Press Briefing by Ambassador Robert Gallucci
The Briefing Room
5:13 P.M. EDT
AMBASSADOR GALLUCCI: I hope you all got that out of your system now, and you can be gentle with me.
I would like to make a few comments about the agreement itself. The President put it in a broader strategic context of our national interests in nonproliferation and regional security. I want to say a word or two about the substance of the agreement and then try to answer your questions.
The agreement goes to concerns we've had about the North Korean nuclear program with respect to past activities, current activities and future activities. The question of what North Korea did in the past, how much plutonium it separated, is the issue that arose between the IAEA doing its inspections and DPRK finding that it would not accept what they called special inspections. That was brought to the Security Council, and that resulted in a number of Security Council presidential statements and resolutions.
The question of what North Korea did in the past can be resolved by the IAEA only if the IAEA has the access to the information in sites it needs. Under the terms of the agreement, that access will be provided. The DPRK will agree to the implementation of its full-scope safeguards agreement and whatever is required by the IAEA, the IAEA deems necessary to resolve the question of the past.
The implementation of that portion of the framework document takes place over a period of time. The implementation must be completed before significant nuclear components of the first nuclear reactor that would be constructed in North Korea are delivered.
The agreement envisions the provision of two light-water reactors, and the first point I'm making is that in the course of the delivery of components for that reactor, before any nuclear components are delivered, the question of past nuclear activities and the full compliance of North Korea with its IAEA safeguards obligations will be taken care of, will be addressed.
That's the question of the past. With respect to the present, North Korea has an operating, small five-megawatt reactor that produced the plutonium, however much plutonium they now have, produced the spent fuel that is now in the storage pond which contains 25 to 30 kilograms of plutonium. North Korea has also a reprocessing facility that they have expanded in capacity. This is the most -- these are the most significant components of the current nuclear program.
Under the terms of the agreement the current nuclear program is frozen. That means that the five-megawatt reactor will not restart. That means that the reprocessing facility will be sealed and will not be operated again. That means that the fuel that is in the pond will stay in the pond. All these provisions will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the President said. That addresses the current problem of both further separation of plutonium from spent fuel and further production of plutonium in a nuclear reactor.
With respect to the future, the North Korean nuclear program includes two large gas graphite reactors, one rated at 50 megawatts electric, the other at 200 megawatts electric. If these reactors were to be completed, they would produce hundreds of kilograms of plutonium a year.
The spent fuel, as I said, that's in the pond, if that were to be reprocessed would right away be a source of plutonium for four or five nuclear weapons. This is the future problem that we are seeking to address, and under the agreement, the facilities that are under construction would be frozen. Under the agreement, all the facilities, the ones under construction and the ones currently existing in North Korea, would be dismantled over the course of the construction of the light-water reactor project.
The spent fuel that is in the pond not only will not be reprocessed, according to the terms of the framework document, but the North Koreans will agree to cooperate in the shipment of that spent fuel out of North Korea so there is no source of plutonium in North Korea.
This is the way in which we propose to address our concerns, as I said, grouping them into past, present and future.
The agreement, of course, provides that the North Koreans receive assistance from the international community in achieving legitimate energy objectives. A light-water reactor project roughly on the order of 2,000 megawatts or two 1,000 megawatt light-water reactors will be provided over a period of years. We would hope in the near-term to move to a contract phase and then for construction to begin.
As I think you know, we have -- the United States has been consulting with a number of governments about the financing of this project. We envision the Republic of Korea and Japan playing essential role in the financing and the construction of that facility.
In addition to the light-water reactor project, the framework document provides that the energy needs of North Korea that arise from the freezing and ultimate dismantlement of the nuclear reactors that would have produced energy, that those energy needs be addressed by the international community. Again, the United States will take the lead in supplying heavy oil over the next 10 years, or that period of time between now and when the light-water reactors might be expected to come on line. So we will, with other countries, attempt to meet the North Korean energy needs that they forego, energy that they forego as a result of the freezing of the reactors, either extant or under construction.
In addition, the framework document provides for what we call a negative security assurance, assuring that the United States, with respect to a party -- North Korea -- to the Nonproliferation Treaty will not, in essence, suffer the threat or use of nuclear weapons.
I think at this point I would stop. I would say with respect to the status of the agreement -- again, so you'll understand -- we are in ad referendum posture with respect to the agreement. As the President said, I would return on Friday for the purpose of signing the agreement.
Q: What would the agreement provide if, in the future, we find that they did in the past succeed in creating a bomb? What, if anything?
