Despite the nuclear dispute with North Korea, the Bush administration says it will not move immediately to shut down the U.S.-led international consortium that administers the 1994 U.S.-North Korean "Agreed Framework" accord.
North Korea pronounced the "Agreed Framework" nullified last October, when it acknowledged to a senior U.S. envoy that it was violating the deal with a uranium-enrichment program.
However, the Bush administration is keeping open at least the possibility that the nuclear deal can be revived by asking Congress for funds to maintain the international consortium, set up to implement the framework.
Under the 1994 accord, concluded by the Clinton administration, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for a promise of two Western-designed nuclear power plants and interim supplies of fuel oil.
The semi-private consortium, called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO, was set up a year later to oversee the reactor project and oil deliveries.
At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed the administration is asking Congress for $3.5 million for KEDO administrative costs for the coming year, in a move that preserves U.S. options, as diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict with Pyongyang continue.
"No part of this funding would go to fund heavy fuel oil shipments or light-water reactor construction," he said. "The funds would be used only for contributions to the organization's administrative expenses, should we determine that such funding continues to be in our interests. We're not pre-judging the decisions on the organization's future. The proposal for funds is intended to maintain the flexibility we need to achieve our global non-proliferation goals."
At the urging of the United States, KEDO, which also includes Japan, South Korea and the European Union, cut off fuel oil shipments to North Korea in November - a decision cited by Pyongyang as the reason for moving to restart a reactor complex, frozen under the "Agreed Framework," and to expel international nuclear inspectors.
The administration decision to keep KEDO in business, which emerged in press reports earlier this week, has angered some members of Congress demanding a tougher approach to North Korea.
The "Agreed Framework" itself has been criticized by many members of President Bush's Republican Party, who say it should have required North Korea to dismantle - not freeze - its nuclear program.
Secretary of State Powell said in a Wall Street Journal interview earlier this week that if North Korea agrees eventually to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, there should be what he termed a "new arrangement" implicitly in place of the 1994 deal, that would better constrain Pyongyang's ability to produce nuclear weapons.
Mr. Powell questioned whether nuclear power plants are the best way to provide North Korea with the energy it needs. Only foundation work has been done thus far for the plants provided for under the framework, and the multi-billion dollar project is years behind schedule.