United States, Japan Say Patience on North Korea “Not Unlimited”

By Stephen Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - U.S. patience with North Korea to follow through on its pledge to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and other commitments as part of a February 13 agreement is “not unlimited,” President Bush says, but he adds that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il still has time to “make the right choice.”

In April 27 remarks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Camp David, Maryland, Bush said their two nations are showing North Korea a “better way forward” than confrontation with the international community over its nuclear weapons program.

The trip marks Abe’s first visit to the United States as prime minister.

The president said the United States and Japan, as well as fellow Six-Party Talks participants China, South Korea and Russia, are continuing to seek the elimination of nuclear programs from the Korean Peninsula through diplomatic means.  He warned that if North Korea fails to honor its pledges it could face additional sanctions.  (See related article.)

“Our objective is to hold [Kim Jong-Il] to account.  But he's got different ways forward and we have made that avenue available for his choice,” Bush said.

The February 13 agreement is “the beginning of an opportunity for him to be in a different position, vis-à-vis the United States government on a variety of fronts,” Bush said.

Abe said Japan and the United States both recognize the need to place additional pressure on North Korea if it does not fulfill its promises.

“[In] our understanding of the issue and the direction we are pursuing, we completely see eye to eye on this matter, and we've had completely the same attitude,” Abe said, adding that Japan and the United States will “maintain close coordination for the resolution” of the North Korean issue.

Under the February 13 agreement, North Korea was to have shut down and sealed its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon within 60 days as well as 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 were to have provided North Korea an initial shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) as emergency energy assistance.

However, North Korea demanded the release of more than $25 million in funds frozen at Banco Delta Asia (BDA), a Macau-based bank, before it would continue participating in the Six-Party Talks.  Macanese authorities unblocked the funds April 10.  (See related article.)

At the State Department, deputy spokesman Tom Casey said North Korea’s interlocutors in the Six-Party Talks are “anxious” to see the country finalize the transfer of the BDA funds and take “the real actions required to shut down Yongbyon” under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Casey said the BDA issue “took longer to resolve than anyone had reasonably thought it would,” but the Bush administration wants to see the commitments in the February 13 agreement honored, and move beyond the first 60-day phase of that agreement.

“[R]emember this isn't about just this one first step agreement, it's about getting to the agreed conclusion of the September 19th [2005] document, which is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” he said. (See related article.)

The February 13 agreement also calls for the creation of five working groups to focus 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.

Bush said his meeting with the mother of a Japanese woman who was abducted by North Korea in 1977 “added a human dimension to an issue which is obviously very important to the Japanese people,” and pledged to work with the Japanese government to resolve the issue of abductees.

“It's a human issue now to me; it's a tangible, emotional issue,” Bush said.

A transcript of remarks by Bush and Abe is available on the White House Web site.

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