AMBASSADOR GALLUCCI: Let's start with -- the language of the agreement requires that the DPRK come in full compliance with its safeguards obligations and its treaty commitments. As a party to the Nonproliferation Treaty, North Korea cannot possess a nuclear weapon. There are other things it cannot do, but certainly it cannot possess a nuclear weapon. Under the terms of the agreement, if it has any plutonium, that plutonium would have to be subject to IAEA safeguards.
In the real world in which we live, we have had cases -- South Africa is one; Romania is another -- in which states have revised their declaration of nuclear material and come into full compliance.
If, in fact, it turns out as a result of inspections -- perhaps special inspections of those sites, if the agency at that time still requires it -- and if, as a result of those inspections they determine that there is additional plutonium that was not previously declared, the North Koreans would be obligated under the safeguards agreement to declare that material and have it subject to safeguards. Obviously, if the proposition is that they had produced a nuclear weapon, that nuclear weapon would have to be disbanded; material in it would have to be subject to IAEA safeguards.
Q: Do you really believe that that would happen? Do you really believe that they would, first of all, admit to what our own intelligence believes they already have and then dismantle it or permit it to be subject to safeguards?
AMBASSADOR GALLUCCI: I, in fact, don't know whether North Korea has a nuclear weapon. I don't know whether North Korea has enough plutonium, has separated enough plutonium for a nuclear weapon. There are good reasons why a technical analysis of the evidence available could lead one to conclude that they have more plutonium than they'd declared, and we certainly could not exclude the possibility that if they had more, they had enough for a nuclear weapon. We don't think they probably had enough for more than one, and we can't exclude the possibility that they constructed a nuclear weapon. All those are possibilities.
This agreement provides for the North Koreans to do a great many things that are in our nonproliferation interests, are in the interest of peace and security in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. It also provides for North Korea to receive a great deal in the way of things it values.
The light-water reactor project -- we are using a rough, round number of $4 billion to describe the value of that project. We are talking about, in the context of the agreement, an improved relationship with the United States and the rest of the international community; improved economic, political and diplomatic relations. The North Koreans are well aware that if they wish to move down that road they are going to have to reconcile themselves with the international nonproliferation community, and that means that the nuclear issue is truly going to have to be resolved. This agreement, I think, whatever one may say about it, leaves one with no doubt that those objectives cannot be achieved by them unless the nuclear issue is finally resolved. And it's the best way for me to answer that question.
Q: Did they agree to the principle, the general principle of special inspections, or is it specifically just the two suspect sites? In other words, at any point in the future, can there be -- would they agree to have special inspections?
AMBASSADOR GALLUCCI: The framework document has the North Koreans both agreeing to accept their obligations under their safeguards agreement, which provides for the concept analytically of special inspections, and also, with reference to questions about their initial inventory, to accept whatever measures the IAEA may deem necessary. We know so far what the IAEA has deemed necessary.
Q: Ambassador, how long will it take before the first special inspections of the two nuclear waste sites are completed? When will they begin and when will they be completed?
AMBASSADOR GALLUCCI: There are two way of answering your question. One is precisely in the way in which it is put in the framework document, and that is, to put it in terms of the particular point in the course of the construction of light-water reactor project. The framework document provides that before the DPRK can receive any significant nuclear equipment -- and that is generally defined as any equipment which is carried on the nuclear suppliers guidelines trigger list, any sensitive nuclear equipment for that nuclear reactor -- they must resolve the safeguards issue.
The question then can turn on the point of how many years in the course of the construction of a light-water reactor project in North Korea will pass before the point in the normal construction of a light-water reactor one could expect the delivery schedule to call for the delivery of significant nuclear components. We have been estimating, and this is just an estimate, that about five years is probably right. But there are an awful lot of assumptions about the infrastructure in the DPRK and about when we actually go to contract.
I want to make a point about this because I recognize that, as I say that we have achieved the objective of resolving the past, that some of you may think that five years is a long time to wait for that resolution. A couple of points about that.
First, the North Koreans have all along taken the position that they would never permit these inspections. I think you all know that. And they have, in the context of this settlement, moved substantially from that position to saying they would indeed accept the special inspections. That's the first point. We didn't lose anything in this agreement. We didn't have them accepting special inspections; we now do. And we have good reason, and we've provided a good incentive for them to make good on that commitment. That's the first point.
The second point is there are a lot of things that we cared about in terms of time that needed to happen quickly or not happen quickly. We wanted to make sure that that reactor didn't start up and start producing more plutonium. We wanted to make sure the spent fuel didn't move into the reprocessing plant. We wanted to make sure that they didn't finish the construction of those reactors. All that needed to happen immediately. And the framework agreement provides for all that to happen immediately.
