Asia Program

Events

"Verification and the Challenges of the Agreed Framework"

April 30, 2001 // 12:00am

Michael May, Stanford University
Ronald Lehman, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
William Perry, Stanford University
Marshall Billingslea, U.S Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Richard Falkenrath, National Security Council
Robert Einhorn, State Department
Gary Samore, State Department
George Look, Defense Department
Robert Gallucci, Georgetown University
Desaix Anderson, Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization

The new George W. Bush administration faces few more pressing security challenges than North Korea (DPRK). The United States seeks to prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear weapons arsenal; to block the further export of North Korean missiles and missile technologies to South Asia, the Middle East, or other unstable regions of the world; to cap North Korea's development, production, and testing of missiles for its own armed forces; to dampen tensions along the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas; to reduce the threat posed by North Korea's conventional forces; to promote ties between North and South Korea; to prevent the North from either imploding, which could set off a humanitarian catastrophe, or from lashing out in a last-ditch paroxysm of fury; and to keep the many difficult issues presented by North Korea from driving a wedge between the United States and its allies in the region.

The Clinton administration sought to address the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program by negotiating an accord with Pyongyang known as the Agreed Framework. That agreement, concluded in October 1994, obligated the North Koreans to freeze activity at and eventually dismantle its graphite-moderated reactors, which had the potential of producing large quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, and replace them with "proliferation-resistant" light water reactors provided by an international consortium, KEDO, whose key members are the United States, South Korea, and Japan.

That agreement has been politically controversial in the United States ever since its negotiation six-and-a-half years ago. This workshop, sponsored by the Division of International Studies and the Asia Program, sought to examine some of the verification and security issues that have contributed to the political controversy.

This workshop was also co-sponsored by Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's Center for Global Security Research. Over the last year, Stanford and Livermore have been jointly working on a project to evaluate security and the safeguarding of the nuclear materials and facilities that are covered by the Agreed Framework.

Before sensitive nuclear technologies related to the KEDO reactors can be transferred to the DPRK, the North must, as physicist Michael May put it, "come clean" about suspect facilities (e.g., a nuclear waste site) and its past record (most notably whether plutonium was extracted from the DPRK 's graphite-moderated reactor before the Agreed Framework came into effect). May concluded that we could have "reasonable confidence" that the DPRK can come clean if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gets full access to declared and suspect sites, a development that will require more cooperation and openness than the DPRK has shown to date. May then outlined the steps that will be necessary to safeguard the KEDO reactors under IAEA guidelines once they enter into operation. He also offered practical suggestions regarding the disposition of fissile material from the KEDO reactors to address the thorny issue of abrogation – that is, what the United States would do if the North Koreans opt out of their obligations after the KEDO reactors come on-line.

The panel discussion that followed offered a range of views on the Agreed Framework. Senate staffer Marshall Billingslea questioned the premise of the nuclear agreement, arguing that the United States should seek to renegotiate a switch from nuclear to conventional coal-fueled reactors. He noted that the North's insistence on nuclear reactors raises a fundamental concern about Pyongyang's nuclear intentions. Desaix Anderson of KEDO noted that the North's coal supplies are of very poor quality and therefore are unsuitable for power generation, and concluded that the DPRK does have a legitimate interest in nuclear power as a source of energy. Robert Gallucci, who was the chief negotiator of the 1994 accord, stated that the key question for him then and now is: are we better off with the agreement or not? The idea of switching to coal-fueled reactors was certainly attractive, but was a condition the DPRK would simply not accept in 1994. The Bush administration might try to revive that proposal, Gallucci argued, but it should first coordinate closely with Tokyo and Seoul (who are paying the major portion of KEDO's costs). Richard Falkenrath of the National Security Council staff welcomed the publication of the Stanford-Livermore study and said that the administration hoped to complete its review of the Agreed Framework within a month or two. State Department official Gary Samore discussed how the Pyongyang regime might be viewing these developments. He argued that the DPRK leadership very much wanted to resume a high level dialogue with the United States, but cautioned that Pyongyang was also adept at brinkmanship to get Washington's attention.

This workshop focused primarily on technical issues relating to the verification and implementation of the Agreed Framework. But even if these technical issues are satisfactorily resolved, this will not necessarily address the political objections that many in the Bush administration and the Congress have regarding the 1994 nuclear agreement. Still, the publication of the Stanford-Livermore report and this Wilson Center workshop come at a particularly opportune moment, since the Bush administration is currently undertaking an extensive review of its policy toward North Korea and its approach toward the Agreed Framework.

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