KEDO Suspends Oil Shipments to North Korea

December 2002

By Paul Kerr

The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) announced November 14 that it would suspend heavy-fuel oil deliveries to North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s October acknowledgement that it has a uranium-enrichment program, which could be used in making nuclear weapons.

The announcement, made following a meeting in New York of KEDO’s Executive Board members, says that future oil deliveries will be suspended, “beginning with the December shipment,” and will be resumed only if Pyongyang takes “concrete and credible actions to dismantle completely its highly-enriched uranium program.” The European Union (EU), the United States, Japan, and South Korea make up the Executive Board. The last scheduled oil shipment reached North Korea November 18, according to a KEDO official interviewed November 20.

The Executive Board statement describes its members’ policy toward North Korea, stating that North Korea’s ongoing “dialogues” with the EU, South Korea, and Japan “serve as important channels to resolve bilateral and international concerns.” It also states that future negotiations with KEDO members “hinge on the complete and permanent elimination of its nuclear weapons programs” and that “other KEDO activities with North Korea will be reviewed,” an apparent reference to the nuclear reactors KEDO is constructing in the country.

The statement also condemns North Korea’s “pursuit of a nuclear weapons program,” stating that it “threatens regional and international security and undermines the international nonproliferation regime.” The United States revealed October 16 that North Korea admitted to having a uranium-enrichment program during an October 4 meeting with Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly. (See ACT, November 2002.) Such a program would violate several accords that prohibit North Korea from developing or possessing nuclear weapons.

In response to KEDO’s decision, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said November 21 that halting the fuel shipments violates the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea, adding that the United States is responsible for the agreement’s “collapse,” according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The spokesman argued that the United States has failed to live up to its commitments under the agreement. It is not clear whether the Agreed Framework remains in force, although neither North Korea nor the United States has said it will unilaterally abrogate the accord.

North Korea and the United States concluded the agreement in October 1994 after a tense standoff following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) discovery that Pyongyang had been diverting spent fuel from its graphite-moderated nuclear reactors for a nuclear weapons program. The Agreed Framework halted North Korea’s plutonium-based nuclear weapons program by freezing the reactors and providing for the removal, storage, and monitoring of the reactors’ spent fuel. In exchange for freezing the plutonium program, the agreement required the United States to set up KEDO to provide proliferation-resistant reactors and supply 500,000 metric tons of heating oil each year to North Korea while the reactors were under construction. The first reactor was originally scheduled to be completed by 2003, but construction has fallen behind schedule, and the reactor is not expected to be finished before 2008, barring further delays.

The framework was dealt a serious blow by the news of North Korea’s uranium program. In a November 19 press conference that provided new details about his meetings with the North Koreans, Kelly said that he had told Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Guan on October 3 that the United States possessed information about the program. When asked to describe the intelligence he presented to the North Koreans, however, Kelly said that he did not “confront” North Korea with actual evidence supporting his claim. On October 4, according to Kelly, North Korean First Vice Minister Kang Suk Ju acknowledged that North Korea had a uranium-enrichment program.

Since Kelly’s trip to North Korea and U.S. statements that North Korea admitted to a nuclear weapons program, there has been confusion in media reports and government statements regarding exactly what North Korea said. Kelly stated in response to questions about North Korea’s exact statement that Kang “definitely admitted that North Korea was pursuing a uranium- enrichment program.”

However, Don Oberdorfer, a journalist who visited the North after the October 16 revelations, stated November 14 that Pyongyang might not have made such a stark admission. According to Oberdorfer, North Korean officials informed him that an October 25 KCNA statement contains the exact words Kang used during his meeting with Kelly, which the United States interpreted as an admission of a uranium-enrichment program. The relevant portion of that statement reads, “The D.P.R.K. made itself very clear…that the D.P.R.K. was entitled to possess not only nuclear weapon but any type of weapon more powerful than that so as to defend its sovereignty and right to existence.”

