Initial Pact Reached to End North Korean Nuclear Weapons Program

Paul Kerr

On Feb. 13, participants in six-party talks announced that they had agreed on initial steps for ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The agreement marked the first concrete sign of progress since the talks stalled almost 18 months ago. Still, many contentious issues remain unresolved.

The plan describes the first phase of actions that the six parties will take for implementing a September 2005 joint statement as well as outlining a process aimed at making future progress. In the 2005 statement, North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons and “existing nuclear programs” in exchange for a series of political and economic incentives. (See ACT, October 2005.)

The six parties, which also include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, reached agreement after debating a Chinese-prepared draft during a meeting in Beijing that began Feb. 8. The six-party talks were launched in August 2003.

During the 60-day initial phase, North Korea is to halt the operation of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon in return for energy and economic assistance from the other five parties. Five working groups, which are to begin meeting within 30 days, are tasked with formulating “specific plans” for implementing the rest of the 2005 statement.

The six parties are to meet again on March 19 “to hear reports” from the groups and to discuss “actions for the next phase.”

Talks Back on Track

Achieving consensus on the initial provision of energy assistance to North Korea was apparently the most contentious task during the recent round of talks. In several press appearances, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill said that Pyongyang insisted that the plan include a specific amount of assistance, rather than having working groups resolve the matter.

Prior bilateral U.S.-North Korean meetings contributed to the diplomatic breakthrough. Hill and North Korean Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan held three days of bilateral talks in Berlin in January. The discussions reportedly formed the basis for the Chinese draft.

Those talks followed a six-party meeting last December that failed to make progress. At that time, the United States presented a denuclearization proposal, but the North Korean negotiators refused to discuss the matter until issues concerning the Macau-based bank Banco Delta Asia were resolved.

Hill complained at the time that his North Korean counterparts lacked the requisite negotiating authority. (See ACT, January/February 2007.)

In September 2005, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated the bank as a “money laundering concern,” asserting that it provided financial services to North Korean government agencies and front companies engaged in illicit activities such as drug trafficking. Subsequently, the bank froze North Korea’s accounts, and other financial institutions curtailed their dealings with Pyongyang.

Arguing that the designation indicated the Bush administration’s lack of willingness to negotiate in good faith, Pyongyang refused to attend any six-party meetings until this past December. (See ACT, September 2006.)

Both sides have recently shown some flexibility on the issue. For example, North Korea has backed down from its previous refusal to negotiate until the matter was resolved. Washington has also compromised; Hill told reporters Feb. 13 that “we will resolve the [Banco Delta Asia] matter…within 30 days.”

Last fall, the two countries established a bilateral working group to address the matter. The group met in December and again in late January. Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant treasury secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, told reporters Jan. 31 that the group plans to meet again, but no date has yet been scheduled.

Perhaps significantly, Pyongyang also took unilateral actions in October to address at least some of its illicit activities. Press reports Feb. 20 cited a statement from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service that North Korea’s legislature has adopted measures prohibiting financial transactions that involve earnings from illicit activities. These measures also require North Korean financial institutions to enact certain transparency measures.

The Details

The Feb. 13 plan is the latest bid to end North Korea’s nuclear programs. A previous U.S.-North Korean agreement, the 1994 Agreed Framework, broke down in 2002. Under that agreement, Pyongyang froze the Yongbyon facilities, including a five-megawatt graphite-moderated nuclear reactor and a reprocessing facility. These facilities, along with approximately 8,000 spent fuel rods, were monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In exchange, the United States formed an international consortium to provide North Korea with 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil annually and to construct two light-water-moderated nuclear reactors. North Korea was to “dismantle” its reactor and related facilities when the project was completed. The agreement also stated that the two countries would “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations.”

The agreement unraveled in October 2002. That month, then-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly told North Korean officials that the United States had evidence that the country was pursuing a uranium-enrichment program. Both highly enriched uranium and plutonium can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang subsequently ejected IAEA inspectors, announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, restarted the reactor, and claimed to have reprocessed the spent fuel to obtain plutonium. Neither light-water reactor was ever built.

North Korea tested a nuclear device this past October and is estimated to have enough plutonium for as many as 11 weapons. (See ACT, November 2006.)

Multilateral Steps

The Feb. 13 agreement seeks to roll back some of North Korea’s activities. During the initial phase, North Korea is to shut down and seal its nuclear facilities, including the reactor and reprocessing facility, “for the purpose of eventual abandonment.” The government is to allow IAEA inspectors to conduct the “necessary monitoring and verifications” of the shutdown.

North Korea also is to “discuss with other parties a list of all its nuclear programs” during this phase.

