Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Tuesday, 20 September 2005 13:18 UK

Real tests ahead on N Korea deal

By Charles Scanlon
BBC correspondent in Seoul

It was meant to be the fruit of three years of confrontation, florid insults and intermittent negotiations - a statement of principles intended to form the framework for an eventual agreement to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

Yet within 24 hours, North Korea had made it clear that fundamental differences remained over the agreement's implementation, underlining how much work the negotiators still have to do.

Under intense pressure from its neighbours and the United States, North Korea signed up on Monday to a document that commits it - in theory - to scrapping its nuclear weapons and weapons programmes and readmitting inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

North Korean spent nuclear fuel rods in Yongbyon
Verifying North Korea's nuclear claims will be a key test

The North's neighbours and the US, in return, agreed to supply energy assistance and move towards diplomatic normalisation.

The US also stated it had no nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula and had no intention to attack the North.

The joint statement was the first tangible sign of progress after four rounds of six-party talks in Beijing - a diplomatic process that recently appeared to be in danger of stalling.

But the real test will come when the diplomats return in November to discuss how the agreement is implemented, and how North Korea's nuclear claims will be verified.

"Whether this agreement helps solve this will depend in large measure on what we do in the days and weeks that follow," said the chief US negotiator, Christopher Hill.

The US negotiator only managed to reach the current agreement by postponing discussion of the most contentious disputes

"We need to take the momentum of this agreement and work to see that it is implemented."

Mr Hill came to the negotiations this summer with new tactics - to show more flexibility and engage the North Koreans directly.

But he only managed to reach the current agreement by postponing discussions on the most contentious disputes.

North Korea came back to the talks last week with a new demand that threw the negotiations into disarray, and threatened a breakdown that might have scuppered the diplomatic process altogether.

It called for the construction of a modern, civilian nuclear power plant, in addition to the other rewards on offer for scrapping its nuclear programmes.

That was clearly unacceptable to the Bush administration, which insists the Communist state cannot be trusted with any nuclear capabilities.

Monday's agreed statement merely said this issue would be discussed again "at an appropriate time", which looks like a recipe for further deadlock in the future.

North Korea made clear on Tuesday that it saw the issue as central, stating that it would not end its nuclear programmes or readmit IAEA inspectors until the new power plant was built.


Another fundamental disagreement - over the scope of North Korea's nuclear capabilities - has also not been addressed.

No mention in agreement of N Korea's alleged uranium programme
N Korea still claiming right to peaceful nuclear programme
Also wants to be built a light-water nuclear reactor
Timing and verification of N Korea ending its nuclear programmes yet to be agreed

North Korea continues to deny American allegations that it is running a second, secret uranium enrichment programme in addition to its well known plutonium plant at Yongbyon.

There is also no agreement on sequencing - who is to make the first move? - and this could be another key stumbling block.

And the fraught question of verification - North Korea is one of the world's most closed and secretive nations - has also not been addressed.

Given these omissions, the agreed statement looks like the minimum necessary to keep the diplomatic process alive.

Nevertheless, the agreement has been warmly welcomed in the region - perhaps more out of relief than any expectation of an early settlement.

The accord is "an important turning point that will help peace take root," said a statement issued by the South Korean government.

South Korean officials believe it will be hard for the North to go back on an agreement that was signed in the presence of all the regional powers as well as the US.

But they are also aware that North Korea has made many previous commitments to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

There is a clear understanding in the region that the real work of defusing the North Korean nuclear threat is only just beginning.

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