in 1994 when the Clinton administration signed its controversial "oil-for-peace" agreement.
Indeed, North Korea had no intention of abiding by the so-called "Agreed Framework" prohibiting it from developing nuclear weapons that it signed with the Clinton administration in 1994. One report drafted during negotiations for the Agreed Framework states that "North Korea already has close to 10 operational nuclear warheads for its ballistic missiles and two nuclear devices that can be carried by truck or transport plane." This evidence, from reports based mainly on North Korean defectors, raises new questions about the effectiveness of entering an agreement intended to prevent North Korea from gaining access to nuclear weapons. It also raises the foreign-policy stakes for the Bush administration as it attempts to defuse the situation.
Publicly, experts disagree about the state of the North Korean nuclear-weapons program, Some estimates indicate that the Kim Jong-il regime could have a nuclear bomb within one year; others say it already has two. However, the U.S. House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare (TFTUW) issued a report in August 1994 that said of the Agreed Framework, "Washington is buying time while maintaining the charade that the DPRK [North Korea] does not have nuclear weapons. Consequently, the United States and its allies have settled into the `do-nothing-for-now' mode, merely postponing the hour of reckoning."
The most recent day of reckoning occurred in October when Pyongyang admitted to having a nuclear-weapons program after being confronted by the Bush administration with evidence that it had been working on an enriched-uranium project since 1998. This was in violation of the Agreed Framework, which had been put in place in 1994 following a similar crisis in 1993. The framework was to provide North Korea with oil and assistance in building two light-water nuclear reactors for domestic-energy needs in exchange for Pyongyang shutting down the plutonium plant in Yongbyon.
The TFTUW report says the deal was based on the false assumption that shutting down the Yongbyon plant would end the threat of North Korea possessing nuclear weapons: "Analysis has centered on determining just how much plutonium North Korea has extracted from its 5 megawatt reactor in Yongbyon. Washington insists that there is no verifiable evidence that plutonium was extracted on any other than one occasion in 1989. Therefore, according to the United States, the DPRK cannot possibly have the plutonium needed for nuclear weapons."
At the time, North Korea was a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and subject to inspections by the IAEA. Yet the 1994 TFTUW report stated that, "Since June of 1992, activities have intensified in the DPRK's primary nuclear-weapons site at Yongbyon--an elaborate underground complex called Building 500. Pyongyang has argued that the building is merely a nuclear-waste-storage site." In 1993, when IAEA inspectors requested access to Building 500, "the DPRK not only refused, but announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty" according to the report. North Korea began fortifying the suspect complex with "40 military encampments, three air bases and a major ammunition depot, and deployed some 300 heavy antiaircraft guns around the entire Yongbyon complex." According to the report the persistent IAEA request to inspect Building 500 provoked a bellicose response from North Korea. …