U.S. reaffirms demand for inspections

August 18, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Eager not to be seen as backing down in his dispute with North Korea, President Clinton is demanding that North Korea allow inspections of two nuclear sites before the United States and other countries provide it with modern nuclear reactors, White House officials said yesterday.

In a 40-minute telephone conversation Tuesday night with South Korean President Kim Young Sam, Mr. Clinton sought to dispel any ambiguities over the agreement reached Saturday with North Korea, saying that he would continue to insist on the inspections that the North Koreans have refused for more than a year.

After the agreement was reached in Geneva, several North Korean officials continued to assert that they would never permit inspections of the two nuclear waste sites even though they affirmed in the agreement that they would adhere to international rules on inspections.

The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency insist on visiting the dumps because they believe that those sites will provide evidence that North Korea has diverted enough atomic material for one or two bombs.

"We're making very clear that the North Koreans will have to solve this problem with the inspections before anyone will deliver a reactor to them," a U.S. official said.

In the Geneva agreement, the United States promised to help arrange the financing of new reactors for North Korea.

It offered closer diplomatic and trade ties if the North Koreans agreed to submit to international inspections and stop reprocessing nuclear fuel to separate out plutonium, which can be used in weapons production. The new light-water reactors will produce far less weapons-grade nuclear material than existing reactors.

While administration officials say the Saturday accord was a major step toward ending the 18-month dispute with North Korea, they acknowledge that many obstacles remain that can derail the agreement over the new few months, including the issue of the inspections.

According to U.S. and South Korean officials, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Kim sought to use their phone call to speak in one voice about the need for North Korea to allow the inspections and halt its reprocessing.

Since Saturday's ceremony in Geneva, anxiety has risen over whether North Korea will freeze the refueling of its 5-megawatt nuclear reactor. U.S. officials fear that the reactor could produce more atomic material that North Korea could someday separate into plutonium.

North Korean officials say that they promised not to refuel the reactor before Sept. 23, when the negotiations resume, but they insist on reserving the right to refuel the reactor afterward. U.S. officials warned yesterday that if North Korea refueled that reactor, even after Sept. 23, that would run the risk of scuttling the talks.

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