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has written to the North Korean government requesting a clarification of the status of its uranium-enrichment program. Pyongyang has yet to reply, he said during a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace conference November 14. The IAEA Board of Governors will meet in Vienna November 28 and, according to sources, Washington is pressing other members to support a resolution condemning North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program.

Next Steps

President George W. Bush praised KEDO’s decision to halt fuel shipments in a November 15 statement. He added that Washington had planned to engage North Korea but that its nuclear weapons program has made that impossible. No final decisions have been made on other aspects of North Korea policy, according to a November 19 statement from State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.

The KEDO Executive Board will meet again in December “to look at next steps,” according to Reeker. Washington is not “in any rush to make decisions on all aspects” of the agreement, Kelly said in a November 19 statement.

Bush indicated in the November 15 statement that Washington “hopes for a different future with North Korea” and reiterated that the “United States has no intention of invading North Korea,” a statement he made earlier this year in Seoul. Pyongyang reacted by arguing that “there is no reason whatsoever for [the United States] not to give legal assurances of non-aggression” to North Korea and reiterated its call for Washington to sign a nonaggression treaty, according to a November 21 KCNA report. Pyongyang maintains that the United States has adopted an aggressive posture, citing Bush’s inclusion of North Korea as a member of the “axis of evil” during his January 2002 State of the Union address, as well as what it referred to as a U.S. “plan for a pre-emptive nuclear attack.”

A September report outlining the U.S. National Security Strategy emphasizes pre-emptive action to counter threats from countries developing weapons of mass destruction. (See ACT, October 2002.) The report explicitly mentions North Korea. Additionally, a leaked version of the Bush administration’s January 2002 classified Nuclear Posture Review lists North Korea as a country against which the United States should be prepared to use nuclear weapons, although it does not mention pre-emptive nuclear strikes. The Agreed Framework requires the United States to “provide formal assurances to the D.P.R.K., against the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

U.S. allies signaled their support for a peaceful solution to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. France’s Foreign Ministry praised the KEDO decision in a November 15 statement, saying that it “implies cohesive action by the international community.” The statement also indicated that Paris will “revisit” its “position on KEDO activities” if North Korea dismantles its nuclear program. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung came out against using economic sanctions to increase pressure on Pyongyang, arguing that they could exacerbate the crisis, according to a November 20 Korea Times article.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin indicated his support for the Agreed Framework and his preference for a negotiated solution to North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program in a November 20 statement, according to the official Chinese Xinhua news agency.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko expressed concern in a November 18 statement about North Korea’s nuclear program but admonished the United States and other countries supporting KEDO “to show restraint and to continue to fulfill the international commitments assumed in full.”

Missile Moratorium in Jeopardy

While KEDO members attempted to sort out their North Korea policy in the wake of the apparent nuclear weapons admissions, diplomacy between Japan and North Korea appeared to be at an impasse, and North Korea threatened to end its moratorium on testing missiles. According to a November 5 KCNA report, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that Pyongyang “should reconsider the moratorium” if talks on normalizing relations with Tokyo do not achieve progress.

According to the North Korea-Japan Pyongyang Declaration, signed during a September 17 summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, North Korea announced it would indefinitely extend its moratorium on testing long-range missiles. Additionally, both countries agreed to hold normalization talks. However, Koizumi indicated in an October 26 joint statement with Kim Dae-jung and Bush that relations could not be normalized without resolution of the issues raised by Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs. North Korean-Japanese talks held in Kuala Lumpur October 29-30 ended without an agreement, because Pyongyang would not agree to Japan’s conditions, arguing that Tokyo’s stance contradicts its agreement under the September 17 declaration.

Japanese Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Hatsuhisa Takashima said November 19 that further normalization talks will not be scheduled until North Korea gives a “sincere and meaningful response” to questions raised about Pyongyang’s nuclear program and kidnapping of Japanese citizens. It is unclear as to when future talks on security issues will be held.