Tags: China | Stalls | U.S. | Action | North | Korea

China Stalls U.S. Action on North Korea

Friday, 27 June 2003 12:00 AM

"They won't negotiate. They won't even talk about it," explained a diplomat at the U.S. mission at the U.N.

The U.S. official was referring to Washington's efforts to get the council to issue a so-called presidential statement on North Korea. The statement (which has no legal effect) would have criticized Pyongyang's efforts to restart its frozen nuclear program and the expulsion of U.N. inspectors in late 2002.

North Korea had explained that its moves were in reaction to Washington terminating the 1994 Agreed Framework.

It was that agreement which provided North Korea with fuel oil and two new light-water nuclear power reactors, in return for the freezing of its nuclear program. Such light-water reactors produce little bomb-grade uranium fuel, unlike the old Soviet-designed reactor Pyongyang had been operating. The CIA once said the reactor was good for nothing other than "producing atomic bombs."

Last summer, North Korea revealed to a visiting U.S. State Department delegation that it had engaged in nuclear "research" despite the 1994 agreement. Though Pyongyang did not deem the research a violation, Washington did and terminated the treaty.

Even though the proposed Security Council statement would not have resulted in any action against North Korea, it could have opened the way for possible future measures, up to and including sanctions.

It was on Jan. 10, 2003 that North Korea informed the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (the U.N.'s atomic watchdog) that it would officially withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). It was the first nation to withdraw from the treaty since its creation more than 40 years ago.

Pyongyang said that because the U.S. had terminated the 1994 Agreed Framework, it was now free to restart its dormant nuclear reactor and the broader nuclear "power" program.

Any nation can legally withdraw from the NPT for reasons of national "security." It need only give the IAEA and the Security Council 90 days' notice.

Under the terms of the NPT, North Korea's withdrawal became effective in April, and the IAEA has left it to the Security Council to address the crisis.

Since April, Washington has tried various measures to pressure the council to address the issue. None have succeeded.

Meanwhile, North Korea has not only reactivated its so-called 5mgw "research" reactor at the Yongbyon Nuclear Center (60 miles northeast of Pyongyang), but has also claimed to have begun the procedure to reprocess more than 6,000 spent fuel rods.

The fuel reprocessing could result in enough material to fashion as many as 10 small nuclear bombs within a year, the CIA said.

Previously, Washington stated that any North Korean attempts to begin nuclear fuel reprocessing could have "grave consequences." That was considered by many diplomats as an unofficial "redline" by the Pentagon North Korea dare not cross. A former IAEA inspector even believed that the U.S. "would take out" the Yongbyon facility if reprocessing got under way.

While Pyongyang has proclaimed that such reprocessing was indeed under way, Washington insists its intelligence surveillance of the Yongbyon complex has been "inconclusive."

North Korea, in a strange turn of events, recently asserted that its resurrected nuclear program was purely "defensive." Pyongyang asserted that because its economy has collapsed, it needed to reduce conventional military expenditures and would therefore rely on its "nuclear deterrent" for security.

According to the State Department, the reclusive regime is believed to spend more than half its GNP to sustain the military.

Massive food aid from the U.S. helps enable North Korea to maintain one of the world's largest armies, numbering more than 1,000,000 conscripts. South Korea, which has double the North's population, has an army of just under 700,000. U.S. troops in the region number less than 40,000, says the Pentagon.

Ironically, the North Korean strategy is not much different from NATO's strategy against the Soviet bloc from the 1960s to 1980s. At that time, the Soviet bloc's superiority in manpower and armament was offset by NATO's reliance on tactical nuclear weapons.

It is, however, the economic collapse of North Korea that has the White House most concerned.

Administration officials believe that the lure to sell an atomic bomb on the black market, for desperately needed hard currency, might to be too great for the North Koreans to resist.

Earlier in the year, the U.S. had a North Korean freighter passing through the Indian Ocean intercepted and impounded. Concealed within were several Scud missiles bound for Yemen.

At first, Yemen denied they had purchased any North Korean Scuds. The government in Sa'na then reversed itself and claimed they indeed made the purchase for "defensive" purposes. Washington was then forced to release the freighter to continue its trip.

Privately, Pentagon officials responded that the Scuds (which had nuclear capabilities) made no sense for Yemen's protection. However, the Defense Department added that such missiles did make sense if one wanted to threaten shipping lanes and ports in the Persian Gulf.

Coincidentally, shortly before the U.S. and U.K. invaded Iraq, a French freighter was attacked off the same Yemeni coast by terrorists believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. It was the first attack on a French property by the terrorist organization.

Yemeni authorities claimed to had captured some of those believed to have been involved. Their fate is unknown.

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"They won't negotiate. They won't even talk about it," explained a diplomat at the U.S. mission at the U.N. The U.S. official was referring to Washington's efforts to get the council to issue a so-called presidential statement on North Korea. The statement (which has no...
Friday, 27 June 2003 12:00 AM
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