Nuclear pact may allow expansion of North Korea talks
March 26, 1999
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- William Perry, Washington's policy coordinator for North Korea, predicted Friday that U.S. access to a suspected nuclear site paved the way for wider talks with Pyongyang.
Agreement to allow U.S. access to the site came earlier this month after weeks of negotiations struggled from obstacle to obstacle.
"If the nuclear agreement had not been reached it would have been very hard to proceed with North Korea on wider discussions and wider negotiations," Perry said after speaking at a political seminar in Seoul, the South Korean capital.
Famine-struck North Korea agreed on March 15 to allow U.S. access to a vast underground construction site in Kumchang- ri, which Perry said was large enough to house a reactor and processor.
A Soviet-era reactor and nuclear fuel processor in Yongbyon, about 30 miles (50 km) to the north, was shut down under a 1994 accord. Perry said the Yongbyon plant was capable of producing enough fuel to make 10 nuclear weapons a year.
Perry said he was in South Korea on an unofficial visit and declined to elaborate on North Korean issues ahead of a comprehensive review of Washington's policy towards North Korea, which he said was due out in "late spring."
He was speaking ahead of talks beginning in Pyongyang on Monday about curbing the North's missile program.
Last August, after U.S. spy photos disclosed the location of the suspected nuclear site, North Korea fired a new generation, three-stage rocket that soared over Japan and into the Pacific.
Pyongyang said it was only putting a small satellite into orbit. It has also denied the Kumchang-ri site is nuclear- related, although it has acknowledged it has a military purpose.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency told Congress recently that further developments of the new missile could put parts of the western United States within striking distance.
Defense officials in Seoul say the North also has large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that could be put in a missile warhead.
But Perry said the U.S. was not contemplating military measures against the North, amid speculation in Seoul that Washington may consider pre-emptive strikes to take out any suspected nuclear or missile installations.
"I believe the consequences of military confrontation would be so serious we should exhaust every diplomatic measure before we even consider that," Perry said.
He added that North Korea would not be put under any deadlines in the engagement talks.
"I have not set any time limits nor do I plan to set any time limits in my recommendations," he said.
The divided Korean peninsula is one of the most militarized spots in the world, with more than a million soldiers facing each other across a tense frontier.
It is the only place where the outbreak of war would cause heavy U.S. troop casualties. The United States maintains 37,000 troops in South Korea along with several air bases.
North Korea also has the world's largest number of pieces of artillery on a front line, defense analysts say, most of them pointing at Seoul, about an hour's drive to the south.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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