U.S. to scrap arms control deal with N. Korea

Nuclear effort's disclosure brings halt to energy aid

October 20, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has decided to scrap the 1994 arms control accord with North Korea that has provided Western energy aid in return for the North's promise to freeze the development of nuclear weapons, senior administration officials said yesterday.

North Korea acknowledged two weeks ago that it was pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program, and accused the United States of taking steps that forced Pyongyang to nullify the accord. The White House has since debated whether to end the accord, with some aides warning that such a step could lead North Korea to even greater nuclear violations.

For that reason, the administration plans to warn North Korea of serious consequences if it tries to remove nuclear material now stored under international supervision at Yongbyon, the reactor site that was the centerpiece of a previous nuclear standoff with North Korea in the early 1990s. U.S. diplomats visiting Beijing apparently asked China last week to convey that warning, though it is not clear whether the message has been delivered to the North Koreans.

The immediate practical effect of the decision to scrap the agreement is the halting of the annual shipments of 500,000 tons of fuel oil from the United States to North Korea.

But abandoning the accord is also likely to mean that the United States will urge its allies Japan and South Korea to suspend, if not terminate, a multibillion-dollar project to provide modern nuclear power plants to the North.

The administration's decision signifies the start of an effort by the United States to pose a stark choice for North Korea, between abandoning all of its nuclear weapons programs and facing near-total economic isolation.

Other officials described a long debate within the White House over the risks of abandoning the agreement altogether.

"There are some who fear that it could tempt the North Koreans into a rapid breakout, to produce weapons as fast as they can," one official involved in the debate said.

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