U.S. to begin shipping heating oil to North Korea as part of nuclear accord

January 06, 1995|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Less than a week after North Korea's release of a downed U.S. helicopter pilot, the Defense Department said yesterday that it would begin shipping oil to that country as part of a deal aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

That the Pentagon is paying $4.7 million to buy and ship the first 13.5 million gallons of oil to North Korea has angered many Republicans, who have criticized the Clinton administration for propping up a rogue regime.

When the new Congress convened Wednesday, Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas said the Senate will examine "the legality and wisdom of aiding North Korea." The Republican-controlled Congress has the power to freeze funding for the North Korea deal.

The accord requires North Korea to freeze and ultimately to dismantle its weapons-grade nuclear program in exchange for heating oil from the United States and construction help from Japan and South Korea.

Under the agreement, South Korea and Japan are expected to provide most of the $4 billion cost of building two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea.

Seeking to blunt congressional opposition that could jeopardize funding for the deal with Pyongyang, a senior Defense Department official told reporters yesterday that the Clinton administration was satisfied that North Korea was complying so far with its commitment to open its existing nuclear complexes to inspection and to store and eventually ship its spent fuel rods, which could be used to make weapons, out of the country.

If that changes, the official said at a briefing, the United States and its allies would halt the shipments of heating oil and ultimately abandon the plan to build two major reactors that cannot produce weapons-grade fuel.

The Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Clinton administration chose to negotiate with North Korea last year rather than risk war. Tensions between the two countries reached a critical point in June when the United States threatened to seek international economic sanctions.

Because North Korea said it would view sanctions as an act of war, the official said, the United States took steps to increase the combat readiness of U.S. and South Korean forces on the Korean peninsula.

Pentagon officials said that two chartered oil tankers would deliver an initial 50,000 tons of heating oil to North Korea before Jan. 21. It would be the first of three shipments over the next 22 months.

The United States, South Korea and Japan are expected to hold a new round of talks beginning Monday on plans to finance new nuclear technology for North Korea as part of the nuclear deal.

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