News

Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

INDEX
WEDNESDAY, JULY 15, 1998
Briefer: JAMES P. RUBIN

 

 

NORTH KOREA

 

1

1994 Agreed Framework froze their nuclear weapons development

2,4-5

GAO report correct: North Korea still hasn't clarified key discrepancy

2

IAEA has necessary access to monitor the freeze, which is still in effect

2

US has no evidence of a secret nuclear program

2-3

US continues to withhold key components of light water reactor

3

Continuing discrepancy not a violation of the Agreed Framework

4,6-7

US will continue to live up to its KEDO commitments

5-7

US is stepping up efforts with Congress and internationally to provide heavy fuel oil

 

 

 

 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 86
WEDNESDAY, JULY 15, 1998 1:00 P.M
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

 

 

MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing room. If I'm not mistaken, today is Wednesday. Our schedule for the rest of the week is to have a briefing tomorrow, but most likely not on Friday.

.............

QUESTION: Have you seen the General Accounting Office report which raises the possibility of North Korea having hidden quantities of weapons-grade plutonium?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I'm familiar with the report in general and have been briefed on it. I think - let me make a few comments about this issue, because it's an issue that is easily misunderstood.

At the time of the agreed framework being signed, the world, the South Koreans, our troops and the United States faced a frightening prospect; and that was the prospect of North Korea developing a nuclear weapons capability of significance. This arose not only because of a discrepancy with regard to what North Korea had declared in terms of weapons-grade plutonium, but as well the fact that they now had in place spent fuel that could be used to build nuclear weapons. Thirdly, there was the prospect of them building new and even more powerful reactors that could have given them not only a capability to have their own nuclear weapons, but perhaps the even greater frightening prospect of them selling those nuclear weapons they could create with the third set of new reactors.

So we did something very significant: we pushed very hard for the creation of an agreement to freeze North Korea's nuclear program; and we did so at a very dangerous time, with the possibility of sanctions being imposed and knowing, as well, that the North Koreans had indicated that sanctions being imposed was an act of war. That is what happened in 1994. This was a very dangerous moment, and it posed a frightening prospect for the world.

What this agreement did was to freeze the facilities that the North Koreans could have used to create a significant nuclear weapons capability. And it froze those facilities and laid out a time frame for North Korea to provide the international community information about what activities had occurred in the past, previous to that freeze. What we laid out in this agreement was a flat prohibition on providing to North Korea the key components the light water reactors were going to provide them, unless and until they clarified the discrepancy about what they had done in the past.

What the GAO report correctly points out is that the North Koreans have still not clarified that discrepancy, and they have not given the IAEA the access that they need to clarify that discrepancy. We agree with that. We would like to see North Korea provide now the IAEA with all the information and access the IAEA needs to clarify this discrepancy. But because of the nature of this threat and the importance of stopping its current capability and its potential future capability, we indicated that the lever we would have to ensure that that happened was the fact that we would not provide the key components for these new reactors unless they clarified the discrepancy; and the agreed framework sets that out.

As a matter of national policy, we would like to see North Korea provide every piece of information and cooperation the IAEA needs. But pursuant to the agreed framework, that requirement only kicks in prior to the provision of these key components for the nuclear reactor. So while it is correct that the North Koreans are not providing the IAEA all the access we, as a matter of principle, would like them to have, we've built in a safeguard in that regard by ensuring that none of the key components that would allow them to use this reactor will be provided unless they do so.

In the meantime -- and this is critical -- we believe the IAEA does have the access to monitor the freeze; and the freeze, in our view, is still in effect. We have frozen and stopped the North Korean nuclear program from moving in a direction that would have threatened the world -- and that that freeze is still being monitored and we believe it is still in effect. The questions about the history of their reactor, the discrepancy, have not been resolved. And the GAO report correctly points out that those questions are still out there.

Third point and then I'll go to additional questions - there have been suggestions that there are some other secret program out there that the North Koreans are working on. We do not have evidence of a secret program above and beyond the program we are now monitoring. Are there additional things we would like to learn about what North Korea does in the nuclear field? Absolutely. But the suggestion that they are secretly building another nuclear program is something that we don't believe is true.

QUESTION: This report also suggests, though, that the North Koreans may be trying to destroy evidence that in fact would clarify its past history. Are you concerned that the North Koreans are actively moving to destroy evidence that would answer that question of what their past program capability was?

MR. RUBIN: The briefing that I received on the report and the preliminary look I had referred to things that they are not letting the IAEA do in this area, but not that - first of all, we're always concerned that North Korea will take steps in this area. But so far as I know, they have not taken such steps, and suggestions that they have are not consistent with the information I've been provided.

