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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Clinton Administration Knew of Secret North Korean Uranium-Based Weapons Program, Experts Say

The Clinton administration knew North Korea was developing a uranium-based nuclear weapons program, even though it had pledged in 1994 to give up all nuclear work in exchange for two light-water reactors provided by a U.S.-led international consortium, experts said this week (see GSN, May 25).

The Bush administration in 2002 presented evidence to North Korea on the secret uranium program. Pyongyang denied the charge, and the dispute undid the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which Pyongyang had agreed to freeze its nuclear activities in return for the light-water reactors and other aid. North Korea subsequently expelled international inspectors and withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The Clinton administration probably was aware of the North Korean program, according David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.

“What alarmed the Bush administration was when they started seeing procurement for thousands of centrifuges,” Albright said. “That’s what qualitatively changed the situation.”

Robert Gallucci, the top U.S. negotiator of the 1994 deal, confirmed the Clinton administration’s knowledge of the uranium program earlier this week.

“The Clinton administration concluded ... that North Korea cheated on the Agreed Framework, that getting gas centrifuge components from Pakistan was inconsistent with the framework,” he said (Lee Dong-min, Yonhap News Agency I, May 25).

South Korea and the United States today reaffirmed their support for the six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs, Agence France-Presse reported.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the lead U.S. negotiator for the stalled talks, said Washington “takes very seriously the six-way talks process” following a meeting in Seoul with Chun Yung-woo, South Korea’s top envoy.

Chun said North Korea should resume negotiations without expectation that such action alone would result in rewards.

“There is no other way but North Korea making up its mind and returning to the talks,” he said.

Chun said he and Hill were preparing ways to “prevent the negotiation from lapsing back into a stalemate once they resume in the future” (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, May 26).

Experts at the International Institute of Strategic Studies said yesterday that North Korea’s reported preparations for a missile launch is likely a pressure tactic, Yonhap reported.

“Reported activity at a test site for the long-range Taepodong missile may be North Korea’s way of sending a reminder that it has its own ways to increase pressure,” the think tank said in a report.

“Pyongyang judges that the Bush administration is not serious about negotiations and that the financial controls are evidence of hostile intent,” the report says, referring to Washington’s financial crackdown on Pyongyang’s alleged money laundering, smuggling and other illicit operations.

The report adds that neither side believes the other willing to make concessions necessary for resolution of the nuclear standoff.

“The Bush administration sees financial sanctions, and an increasing emphasis on human rights in North Korea, as justifiable in their own right,” it says (Yonhap News Agency II, May 25).
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