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U.S. and North Korea Agree on Arms Limitations Deal

By R. Jeffrey Smith
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

U.S. and North Korean negotiators in Geneva reached agreement Monday on a wide-ranging deal that senior U.S. officials said would eliminate North Korea's capability to make nuclear arms and move both nations toward their first-ever normal political and economic relations.

U.S. officials hailed the deal, which requires final approval in the capitals of the two countries, as laying a basis for resolving one of Washington's most vexing foreign policy problems by shutting off North Korea's nuclear effort. The accord also helps to avoid a destabilizing competition in northeast Asia among Communist-ruled North Korea and two of its immediate neighbors, Japan and China.

North Korean officials were not immediately available for comment in Geneva Monday night, when the U.S. announcement was made. U.S. officials said the deal builds on a preliminary accord reached by the two nations in August by spelling out a detailed timetable for the actions that each must take to carry out the commitments they made then, and also by resolving several matters that have been hotly disputed until now.

The officials declined to spell out the exact timetable for these actions, citing a desire to wait until the accord is finally approved. Timing issues have aroused considerable debate within the Clinton administration, with concern expressed by the Defense Department that some North Korean steps were being put off too long.

The chief U.S. negotiator, Ambassador at Large Robert Gallucci, said in a telephone interview from Geneva that the deal had been agreed "ad referendum," explaining that it is to be referred to top policymakers in the two nations' capitals for final approval, and then, if all goes well, formally signed in Geneva on Friday.

But Gallucci claimed that if the complex deal is carried out, it will address all U.S. concerns "about the problems of the past, present, and future" involving North Korea's nuclear program.

By this, Gallucci said he meant that it would allow an international probe of the country's past plutonium production, block North Korea's production of new plutonium by reprocessing existing spent nuclear fuel rods, and halt efforts by North Korea to expand its nuclear facilities to make more such fuel rods.

Washington believes North Korea has produced plutonium with the aim of building nuclear weapons, and the CIA suspects the country of already having built one or two nuclear weapons.

Other U.S. officials said the complex deal reflected an abrupt about-face by North Korea's communist leadership, in which it had accepted a series of U.S. demands that the isolated state had earlier judged unacceptable. The disputes had blocked an accord during nearly 17 months of intermittent, direct negotiations in New York and Geneva.

But the officials acknowledged that the Clinton administration had also smoothed the road to an agreement by allowing North Korea to defer its compliance with some of the U.S. demands. North Korea will retain for a time some of its nuclear weapons-grade materials, giving it leverage to enforce U.S. compliance with the deal.

The administration also agreed to open a U.S. diplomatic liaison office in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, and to arrange for construction inside North Korea of two new Western-style nuclear reactors valued at $4 billion in total, as well as to provide for an interim energy supply meant to tide the country over until the reactor can be completed in the next decade.

U.S. officials said North Korea had evidently made some concessions because it desperately needs to forge new political ties that could lead to foreign investment and revive its shattered economy, which lost its Soviet and Chinese patrons at the end of the Cold War.

Under the deal, officials said, North Korea will have to freeze its construction or expansion of all of its facilities capable of making plutonium for nuclear weapons, including two partially constructed nuclear reactors, one existing reactor, and a facility for reprocessing spent reactor fuel rods. The two new reactors it will get are considered less suited to plutonium production.

In a surprising concession, North Korea also pledged to allow eventual international inspections of two facilities suspected of harboring nuclear wastes from past plutonium production. U.S. officials said this step would help clear up suspicions that the country has already developed nuclear bombs or components, and eventually force the country to turn over whatever it had.