North Korea Nuclear Deal a “Breakthrough,” Rice Says

By Stephen Kaufman and David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writers

Washington - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says North Korea's decision to dismantle its nuclear weapons in exchange for energy aid is a “breakthrough step.”

Rice spoke to reporters February 13 following the latest round of Six-Party Talks, held in Beijing among North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

She said the agreement is part of a “broad and comprehensive effort” not only to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula but also “to advance the future of peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia.”

President Bush praised the February 13 deal in a separate statement, saying, "These talks represent the best opportunity to use diplomacy to address North Korea’s nuclear programs."  Bush called the agreement a “first step” toward implementing the September 19, 2005, statement between the six countries in which they agreed on the goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.  (See related article.)

Christopher Hill, the lead U.S. envoy for the Six-Party Talks, told reporters the breakthrough in the current round of talks came after North Korean diplomats insisted aid deliveries be defined clearly.  Negotiators agreed, but demanded that North Korea discuss the disabling of its nuclear programs immediately rather than leaving the issue for future talks.  (See related article.)

“We took what was essentially a sticking point and used it as a way to make further progress on the road to denuclearization,” said Hill, the assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

The February 13 agreement is divided between an initial 60-day “action” phase and a future “disablement” phase.  Rice described it as “a reasonable way to go about removing nuclear programs from the Korean Peninsula,” as well as to “turn back” North Korea’s 30-year nuclear program.

According to the initial action plan of the agreement, North Korea, during the first 60-day phase, will shut down and seal its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, allow international verification and provide a list of all of its nuclear programs to the other Six-Party Talks participants.

During the same period, the other members will provide North Korea an initial shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) as emergency energy assistance.  If the provisions of the initial phase have been satisfied, an additional 950,000 tons of HFO will be provided.

The agreement also calls for the creation of five working groups that will meet within the next 30 days.  Those groups are focused on achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, the normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations, the normalization of Japan-North Korean relations, economic and energy cooperation, and the creation of a Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism.

Under the U.S.-North Korean working group, the two countries will hold discussions aimed at resolving “pending bilateral issues” and moving toward the establishment of full diplomatic relations, according to the action plan.

The United States also will review North Korea’s membership on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.  “This is, I think, the right time to do that. We will see what the record shows on North Korea during this period of time, but we think it makes perfectly good sense to start that review, and we'll look at the record,” Secretary Rice said.

The secretary said the agreement was multilateral, and all six parties are its guarantors.  “All of the major players in the region now share a stake in its outcome, as well as a demand for results and accountability,” she said.

“The patterns of cooperation that we are building between countries in the region should be a force of growing stability and trust in this dynamic part of the world,” she said.

Rice said closure of North Korea’s nuclear facilities would be “a sign that the North Koreans may, in fact, be ready to make a strategic choice.”

Upon the successful end of the 60-day period, Rice said all six countries would hold a meeting at the foreign minister level, which would mark the first meeting between the U.S. secretary of state and her North Korean counterpart.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described the timelines in the agreement as “very tight,” and said “a lot of work” will be needed to realize the full implementation of the September 2005 agreement.  “But today is the first indication that we have seen that North Korea is prepared to denuclearize and that it has made that strategic decision,” he said.

McCormack added that in the process of implementing the agreement, North Korea will be able to “realize a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world,” including the United States.

The envoys to the Six-Party Talks are scheduled to meet again March 19, and the countries’ foreign ministers will meet within 60 days of the Yongbyon shutdown to confirm implementation of the agreement and discuss the future of security in the region.

The full text of Bush's statement on the Six-Party Talks can be found on the White House Web site.

Transcripts of Rice’s and Hill’s remarks, as well as the full text of the February 13 agreement, are available on the State Department Web site.

For more information, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.