Korea eye inspections pact by week's end

U.S., N.

January 04, 1994|By Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- The United States and North Korea have reached broad agreement on international inspections of all officially disclosed North Korean nuclear sites, and could put the finishing touches on a deal by the end of the week, a senior State Department official says.

If in fact the North Koreans have agreed to unrestricted access for the nuclear inspectors to all its official nuclear sites, President Clinton will be able to claim one of the most significant foreign policy victories of his presidency.

"It would be a vindication of those who said this could be resolved diplomatically," the senior official said yesterday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said an agreement this week "is not out of the realm of the possible." In talks last Wednesday, U.S. and North Korean diplomats agreed that all seven officially disclosed North Korean nuclear sites must be subject to inspection. Previously, the North Koreans had agreed to allow inspection of only five sites.

The North Koreans have yet to agree, however, on inspections of two suspected nuclear waste sites where some specialists believe there is evidence that plutonium has been reprocessed. Reprocessed plutonium is an essential ingredient in making nuclear bombs.

The North Koreans apparently will discuss allowing inspections of those sites in a second phase of talks, which also will deal with ways the United States can improve its economic and diplomatic ties with North Korea.

The North Koreans and the International Atomic Energy Agency must still reach agreement on how the inspections will be carried out, the official said. He said that the United States does not believe it needs to hold any further talks about the issue with the North Koreans.

North Korea's refusal last March to allow international inspections of all its sites, followed by its threat to become the first nation to withdraw from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, raised the specter of a nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.

President Clinton warned publicly that the United States would not allow North Korea to develop and use nuclear weapons. U.S. officials said they would seek international economic sanctions against North Korea if diplomacy failed, and left open the possibility of military action.

If North Korea allows inspections, it will ease the sense of crisis. But many questions will still remain about how to deal with the North Korean drive to develop nuclear weapons, specialists said yesterday.

In addition, it appears that the United States has made some symbolic concessions that worry some conservative critics. The administration appears willing to cancel its annual joint military exercise with the South Korean, "Team Spirit," which North Korea says is a dress rehearsal for a U.S.-South Korean invasion of the north.

Washington also apparently has agreed to open talks on improving bilateral relations with the impoverished, communist north.

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