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US Congressmen Push for Delay in Building North Korean Nuclear Plant - 2002-06-06


Lawmakers from both U.S. political parties are calling on President Bush to stop construction of nuclear power reactors in North Korea as part of a 1994 agreement. The lawmakers say the United States should force a delay in construction, scheduled to begin this August, because of Pyongyang's refusal to allow full inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Under the Agreed Framework of 1994, the United States and key allies agreed to pay for construction of two light water nuclear reactors in North Korea, in exchange for Pyongyang's agreement to stop suspected weapons-related aspects of its nuclear program.

North Korea is required to be in full compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, safeguards, including full inspections, once most of the reactor project is completed.

However, lawmakers on Capitol Hill say the situation the United States finds itself in since September 11, and ongoing concerns about North Korean nuclear efforts, should delay construction.

President Bush in April said he could not certify to Congress that Pyongyang was complying with all provisions of the agreement.

Republican Congressman Benjamin Gilman of the House International Relations Committee says Mr. Bush should now move to suspend construction.

"We are now urging the president, once again," he added, "to follow up on his decision of April, by suspending nuclear reactor construction in North Korea until North Korea begins cooperating with the IAEA in a manner required under the Agreed Framework."

Mr. Gilman, fellow Republican Chris Cox, and Democrat Ed Markey, say even with Pyongyang's full cooperation, it will take until 2005 for the International Atomic Agency to determine if North Korea is in compliance with nuclear safeguards.

Citing what they call recent reports that North Korea is continuing a covert nuclear weapons program, Congressman Cox says it makes no sense to allow reactor construction to move ahead of full compliance.

"Until we get answers to these fundamental questions, it is fundamentally at odds with rational U.S. policy, and with rational security policy for the region, for the United States to provide the core of technology and nuclear materials that could be so easily hijacked and used for nuclear weapons," said Mr. Cox. "The reprocessing of nuclear material from this light water reactor could permit the government of Kim Jong Il to make as many as 60 bombs or more per year."

The lawmakers question how the Bush administration can be critical of Russian nuclear reactor sales to Iran, while proceeding with the reactor element of the Agreed Framework project with North Korea.

Both countries, along with Iraq, were named by President Bush earlier this year as being in an "axis of evil" supporting terrorism.

Congressman Markey says the United States and Russia need only look at the alarming prospect of nuclear war between India and Pakistan as an example of what can happen from the spread of nuclear technology.

The lawmakers delicately sidestepped questions about what reaction South Korea might have to their call for a halt to reactor construction.

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