Fears about Nuclear Weapons Cloud U.S. Policy on N. Korea

Article excerpt

Washington is having a hard time trying to decide what to do with North Korea.

The trouble is, North Korea makes missiles that can fly at least as fax as Japan and may be developing nuclear weapons to attach to those missiles. It may also have chemical and biological warheads for the missiles.

Another worry is that North Korea sells its missiles to anyone with cash, and primarily to governments that cannot buy from Western arms traders. North Korea was supposed to shut down a project to produce weapons-grade plutonium in 1994 under the Geneva Agreed Framework. In return, the United States, Japan and South Korea pledged billions of dollars to build and fuel two nuclear power plants for the North.

But since last year, Pyongyang and Washington have squabbled over an underground military facility that the United States says is a nuclear weapons development project. The United States wants to inspect the site, but North Korea had said no.

On March 16, North Korea agreed to open the facility to a U.S. team in May 1999, May 2000 and then for as long as the United States has suspicions about it. At the same time, the United States pledged to launch an agricultural project in the famine-hit North that would include 100,000 tons of food aid.

The U.S. State Department said the inspections and the food aid are not linked. However, according to The Far Eastern Economic Review, a newsweekly published from Hong Kong, Radio Pyongyang reported that the United States is paying a "fee" for visiting the underground facility.

A few days after the March 16 agreement, the Japanese navy discovered mysterious ships in its territorial waters, which when approached and pursued headed into a North Korean port. Japan said they were spy ships, but North Korea said it knew nothing about them.

Japan already had its nerves rattled by North Korea's firing of a three-stage missile over its territory in August 1998. Because of continued North Korean belligerence, Japan has said it is reassessing its pledge to help North Korea build light-water nuclear reactors. Japan also said it will join the United States in developing a theater missile defense system. South Korea said it is not interested in the missile system. President Kim Dae Jung said the North is five to seven years away from being able to build a nuclear bomb, and he doesn't want threats of retaliation to cast clouds on his "sunshine policy" of engaging the North.

Kim has been sending South Korean businessmen and tourists to the North along with food and development aid. …