N. Korea delays pullout from nuclear arms treaty

June 12, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS -- North Korea agreed at the 11th hour yesterday to remain bound for now by an international treaty barring its development of nuclear weapons but still balked at granting complete access to international inspectors.

The result prevents an unrestrained North Korean drive to acquire nuclear weapons, and the accompanying fear that the hard-line Communist nation would ignite a regional nuclear arms race.

But at best yesterday's delay was only a partial victory for the United States, which has been pressuring the North Koreans since they threatened in March to withdraw today from the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty.

Instead, in an agreement worked out in four days of negotiations here, North Korea agreed to suspend its withdrawal "as long as it considers necessary" while continuing to talk.

Still at issue is the question of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world body that polices nuclear power and stays alert to attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.

The IAEA has sought to conduct inspections of two sites 100 miles from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, where it suspects the regime is storing unaccounted-for nuclear waste.

"The issue of special inspections is outstanding," said Robert Gallucci, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, who headed negotiations for the U.S. side. "That will be one of the issues that will remain to be discussed at our future meetings."

North Korea's conditions for staying in the nuclear accord have included cancellation of U.S.-South Korean military exercises, withdrawal of 36,000 U.S. troops from South Korea and a pledge by the United States not to use nuclear weapons in Korea.

In return for suspending its threat to leave the treaty, North Korea won agreement with the United States on "principles" that will be discussed further, including "assurances against the threat and use of force, including nuclear weapons."

Those pledges appeared to be aimed at allaying North Korea's fears that the United States would redeploy nuclear weapons in South Korea. The United States removed its short-range nuclear weapons from the south in 1991, but it is unclear whether it has such weapons on ships nearby.

Both sides also endorsed the concept of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, "mutual respect for each other's sovereignty and noninterference in each other's internal affairs," and the goal of North and South Korea's peaceful reunification.

While North Korea's vice foreign minister, Kang Sok Ju, hailed the agreement as "historic" and a "turning point in our bilateral relations," Mr. Gallucci was less ebullient, calling it a "positive step forward."

North Korea has won a commitment for continued dialogue in which it will likely seek more specific assurances about a U.S. military threat.

The joint communique issued by the two countries pointed obliquely to the crux of the key outstanding issue in saying that they had agreed to "impartial application of full-scope safeguards" against the development of nuclear weapons.

The North Korean negotiator said his country still needs more assurance of the IAEA's "impartiality" before agreeing to a complete inspection regime.

Mr. Gallucci said North Korea's permanent and unconditional return to a full nuclear safeguards regime "remains our objective."

He stated the United States' firm expectation that North Korea will do nothing to arouse further suspicion about its nuclear intentions. This would include additional nuclear fuel reprocessing or any interruption in the IAEA's regular inspection schedule of North Korea's nuclear energy program.

The prospect that North Korea would withdraw from the nuclear treaty posed the most serious proliferation threat facing the new U.S. administration, since U.S. intelligence analysts suspect North Korea either already has or could soon acquire a crude nuclear weapon.

The United States was dealing from a standpoint of limited leverage, since it would need support from a reluctant China to get United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea and faced an escalating conflict if it resorted to force.

Mr. Gallucci said the assurances granted to North Korea were consistent with the U.S. commitment to protect South Korea. Indeed, South Korea and Japan were briefed regularly on the status of the talks.

North Korea's neighbors regard it uneasily. Only yesterday, a Japanese defense official said North Korea had tested a new intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of hitting western Japan.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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