Citing Compliance With Pact, U.S. to Send Oil to North Korea : Asia: First shipment follows shutdown of nuclear reactor complex. Restrictions on financial transactions, telephone service may be eased soon.
The Clinton Administration declared Thursday that North Korea has complied with the initial provisions of the nuclear agreement signed by the two governments in October and said the United States is ready to begin fulfilling its part of the bargain.
The Pentagon said it plans to send 50,000 metric tons of heavy residual fuel oil to a North Korean power plant to replace energy that would have been generated by a nuclear reactor shut down under the accord.
U.S. officials said that Pyongyang already has carried out its initial obligations by shutting down a five-megawatt nuclear reactor complex at Yongbyon, stopping construction on two larger reactors and placing 8,000 spent fuel rods in storage instead of reprocessing them.
They said that the North Koreans have sealed off a radiochemical laboratory that the Pentagon said was used to reprocess spent fuel into plutonium, which can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons, and have closed other facilities connected with the nuclear program at Yongbyon.
At the same time, the State Department said that the Administration is on the verge of easing restrictions on financial transactions and telephone service between the two countries, as called for in the agreement, paving the way for U.S. firms to begin doing business there.
However, U.S. officials said that authorities have not worked out details on precisely which services would be allowed and are unlikely to announce the new measures until later this month. The pact calls for both countries to ease restrictions by Jan. 21.
The actions provided the first firm sign that the United States is willing to push ahead with the accord following the release last week of a U.S. Army helicopter pilot shot down by the North Koreans Dec. 17 after he strayed into their airspace.
A senior U.S. official reiterated Thursday that, if the shooting incident had “not been satisfactorily resolved,” the framework agreement would have been in jeopardy. Washington had made that view clear before the release.
The oil shipment is part of a carefully orchestrated series of steps worked out by negotiators. Each side has agreed to carry out specific parts of the agreement in reciprocating steps.
Eventually, the accord calls for the allies to provide North Korea with two new light-water reactors--which are more difficult to use for weapons production--to replace the less technologically advanced plants that it is abandoning, and for Pyongyang to dismantle its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Administration officials said the North Koreans had been cooperating with inspectors from the Geneva-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors nuclear facilities worldwide, and had allowed a U.S. survey team to visit Yongbyon.
However, critics of the accord, including Republican leaders in Congress, have charged that the agreement is too lenient and does not contain enough enforcement provisions.
It is not clear yet whether the Republicans will seek to block the agreement. Although it is unlikely that there would be enough time to stop the oil shipment, the Republicans could push through legislation to prohibit the expenditure of tax dollars to finance other concessions.
One of the most controversial aspects of the shipment announced Thursday is that it will be financed by the Defense Department rather than by the State Department or foreign governments. The oil will cost $4.7 million, to be taken out of a Pentagon emergency fund.
Pentagon officials said Thursday that the action is needed to help get the oil to North Korea by the Jan. 21 deadline. The Administration had hoped to get Japan and South Korea to contribute but was unable to complete arrangements in time.
The shipment announced Thursday is intended as a first installment on a commitment for the United States and its allies to provide North Korea with some 650,000 metric tons of bunker fuel by late 1996. A second load totaling 100,000 metric tons is due in October.
U.S. officials confirmed that Washington also is having some difficulty persuading Tokyo and Seoul to finance large shares of the other provisions in the $4-billion accord, from buying more fuel and supplies to providing the light-water reactors.
Even so, officials here insist that Washington intends to provide only a modest part of the financing. The agreement calls for the bulk of the cost to be borne by Japan and South Korea, each of which has a strong stake in blunting North Korea’s nuclear program.
Defense Department officials said that over the next several months the United States would continue trying to arrange financing for construction of the two light-water reactors and for the remainder of the promised 650,000 metric tons of bunker fuel.
The United States and its allies have agreed to establish an international consortium, the Korean Energy Development Organization, to oversee the effort and handle contracting. U.S. officials are negotiating arrangements with their counterparts in Tokyo and Seoul.
For all their efforts to portray the agreement with North Korea as workable, Administration officials conceded that they still have no indication that Pyongyang is ready to comply with another key part of the agreement--resuming bilateral talks with South Korea, which are vital if there is to be real peace on the peninsula.
But officials said they hope the U.S. steps to carry out the rest of the broader accord would “improve the climate” for North-South talks. “We think it’s important that that move forward,” one said.
U.S. officials said the oil shipment is being arranged by the Han Nam Oil Co. of South Korea and will be delivered by tankers registered in China and Liberia.
The U.S.-North Korea accord was negotiated after Washington and Pyongyang moved to what many officials believed was the brink of war last spring over North Korea’s refusal to allow international inspection of its nuclear complex at Yongbyon.
U.S. intelligence agencies believe the North Koreans were using the plutonium manufactured at Yongbyon to make nuclear weapons that eventually could be used to threaten South Korea and Japan.
The CIA has estimated that the North Koreans have produced enough weapons-grade material to manufacture one or two nuclear bombs, and would have been able to make up to five bombs if the program had continued intact.