In return, the other parties agreed to provide emergency energy assistance to Pyongyang “equivalent to 50,000 [metric] tons of heavy fuel oil.” This assistance will begin during the initial 60-day period, but Hill said in a Feb. 15 interview with The News Hour With Jim Lehrer that North Korea must shut down its facilities before receiving any assistance. South Korea has agreed to provide the entire amount.

A Japanese diplomat told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that Tokyo will not provide direct energy assistance to Pyongyang during the initial phase. In fact, Japan refuses to do so until North Korea has made “progress” in resolving Tokyo’s concerns about the country’s past abductions of Japanese citizens, Foreign Ministry Deputy Press Secretary Tomohiko Taniguchi said during a Feb. 13 press briefing.

The agreement’s description of the next diplomatic phase is less detailed. It is to include North Korea’s provision of “a complete declaration of all nuclear programs,” as well as the “disablement of all existing [North Korean] nuclear facilities, including [its] graphite-moderated reactors and reprocessing plant.” In return, the other parties are to provide “economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent” of an additional 950,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil. The “detailed modalities” of this assistance are to be determined “through consultations and appropriate assessments” of the working group charged with managing economic and energy cooperation.

Two other working groups will discuss the denuclearization issue and implementation of a “Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism,” the agreement says.

Bilateral Steps

The two remaining working groups are to manage the normalization of Pyongyang’s relations with the United States and Japan. Pyongyang is to start bilateral talks aimed at normalizing its relations with both governments, according to the agreement.

In the case of Japan, the talks are to address “outstanding issues of concern,” including the abductions issue.

For its part, the United States will “advance the process of terminating” sanctions on North Korea that have been applied under the Trading with the Enemy Act. Some of those sanctions had been eased during the Clinton administration, but the Bush administration has imposed new restrictions. Most recently, the Treasury Department amended the Foreign Assets Control Regulations to prohibit U.S. citizens from registering vessels in North Korea or “otherwise obtaining authorization for a vessel to fly the North Korean flag.” The department imposed other restrictions on North Korean shipping last May. (See ACT, May 2006.)

Washington also is to “begin the process” of removing North Korea from a list of state-sponsors of terrorism, the agreement says. States on that list are subject to a variety of U.S. sanctions, including provisions that require the United States to block aid to those countries from international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

During the 1990s, the United States described to North Korea the steps it must take to be removed from the list, according to a 2004 Congressional Research Service report. Those procedures have not changed.

Looking Forward

The six parties must resolve various other outstanding issues, several of which could prove to be stumbling blocks to future diplomatic progress.

Perhaps the most difficult task will be to devise mutually acceptable procedures for halting activity within North Korea’s nuclear facilities. For example, the six parties still need to reach agreement on the details of disabling those facilities, a South Korean diplomat said in a Feb. 21 interview.

For its part, the State Department is currently leading interagency discussions on the matter.

Kelly and former State Department official David Straub told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that the Bush administration has conducted intergovernmental discussions about methods for North Korea “to disable or dismantle” nuclear facilities and weapons. These notions were contained in a U.S. proposal presented during the June 2004 round of six-party talks but were never discussed with Pyongyang in detail, Kelly said. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

The six parties also will eventually need to determine the fate of North Korea’s existing nuclear weapons and fissile material, an issue that the recent agreement does not address directly.

Additionally, Hill told CNN Feb. 13 that Washington wants Pyongyang to include information about its suspected uranium-enrichment program in its upcoming declaration. Later, at a briefing at the Brookings Institution Feb. 22, Hill said “the North Koreans made certain purchases of equipment, which is entirely consistent with a highly enriched uranium program.” He also acknowledged, however, that there are gaps in Washington’s knowledge about Pyongyang’s effort to pursue uranium enrichment.

Such a program would require “a lot more equipment than we know that they have actually purchased [and] some considerable production techniques that we are not sure whether they have mastered,” he said.

Arms Control Today and others previously have reported that the administration’s initial estimates, made in 2002, of Pyongyang’s uranium-enrichment capacity may have been overstated. (See ACT, October 2005.)

Although Pyongyang has not yet acknowledged that it has such a program, it is willing to discuss the matter, Hill said.

The IAEA also has work to do. The agency and North Korea must agree on the proper monitoring procedures for Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities. IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei announced Feb. 23 that he has accepted an invitation from Pyongyang to visit North Korea in March to “implement the agreement reached at the six-party talks about the shutdown and eventual abandonment of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the reprocessing facility.”

