Bush ups pressure on North Korea
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is putting North Korea on notice, saying it will refuse to certify that the secretive communist state is abiding by a 1994 deal freezing its nuclear weapons program.
The move comes as U.S. and South Korean troops gear up for week of joint military exercises beginning Thursday that the North has condemned as "reckless saber-rattling."
Announcing the decision in Washington Wednesday White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the move was intended to send "a strong message" to North Korea.
However, he said that in accordance with a special "waiver" issued by President Bush, U.S. supplies of fuel to North Korea under the terms of the deal would continue uninterrupted.
"This was designed to send a signal to North Korea that they have obligations, and these obligations are important," he said.
Under the 1994 agreement the United States is committed to supplying the North with 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year until two light water nuclear reactors, financed by Japan and South Korea, are constructed.
The deal was reached after the U.S. and North Korea came to the brink of war over suspicions that the North was using existing nuclear reactors to develop material for atomic weapons.
In return for U.S. fuel supplies and the construction of the two advanced light-water reactors -- which cannot produce weapons-grade material -- North Korea was required to mothball its reactors
Under the Clinton presidency North Korean compliance with the deal was routinely certified each year, a policy Bush has now signaled he intends to drop.
Speaking to reporters Fleischer said the White House believes the North Koreans have not provided sufficient evidence it had abandoned its nuclear weapons program.
The North has never formally acknowledged the existence of such a program.
The White House is hoping to put pressure on the North Koreans to begin full cooperation with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Authority, required by the 1994 deal before construction of the two reactors can begin later this year.
That deal has just three years left to run by which time agreed components of the two reactors are supposed to be in place.
Since coming to power Bush has taken a far tougher line on North Korea than his predecessor, president Clinton.
Administration officials have been particularly skeptical about the value of the 1994 deal, which they say amounts to paying the North Koreans not to develop weapons with little to guarantee that they will comply.
Axis of evil
Earlier this year in his State of the Union speech Bush labeled North Korea part of what he called an "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq.
He said the three countries "threatened the peace of the world" and warned the United States would not stand by as they continued programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The speech coincided with the release of a CIA report that concluded North Korea had already produced enough weapons grade plutonium "for at least one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons."
The now infamous "axis" tag and the revelation earlier this month that the U.S. has included North Korea on a list of potential nuclear targets have sparked outrage from Pyongyang which says the Bush administration is threatening to start a new war on the Korean peninsula.
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