A senior North Korean official said Saturday that a nuclear accord between North Korea and the United States will help forge a new era of normal relations between the two countries by establishing a basis for enhanced "trust and confidence" on nuclear issues and other matters.
In a rare interview, Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju, the chief North Korean negotiator on nuclear matters, hailed the two-page statement of understanding approved by the U.S. and North Korean governments as an expression of "our clear intentions to resolve our nuclear issue."
The deal calls for Washington to arrange for construction of several Western-style nuclear reactors in North Korea and to move toward establishing normal diplomatic relations. In return, it commits North Korea to halting its production of plutonium for possible use in nuclear arms, and eventually to halting work on several reactors that are considered tailor-made for plutonium production.
Kang declined to express confidence that all unresolved disputes can be settled, but he said all would be addressed in discussions with U.S. technical experts.
Assistant Secretary of State Robert L. Gallucci, who spoke at a news conference at 2 a.m. Saturday, agreed that the talks had reduced suspicion about the likelihood of progress. He said the level of trust between the delegations was "higher than it was before this round of talks" and called the accord an important "first step" toward a broader nuclear agreement.
Further negotiations are scheduled in Geneva on Sept. 23 on the interim energy alternatives North Korea has been promised, establishing liaison offices in Washington and Pyongyang as a first step to full mutual recognition, final disposal of about 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods now corroding in a cooling pond north of Pyongyang, and providing the new reactors.
To avoid hefty costs to the U.S. taxpayer, Gallucci is trying to arrange for Germany and Japan, and perhaps South Korea, to pay most of the cost of the new reactors, which would be provided by South Korea or Russia. The United States would supply technical experts.
Washington will also have to find an interim source of alternative power, probably oil, to compensate the North Koreans for energy they could have received from two graphite reactors nearing completion.
Kang confirmed that his government remains unwilling to allow the international inspection of two suspected nuclear waste sites to which it denied access in February, 1993, triggering U.S. threats to pursue U.N.-backed economic sanctions against North Korea.
"We on our part do not recognize the special inspections" demanded by the International Atomic Energy Agency at those sites, Kang said.
But Kang did not rule out a possible settlement of this issue or any other issue.
U.S. officials say the inspections are needed to determine whether North Korea had accumulated enough plutonium to make several nuclear bombs, as U.S. officials suspect. According to Gallucci, North Korea will not receive any of the new reactors unless it approves the inspections and clears up the mystery about its past plutonium production.
Although the preliminary accord resulted from some concessions by both sides--including North Korea's withdrawal of its insistence that it reprocess fuel rods--Kang said his government's position is "consistent" with its previous stance.
He dismissed speculation that the accord was reached because the death of President Kim Il Sung had made foreign policy more flexible.