Other issues could prove contentious. For example, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, and Joel Wit, a former State Department official, told a Washington audience Feb. 14 that North Korea has not given up its previous demand to receive light-water nuclear reactors in exchange for ending its nuclear programs. Wit and Albright visited North Korea shortly before the recent talks began. The six parties did not discuss the matter during the recent talks, Hill said.

The 2005 joint statement says that the other parties would “discuss, at an appropriate time,” the provision of such reactors to North Korea.

Additionally, the failure of Pyongyang and Tokyo to resolve the abductions issue could potentially impede a final resolution. The South Korean diplomat indicated that at least some participants are concerned about such an eventuality. Although the agreement says that one working group’s progress shall not affect the others’ work, it says that the groups’ plans “will be implemented as a whole in a coordinated manner.”


Six-Party Agreement on North Korean Nuclear Program

After six days of negotiations, six countries on Feb. 13 reached an agreement on a series of initial steps aimed at freezing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. They also pledged to undertake further nuclear disarmament negotiations in line with a Sept. 19, 2005 framework and “the principle of ‘action for action.’” The text of the agreement follows:

The Third Session of the Fifth Round of the Six-Party Talks was held in Beijing among the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States of America from 8 to 13 February 2007.

Mr. Wu Dawei, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, Mr. Kim Gye Gwan, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK; Mr. Kenichiro Sasae, Director-General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan; Mr. Chun Yung-woo, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs of the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Mr. Alexander Losyukov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation; and Mr. Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Department of State of the United States attended the talks as heads of their respective delegations.

Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei chaired the talks.

I. The Parties held serious and productive discussions on the actions each party will take in the initial phase for the implementation of the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005. The Parties reaffirmed their common goal and will to achieve early denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner and reiterated that they would earnestly fulfill their commitments in the Joint Statement. The Parties agreed to take coordinated steps to implement the Joint Statement in a phased manner in line with the principle of “action for action”.

II. The Parties agreed to take the following actions in parallel in the initial phase:

1. The DPRK will shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment the Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the reprocessing facility and invite back [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verifications as agreed between IAEA and the DPRK.

2. The DPRK will discuss with other parties a list of all its nuclear programs as described in the Joint Statement, including plutonium extracted from used fuel rods, that would be abandoned pursuant to the Joint Statement.

3. The DPRK and the US will start bilateral talks aimed at resolving pending bilateral issues and moving toward full diplomatic relations. The US will begin the process of removing the designation of the DPRK as a state-sponsor of terrorism and advance the process of terminating the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act with respect to the DPRK.

4. The DPRK and Japan will start bilateral talks aimed at taking steps to normalize their relations in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration, on the basis of the settlement of unfortunate past and the outstanding issues of concern.

5. Recalling Section 1 and 3 of the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005, the Parties agreed to cooperate in economic, energy and humanitarian assistance to the DPRK. In this regard, the Parties agreed to the provision of emergency energy assistance to the DPRK in the initial phase. The initial shipment of emergency energy assistance equivalent to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) will commence within next 60 days.

The Parties agreed that the above-mentioned initial actions will be implemented within next 60 days and that they will take coordinated steps toward this goal.

III. The Parties agreed on the establishment of the following Working Groups (WG) in order to carry out the initial actions and for the purpose of full implementation of the Joint Statement:

1. Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

2. Normalization of DPRK-US relations

3. Normalization of DPRK-Japan relations

4. Economy and Energy Cooperation

5. Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism

The WGs will discuss and formulate specific plans for the implementation of the Joint Statement in their respective areas. The WGs shall report to the Six-Party Heads of Delegation Meeting on the progress of their work. In principle, progress in one WG shall not affect progress in other WGs. Plans made by the five WGs will be implemented as a whole in a coordinated manner.

The Parties agreed that all WGs will meet within next 30 days.

IV. During the period of the Initial Actions phase and the next phase, which includes provision by the DPRK of a complete declaration of all nuclear programs and disablement of all existing nuclear facilities, including graphite-moderated reactors and reprocessing plant., economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO), including the initial shipment equivalent to 50,000 tons of HFO, will be provided to the DPRK.

The detailed modalities of the said assistance will be determined through consultations and appropriate assessments in the Working Group on Economic and Energy Cooperation.

V. Once the initial actions are implemented, the Six Parties will promptly hold a ministerial meeting to confirm implementation of the Joint Statement and explore ways and means for promoting security cooperation in Northeast Asia.

VI. The Parties reaffirmed that they will take positive steps to increase mutual trust, and will make joint efforts for lasting peace and stability in Northeast Asia. The directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.

VII. The Parties agreed to hold the Sixth Round of the Six-Party Talks on 19 March 2007 to hear reports of WGs and discuss on actions for the next phase.