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Bush Administration Undermines Efforts to Disarm North Korea: Notice to Congress Is Latest in Series of Missteps
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For Immediate Release: March 21, 2002

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, 202-463-8270 x 107 or Alex Wagner, 202-463-8270 x 102

(Washington, D.C.): The Bush administration will reportedly inform Congress that it cannot guarantee that North Korea is abiding by the terms of the Agreed Framework, which has frozen Pyongyang's nuclear-weapons program since 1994. This would be the first time that the United States has not certified the country as being in compliance with the landmark agreement.

U.S. law requires the president to certify each year that North Korea is fully complying with the Agreed Framework before Congress can fund implementation of the accord. Despite the lack of certification, the Bush administration will likely tell Congress that it is in the United States' national security interests to continue to fulfill U.S. obligations under the framework, including the funding of heavy-fuel oil shipments to North Korea for its energy needs.

"The Bush administration's noncertification decision may undercut prospects for a resumption of U.S.-North Korean talks to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs while further damaging South Korea's rapprochement with Pyongyang," said Alex Wagner, the nonproliferation analyst at the Arms Control Association.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has determined that North Korea has frozen its nuclear program since signing the agreement, and Secretary of State Colin Powell stated at a February Senate hearing that North Korea has "stay[ed] within the KEDO agreement," another term for the Agreed Framework. But the administration is now set to charge that Pyongyang is withholding full cooperation from the IAEA and not implementing the 1991 North-South Joint Declaration on Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, under which North and South Korea agreed not to develop, receive, test, or use nuclear weapons.

Under the Agreed Framework, North Korea must grant IAEA inspectors the right to visit any suspected nuclear-related site so that the agency can fully account for how much nuclear material North Korea produced before 1994 and determine whether it is hiding any such material today. However, the agreement does not require North Korea to provide such access until a "significant portion" of the first of two light-water nuclear power reactors promised in the Agreed Framework has been completed—a milestone the United States acknowledges has not yet been reached. The administration is pressing North Korea to open up to comprehensive IAEA inspections now, but Pyongyang has resisted, citing construction delays on the reactors.

"Prompt initiation of inspections is important in order to avoid further delays, though the Agreed Framework does not yet require North Korea to admit the IAEA inspectors. But if the Bush administration is interested in results, it should actively support for the Agreed Framework and not jeopardize its implementation," stated Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

"The Bush administration's noncertification action may play well in some Washington political circles, but it will only further complicate prospects for a renewed dialogue and make the achievement of U.S. nonproliferation objectives in the region more difficult," Kimball said.

Certification of North Korean compliance with the Agreed Framework is only one element required under the 2002 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. The act also requires Pyongyang to continue implementation of the terms of the North-South Korean Joint Declaration on Denuclearization—to which the United States is not a party—and that the United States make "significant progress" on eliminating North Korea's indigenous missile program and missile exports.

"Ironically, the administration, which last year abandoned the Clinton administration's promising initiative on a permanent North Korean missile ban and this year named it part of the 'axis of evil,' shares responsibility for the recent lack of progress in resolving the proliferation problems cited in its noncertification notice," Kimball added.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.

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