It is still an open question whether the North Koreans will clarify this discrepancy, and it has always been an open question. That's why we built in the safeguard of not providing the key components for the new light water reactors until they do so. But what I'm suggesting to you is that because the North Koreans have not provided the IAEA all the information and cooperation and access that we would like them to provide in the area of the history and the discrepancy does not mean they are in violation of the agreed framework. The agreed framework was a very practical, real-world step to protect the world against a North Korean nuclear program. We worked on it very hard; it was elaborately negotiated, carefully crafted and has been working successfully. We intend to fulfill our share of the bargain by providing the necessary heavy fuel oil and other aspects of the agreement, and we fully expect the North Koreans to live up to their share.

QUESTION: Jamie, to what do you attribute the reason for them doing this report now? I mean, it seems a bit like GAO doing a report on Israel-Palestinian negotiations and saying they haven't made peace yet. Why do you think they chose to do this now?

MR. RUBIN: Assigning motivations to congressional investigators is probably not a growth industry for a spokesman.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: Would you say it's possible there's a political motivation behind this report?

MR. RUBIN: There's no secret that there are those who've never liked this agreement, who've thought somehow magically we could have done better; that we could have gotten the North Koreans to go further. I think the generally accepted view of those who have been in the business of trying to negotiate with the North Koreans and those who live in the real world was that it was a major accomplishment. There have been critics of the agreement -- that's no secret - and critics will continue to try to see their position vindicated.

But it's our view that this was an important accomplishment that protected the national security of our troops in South Korea, our South Korean allies and the United States; and we are working to try to ensure that this agreement is carried out. We certainly hope that critics who would have liked to have seen a better agreement do not place at risk the national security of our troops and the United States by withholding the necessary funds for us to pursue this agreement.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, just one more quick one. Do you think that might be the financial aspect of the oil and so forth - might be the agenda behind it?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to divine the agenda of critics; other than I'm happy to discuss their criticisms on the merits and, as you know, I occasionally try to rebuff them.

QUESTION: Just to clarify something - the North Koreans are not in violation of the agreed framework, but is it fair to say that the implementation of parts of the agreed framework are stalled because they have not provided this information, and therefore, the US has not done the next step?

MR. RUBIN: Well, that is several years down the line. Right now, as I understand it, we're several years away from the actual building and construction of the light water reactors - the key parts of them. It is not new that the North Koreans are failing to provide the IAEA the information access and cooperation the IAEA needs to resolve this discrepancy.

But what I'm saying is that pursuant to the agreement, the big benefit they're going to get - the light water reactors will not accrue if they don't provide that cooperation, information and access. That is our built-in safeguard, and it is certainly not news that the North Koreans, for many years now, have been unwilling to give the IAEA the information and access that it needs.

QUESTION: Is there a time frame built into the agreement for them to provide that information?

MR. RUBIN: I'll get you a copy of it, but it is prior to the provision by the KEDO - the Korean Energy Development Organization. I've been criticized secretly for using acronyms so I'm going to try to spell them out in the future - KEDO - the Korean Energy Development Organization - what?

QUESTION: Peninsula.

MR. RUBIN: Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization - this could be a dangerous precedent to try to spell out acronyms, but I'll do the best I can and I hope you correct me and I correct myself.

(Laughter.)

But the idea is that prior to the provision of the key components, they have to have resolved this discrepancy to the satisfaction of the IAEA.

QUESTION: Jamie, you keep using the word discrepancy. Are you referring to a specific discreet amount of nuclear fuel that's missing?

MR. RUBIN: A discrepancy between the amount that the North Koreans declared they had as a result of previous activity and the amount that evidence suggests that they really had, and there is a significant discrepancy -- the specific nature of which I'm not in a position to state publicly.

QUESTION: The discrepancy, again, isn't the worry that there was enough of this for them to have either in the future built a bomb or even now build an atomic weapon?

MR. RUBIN: Again, we did not minimize this danger. What we did was build in a process by which we might achieve an answer to the question; and once we answer the question, we'll obviously want to take steps to resolve any concern that results from the answer to the question.

So we were fully cognizant of the danger that accompanied this discrepancy, and it is a significant danger of a nuclear capability. I'm not in a position to get into the exact amount that different estimates are, but it's enough for us to be very, very concerned; and that's why we are making clear - we made clear in the agreement to the North Koreans that they would not get those key components in the absence of clarifying that discrepancy.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - said yesterday that the North Koreans had begun maintenance work. I wanted to know when that actually happened and how you guys are interpreting that. Are you concerned about that or what?

