Failed Nuclear Disarmament Deals Netted North Korea $2.2 Billion

October 5, 2009 - 9:52 PM
North Korea has received the equivalent of some $2.2 billion under failed international deals designed to persuade the isolated nation to dismantle its nuclear facilities, according to a South Korean lawmaker.
Kim Jong-il

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. (AP Photo)

Seoul (AP) – North Korea has received the equivalent of about $2.2 billion under deals aimed at persuading the isolated nation to dismantle its nuclear facilities, a South Korean lawmaker said Monday, in what his office says is the first accounting of the cost of the failed strategy.

The Clinton administration promised the North two light-water reactors that would produce nuclear power under a 1994 deal to freeze its atomic program, which Washington and its allies feared was meant to create weapons not energy. Until the reactors were built, the powers agreed to furnish the impoverished North with an annual supply of 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.

When the U.S. accused North Korea in 2002 of restarting its atomic program, the deal was scrapped and Pyongyang expelled nuclear inspectors.

But before that, the equivalent of nearly $2 billion flowed into North Korea, ruling Grand National Party lawmaker Kwon Young-se said in a statement. South Korea spent $1.15 billion, Japan $410 million and the European Union $18 million on the reactors. Meanwhile, the U.S. sent $400 million worth of fuel oil to the North.

In 2007, however, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. tried again, promising the North one million tons of fuel oil and other concessions in return for disablement. So far, 745,000 tons of oil – estimated to be worth $310 million – have been shipped to the North under the new deal, the statement said.

But the disablement process came to halt again last year as Pyongyang wrangled with Washington over how to verify its account of past atomic activities. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is visiting the North this week, and many are watching the trip for signs that he will persuade Pyongyang to return to disarmament talks.

Kwon expressed frustration with the deals, which have lavished aid and support on the North without succeeding in getting the regime to retire its nuclear ambitions.

"The key strategy in the North's nuclear disarmament process is to yield an agreement that North Korea cannot reverse," Kwon said in the statement.

Kwon's office said they calculated the figures based on data submitted by the South Korean Foreign Ministry. Ministry officials confirmed the figures on the 1994 deal, but said that they only gave the amount of fuel oil sent to the North under the 2007 deals as it was hard to figure out their exact price due to fluctuating oil prices at the time.

In addition to the money it was given in the disarmament-for-aid deals, the North has also received nearly 4 trillion won ($3.4 billion) of food, fertilizer and other humanitarian aid from the U.S., South Korea and international organizations over the past 10 years, Kwon's office said.

In this photo released by Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service in Tokyo, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, right, meets with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il, left, front, in Pyonggyang, North Korea,Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)

Kim holds out prospect of more talks

Meanwhile on Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told China's premier that the North was prepared to return to multination disarmament talks depending on progress in its two-way negotiations with the U.S.

Kim's comments, carried by official North Korean and Chinese media, were the clearest sign yet that Pyongyang was readying to resume the six-nation talks it withdrew from after conducting missile tests in April and a second nuclear test in May.

In their meeting late Monday, Kim said that North Korea "is willing to attend multilateral talks, including the six-party talks, depending on the progress in its talks with the United States," China's Xinhua News Agency said in a report issued early Tuesday.

The North's Korean Central News Agency carried nearly identical comments. In the KCNA report, Kim told Wen that denuclearization remained a goal and that historically hostile relations with the U.S. "should be converted into peaceful ties through bilateral talks without fail."

North Korea has been moderating its tone in recent weeks, signaling its willingness to resume a dialogue with the U.S., China and other partners and backing away from the provocative behavior and rhetoric of the spring.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Washington was aware of reports that North Korea would reconsider opening talks but said the United States had not yet gotten details of the meeting from the Chinese.

"We've talked to our Chinese partners in the six-party talks and we're conducting close coordination with China and the other partners in the talks," Kelly said. "We, of course, encourage any kind of dialogue that would help us lead to our ultimate goal that's shared by all the partners in the six-party talks, which, is the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

Kim's remarks to Wen came on the second day of the Chinese premier's three-day trip to Pyongyang to celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the neighbors.

Both countries' communist leaderships traded congratulatory messages Monday extolling what the Chinese called their "good neighborly, friendly and cooperative relations."

Beyond the niceties, Wen's visit is seen as an inducement to Pyongyang to return to the disarmament talks, which China sponsored and which include Japan, Russia and South Korea as well as the U.S. and North Korea. The cautious Chinese leadership is unlikely to have agreed to Wen's trip without assurances about resumed talks.

As the No. 3 leader in China's Communist Party hierarchy, Wen was accorded unusual high-level attention, having been greeted at the airport by Kim on Sunday and having attended mass games together Monday night, according to footage from AP Television News in Pyongyang.

Kim reportedly made similar remarks – that North Korea's return to the six-party talks hinged on progress with the U.S. – to a Chinese envoy sent last month to Pyongyang to prepare for Wen's visit.

As North Korea's chief diplomatic and economic backer, Beijing was under pressure from other governments to bring North Korea back to the table.

South Korea has taken a hard-line and on Monday urged China anew to exert pressure, including applying U.N. sanctions Beijing signed on to in May.

"I think China should lead North Korea to decide to give up its nuclear program by faithfully implementing" the sanctions, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told a parliament committee meeting.

China is North Korea's biggest trade partner and economic patron, providing much of the food assistance and all the oil needed to keep the listing North Korean economy going.

The isolated nation gives Beijing a buffer state in Northeast Asia. While relations were close following the 1950-53 Korean War – during which the Chinese fought with the North against the U.S. – the two sides have drifted apart in recent decades, as China embraced free-market reforms and North Korea remained a defiantly closed, totalitarian state.

Despite strains, Beijing rarely threatens North Korea publicly, preferring to offer support to encourage Pyongyang to engage outwardly. Wen was expected to oversee the signing of several agreements on his trip. On Sunday, the two sides agreed to build a new bridge over the Yalu River, which forms part of their border, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

(Associated Press writer Kim Hyung-jin in Seoul contributed to this report.)