North Korea sanctions are unlikely

December 27, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Amid a growing dispute over reports that North Korea has built its own nuclear bomb, Chinese Premier Li Peng told United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali yesterday that Beijing opposes international sanctions to force North Korea to accept nuclear inspections.

China supports efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, but Mr. Li said Beijing favors negotiations to resolve the crisis, the official New China News Agency reported.

The Clinton administration has indicated that it will press for a U.N. oil embargo on North Korea if the dispute reaches an impasse.

The administration has recently expressed optimism that such a move would have China's backing, but Mr. Li's comments indicated that a conflict within the U.N. Security Council could be brewing. China has a permanent seat on the Security Council and could veto any attempt to impose sanctions on North Korea.

The issue of North Korea's nuclear capability has come to a head over the past year, since North Korea balked at allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to all of its nuclear facilities.

U.S. and South Korean officials last week reported that the North Korean government has agreed to allow inspections of its seven acknowledged nuclear facilities. But it has refused access to two installations the government claims are military bases unrelated to the nuclear reactor program.

The statements from Beijing came on the heels of a report that the CIA has informed President Clinton that North Korea has probably assembled one or two nuclear bombs. The report, in yesterday's New York Times, said the CIA assessment is supported by other U.S. intelligence agencies but is disputed by State Department analysts.

CIA officials have testified in Congress that North Korea has enough of the ingredients and technology to build one or two nuclear weapons. North Korea denies it is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Proof that a bomb has been developed would be significant because it would remove all doubt about North Korea's intentions and would complicate efforts to end the dispute. Terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty require collective action against North Korea if it builds a bomb. Also, the Clinton administration's goal in the dispute would change from preventing development of a bomb to convincing North Korea to surrender the weapons.

"If it's true, then it dramatically alters the situation," said Leonard S. Spector, a proliferation specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "It certainly chills your expectations of what can happen in negotiations. But the United States can still meet the challenge through traditional strategy approaches."

The talks yesterday between Mr. Boutros-Ghali and Mr. Li were significant because China is North Korea's closest ally. Japan, South Korea and several Western nations have appealed to Beijing to exert its influence on Pyongyang to comply with provisions of the non-proliferation treaty.

"We hold that denuclearization of the peninsula will be realized at an early date, for this will be not only conducive to peace and stability in the peninsula, but also in line with the common interests of both [North and South Korea] and beneficial to peace and stability in the region and in the world as a whole," Mr. Li was quoted as telling the U.N. chief.

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