MR. RUBIN: The North Koreans have several times in recent weeks made suggestions that they would react if they didn't think we were fulfilling our part of the bargain, and we want to make clear that we are going to work with Congress to provide the necessary funds and to work with other countries to provide the necessary funds to allow the heavy fuel oil to be sent to North Korea. We are stepping up our efforts internationally to try to get other countries to assist us; but we're also stepping up our efforts with Congress to try to get that heavy fuel oil.

With respect to maintenance issues, maintenance is a term of art that only becomes important if it interferes with the information that the IAEA would want to get. I am not prepared to describe, because it's the job of the IAEA, precisely what maintenance has been done. But again, there's a difference between maintenance and maintenance that interferes with the implementation of the agreement.

QUESTION: Do you know when this happened?

MR. RUBIN: That would be up to the IAEA to detail.

QUESTION: There's one Japanese wire report this morning that says North Korea's Foreign Minister has sent warning - (inaudible) - says if US doesn't meet - (inaudible) - requirement, they will resume the program within a month. Can you confirm this later--

MR. RUBIN: There is correspondence that regularly goes back and forth between us and the North Koreans. I don't make a practice of detailing each correspondence. But let me say that the substance, as described by you is precisely what I just said - that we're aware of public statements by the North Koreans that if they believe that we are not providing the necessary fuel oil, that they will not pursue the agreement.

What I am saying to you is that we have been and will continue to meet our share of our responsibilities, and we expect the North Koreans to do so.

QUESTION: But you're not confirming the letter that --

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to get into a practice of confirming every document that goes back and forth between the United States and North Korea.

QUESTION: I believe that letter also describes a deadline of, I believe - the letter is dated, I believe, June 19, and it says that a month from that time if the US continues to have delays in heavy fuel oil shipment that their nuclear program will restart.

MR. RUBIN: As you probably just heard, I'm not prepared to confirm the existence of diplomatic correspondence between us and the North Koreans. I am prepared to discuss the substance. What I'm saying to you is that any suggestion that we have not fulfilled our share of our responsibilities in the area of heavy fuel oil is incorrect - that we have done so. As I indicated to you last week, we received an additional $5 million from Congress to allow for a delivery this month. We are seeking additional funds upwards of $10 million from Congress to provide further heavy fuel oil. We're going to fulfill our part of the bargain, and the North Koreans, we expect to fulfill theirs.

QUESTION: Any response to that ultimatum, though?

MR. RUBIN: I'm really trying to be as helpful as I can, and I'm not in a position to talk about the context of a diplomatic exchange.

QUESTION: Is that shipment on schedule - the additional one for this month that you referred to last week?

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Rubin, the South Korean Defense Minister, Mr. Tong-Chin Kim, last week said very clearly that the KEDO agreement would not fail; that there would be sufficient fuel oil, et cetera. Have the South Koreans said anything about helping boost the economies of this fuel supply thing, where about 40 percent of the fuel oil has been delivered and there's only about maybe 25 percent of the time remaining to do it? I mean, it seems there's quite a large gap there in regularity.

MR. RUBIN: And the question is?

QUESTION: Well, the question is, have the South Koreans given any assurance to the US Government that they'll step in here with money or whatever; because they seem confident it's not going to fail.

MR. RUBIN: Well, we are also confident that it's not going to fail. We share the judgment of the South Koreans, that it's too important to fail. This agreement is too important to the security of South Korea and the world to fail. That is the point I've been making here. We are going to work in a stepped-up effort with other countries, and in a stepped-up effort with Congress to make sure that we provide the necessary funds. There is sufficient time remaining in the year to provide the necessary fuel oil. It's a question of whether the North Koreans are going to look for excuses to not live up to their share of the responsibility or whether they want to see this agreed framework continue. We believe the agreed framework is in our interest, it's in their interest and it's very much in the interest of the world.

QUESTION: But aren't these oil shipments behind schedule, and don't the North Koreans have a legitimate concern that they might not get what's coming to them?

MR. RUBIN: I've indicated to you that we expect to be able to provide the necessary fuel oil to allow this agreement to be implemented. It is, in our view, up to the North Koreans to decide whether they're looking for excuses to scuttle the agreement or whether they want the agreement to continue. We've built safeguards into this agreement in case they make that decision, but it is our view that is should be continued.

QUESTION: On the same subject, you said that an additional $5 million is going to allocated to provide heavy fuel oil later this month. And then you also said later that an additional $10 million is going to be - is it something like --

MR. RUBIN: What I said was that we are going to be working with Congress for additional funding -- which is what I said last week - beyond $5 million, and that additional funding will be upwards of $10 million.

...........

(The briefing concluded at 2:45 P.M.)

 

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