Bush Hails Agreement With North Korea

Tuesday, February 13th 2007, 7:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush defended a landmark nuclear agreement reached Tuesday with North Korea, calling it ``the best opportunity'' for diplomacy to succeed in ridding the Pyongyang government of all atomic weapons and capabilities.

``I am pleased with the agreements reached today at the six-party talks in Beijing,'' the president said in a statement read by his press secretary, Tony Snow.

``These talks represent the best opportunity to use diplomacy to address North Korea's nuclear programs,'' Bush added. ``They reflect the common commitment of the participants to a Korean Peninsula that is free of nuclear weapons.''

Under the first phase of the agreement announced in Beijing, North Korea would be required to shut down its main nuclear reactor and allow U.N. inspectors back into the country within 60 days. In return, it would receive aid equal to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.

Put off until a later date would be negotiations about how to completely dismantle all its nuclear facilities, declare and relinquish whatever weapons and fuel it has stockpiled and decide the fate of a parallel weapons project involving the enrichment of uranium.

Compliance by North Korea _ a secretive regime that has spurned many prior agreements _ would bring it hundreds of thousands of tons more in heavy fuel oil and other aid, plus talks on normalizing relations with the United States, removing North Korea from its designation as a terror-sponsoring state and ending U.S. trade sanctions.

``If they don't abide by the terms, they don't get the benefits they desire,'' White House press secretary Tony Snow said.

Added Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: ``This is still the first quarter, there is still a lot of time to go on the clock. But the six parties have now taken a promising step in the right direction.''

But the agreement drew strong criticism from former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who urged Bush to reject it.

``I am very disturbed by this deal,'' Bolton told CNN. ``It sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world: 'If we hold out long enough, wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded,' in this case with massive shipments of heavy fuel oil for doing only partially what needs to be done.''

Robert J. Einhorn, a former State Department official who visited North Korea with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, said Americans should applaud the agreement, but he predicted it would come under heavy questioning from both the right and the left.

He said, ``I think a number of people are going to ask the question `Couldn't this deal have been concluded three or four years ago before North Korea conducted its nuclear test and acquired enough additional plutonium to build anywhere from six to 10 nuclear weapons?'''

Mike Green, former senior director for Asian affairs on Bush's National Security Council, said it's impossible to know now whether the North Koreans are serious about de-nuclearization or merely stalling for time.

``The track record so far is not good,'' he said.

But Snow said that while much work remains to be done, the deal is the best path to ensure a de-nuclearized Korean Peninsula.

``This is also not a case where we are going to be swapping one nuclear technology for another,'' he said. ``When this is concluded, there will be no nuclear technology in North Korea.''

The agreement does ``absolutely not'' reward North Korean bad behavior, Snow argued. For one thing, the initial fuel aid given to North Korea is only a tiny fraction _ 5 percent _ of the country's oil consumption.

``They not only have to act, they have to do it in a pretty small window,'' he said. ``There's a level of accountability here for the North Koreans that has been absent in the past, and if they don't move forward, they don't get the diplomatic recognition they want.''

Snow said the agreement was stronger than previous deals with North Korea because the United States was not the only party. And it does not remove the threat of economic sanctions that have been authorized by the United Nations.

``There is still a possibility of sanctions through the international community,'' Snow said. ``And there is considerably more leverage on the North Koreans by virtue of the fact that you have the Chinese, the South Koreans, the Japanese and the Russians also involved here. They're answerable not merely to the United States, but in fact to their own neighbors who are significant stakeholders in this.''

Financial sanctions imposed on North Korea because of suspected counterfeiting have been a major sticking point for Pyongyang. Washington shifted on its insistence that that issue remain separate from the nuclear talks.

In Sept. 15, 2005, the U.S. blacklisted a Macau-based bank for alleged counterfeiting and money laundering by North Korea. The bank froze North Korean assets, which led Pyongyang to boycott the six-nation talks for more than a year. The United States pledged to address the matter within 30 days, Hill said.