It is one thing in a technical sense we didn't need to happen immediately -- that's special inspections. Those radioactive waste sites aren't going anywhere. The analysis that the agency would conduct at those sites can be conducted just as well five years from now as they can today.
This is not -- what I'm saying -- comparable to what the North Koreans did when they discharged the fuel from the reactor into the pond, if you remember, in May and June. That was a step that they took that caused some irrevocable damage to one of the methodologies of the IAEA to determine the past. In this situation, technically we can afford to wait. Politically, in the context of this agreement, we believe this is the right way to proceed.
Q: Ambassador Gallucci. Two things. Are you sure, A, that the spent fuel is still in the pond, and, B, are you confident that the IAEA will be able to find whatever it needs to find in the course of inspections, or can, as some people fear, certain things be well hidden?
AMBASSADOR GALLUCCI: Let's start with the first point. As some of you know, the International Atomic Energy Agency has had inspectors in continuous presence, which is quite an unusual safeguards measure, but in this circumstance, not one that any of us thought was inappropriate. So the inspectors are there and it is not hard to determine whether spent fuel bundles are sitting in a pond of water. That's been done, and they are still there.
And those inspections, as required by the IAEA to assure that there's no material diverted, will continue. There's nothing lost in terms of inspection presence, and we have no doubt about the capability of the Agency to do that -- in other words, to make sure the reactor doesn't start; to make sure the reprocessing plant is sealed and not used; to make sure the fuel stays in the pond. We're quite confident of that. Indeed, to make sure that the construction on those facilities is frozen. That's something that we, through our own national technical means, also can help confirm.
Now, with respect to the future activity, the Agency will have, under the framework document, the access it needs to do what is asked of it in the agreement. Those words are close to the words of the agreement. So I don't think we have any doubts about the Agency's capability to do what's being asked of it.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, you said that North Korea will get a great deal out of this agreement -- the $4-billion reactor, improved ties with the West -- for doing what they were supposed to do anyway under previous treaty obligations. Why should one not conclude that North Korea has successfully blackmailed the world? And why shouldn't a dictator in some other country take heart from this?
AMBASSADOR GALLUCCI: The assumption of the question is incorrect. The agreement provides for many things that the DPRK under its international obligations are not required to do. What the DPRK was required to do under its international obligations was to accept inspections as required by the IAEA, the so-called special inspections, and to come into compliance with its full-scope safeguards obligations. That is something that is required to do; And indeed, under this agreement, it must do.
But we were concerned about the reprocessing of the spent fuel. We were concerned about the production of more of this material in the reactors. We were concerned about the continued construction of reactors which would -- and this is no exaggeration -- produce over the next five or 10 years perhaps thousands of kilograms of plutonium, enough for hundreds and hundreds of nuclear weapons.
It may be difficult for a lot of people to comprehend, but all that activity, all that plutonium production, is not inconsistent with IAEA safeguards or NPT obligations. The only way to get at that nuclear program, which provides an opportunity to produce nuclear weapons, is to get the North Koreans to abandon its nuclear facilities. That is what the arrangement where the international community provides light water reactors -- that is the trade-off you should consider. That is how you should assess the assistance in alternative energy, conventional fuel. That is how you should assess the cooperation that the South Koreans and the Japanese and the rest of the countries who participate in that project should assess their willingness to do this in terms of their desire to get out a nuclear program which otherwise would have gone rampant.
Q: Why do you think they agreed to agree? And how much of a possibility would this have come about without the intervention of Jimmy Carter?
AMBASSADOR GALLUCCI: It seems to me -- let me take the last part of that question first -- that we were headed down the road to sanctions this summer; that that was a course that we were put on because of what the North Koreans had done in May and June. It appears that at that moment when we were, I think, moving successfully to get the necessary votes in the Security Council, President Carter went to North Korea, and then President Kim Il Sung decided that he would indeed freeze the program and go back to negotiating table. And I think President Carter played a key role in moving them from one position to another position.
That's a personal judgment, and I don't know that anybody really knows the answer to why the North Koreans do what they have done before, which is the beginning of the answer to the first part of your question of why did they do this now. I mean, in short, as I've always said, I don't know why, exactly. It seems to me that the North Koreans do have an interest in a political and economic opening. They do have long-term energy needs, and we are addressing those needs. They are giving up a nuclear program that posed an enormous risk to South Korea, to Japan, to Northeast Asia, and to the international nonproliferation regime.
I think this -- honestly think that this agreement is in their interest, but very much in the interests of South Korea, Japan and the United States and the rest of the world.
Thank you very much.
END 5:32 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Ambassador Robert Gallucci Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269494