North Korea, U.S. come close to agreement on nuclear dispute

January 02, 1994|By New York Times News Service

TOKYO -- North Korea's paramount leader, Kim Il Sung, said yesterday that his country had agreed to a "joint statement" with the United States, paving the way for the nuclear dispute between them to be "settled fairly," but he warned that any effort to pressure his country into broader concessions "may invite catastrophe."

Mr. Kim's declaration was contained in a New Year's address that also laid out a radical new strategy for rescuing North Korea's crippled economy. It did not describe the agreement with the United States in detail.

A later announcement by North Korea's Foreign Ministry, however, suggested that international inspectors would be permitted only into the country's seven declared nuclear sites for one-time inspections. The announcement said North Korea refused to allow regular visits by the International Atomic Energy Agency that are required under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Both the United States and South Korea have said that nothing short of full compliance with the treaty would be sufficient if North Korea wants to go ahead with talks about normalizing diplomatic relations and opening the door to foreign investment and trade.

The State Department said Thursday, without revealing details, that the two sides had "moved closer" to some kind of preliminary agreement on the nuclear inspection issue. But officials said North Korea must first come up with an inspection plan that satisfies the atomic energy agency.

Officials familiar with the talks say the "joint statement" referred to by Mr. Kim, who is 81 and has ruled North Korea for nearly five decades, would come after a team of atomic energy agency inspectors arrived at North Korea's nuclear installations in Yongbyon. The United States would then officially announce the cancellation of "Team Spirit," an annual military exercise with South Korea. Privately, American and South Korean officials say they have little desire to hold the exercises this year.

The statement also would likely include some agreement about the exchange of envoys between North and South Korea, a prelude to restarting talks that have gone nowhere since the two countries signed a declaration of nonaggression in 1991.

If the inspections went ahead smoothly, the two countries would then meet in Geneva to discuss a "package deal" of economic incentives in return for broader inspection rights.

For the United States, the most critical inspections involve two nuclear waste dumps that may reveal how much plutonium Mr. Kim's government has produced.

But a "special inspection" of those sites, which the atomic energy agency has been demanding since early 1993, is not covered in the current talks. North Korea argues that the sites are military locations unrelated to its nuclear program, and that because it has only "suspended" its decision in March to pull out of the nonproliferation treaty, it is not bound by any treaty obligations.

Any evidence that Washington was backing down from its initial stand that the North must agree to full regular inspections as well as the special inspections could open the Clinton administration to charges that it is giving in to nuclear blackmail. Critics of the administration are already arguing that Mr. Clinton is reluctant to back up his declaration of a month ago that North Korea would never be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.

The American intelligence community, in a conclusion disputed by the State Department, indicated recently that Mr. Kim's government probably has fabricated at least one bomb already. By insisting on regular inspections, the administration is trying to assure that Mr. Kim does not acquire enough plutonium to build more, but officials concede they are unlikely to find completed weapons.

At times in his speech yesterday, Mr. Kim sounded a militant note. While calling for an overhaul of the North Korean economy, Mr. Kim also said his country had to strengthen its "defense power to counter the enemy's moves to provoke war," an apparent reference to both the United States and South Korea. "We must be fully prepared, politically and ideologically, militarily and materially, to deal with any contingency on our initiative," he said.

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