Staff writer

What contributions can Latin American nations make to help ensure stability on the Korean Peninsula? The Japanese government believes their crude oil is the key.

For the past several months, Japan has been asking Mexico and Peru to contribute crude oil to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. Recently, Tokyo’s initiative led each country to ship oil worth $100,000.

KEDO is an international energy consortium created in 1995 to provide two 1,000-
megawatt light-water reactors to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang’s abandonment of its current nuclear programs. Light-water reactors are safer than the old graphite-moderated plants being developed by North Korea and are less likely to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

KEDO consists of 12 members, including the United States, Japan, South Korea and the European Union. Chile and Argentina are the only Latin American KEDO members.

“The idea of asking Latin American countries to contribute their oil to KEDO came out of concern that the annual target of securing 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil for North Korea might not be attained this year,” said Terusuke Terada, Japan’s ambassador to KEDO.

Under a 1994 agreement between Washington and Pyongyang, the U.S. is to provide North Korea with 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil annually via KEDO until the two light-water reactors start operations.

Construction of the reactors is financed mainly by South Korea and Japan. Of the estimated $4.6 billion cost, Seoul pledged $3.22 billion, or 70 percent of the cost, while Tokyo committed $1 billion.

“Despite the 1994 accord, however, the U.S. Congress has expressed reluctance this year in approving KEDO oil shipments,” Terada said. “They argue that President (Bill) Clinton has not been strict enough on North Korea’s nuclear and missile development attempts.”

Although it is believed that $50 million to $60 million is needed annually to cover the cost of providing North Korea with 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, only $35 million has been disbursed so far by the U.S. government this year and the rest is still under scrutiny by Congress, the envoy said.

“At present, the KEDO process is the only established way to discourage North Korea from obtaining nuclear capability for military purposes,” he said. “In order to keep the process going, it is vital to achieve the annual oil shipment target.”

Although Chile and Argentina are the only Latin American KEDO members, only Argentina contributed oil, $200,000 worth in 1996, to help attain that year’s target, according to Terada.

Japan’s concern was first conveyed by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi to Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo last November, when Zedillo visited Tokyo for a bilateral summit.

“We hoped that Mexico, as the second-largest oil producer in Latin America, shares our concern over stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Terada said. “We appreciate that President Zedillo responded positively to our request.”

After completing domestic procedures, the Mexican government offered 5,521 barrels of crude oil, worth $100,000, to KEDO early last month. The first shipment arrived Sept. 30 in Tokuyama, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Under the arrangement, KEDO sells the Mexican crude for $100,000 and then purchases heavy fuel oil for North Korea.

Manuel Uribe, Mexico’s ambassador to Japan, praised Tokyo’s initiative, saying Mexico, as a Pacific Rim nation, is pleased to contribute to peace efforts in Northeast Asia.

“The Japanese request came at the right time, since we were also concerned about stability in Northeastern Asia,” Uribe said. “As a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Mexico is always ready to lend a hand.”

What needs to be underlined is that the oil contribution was made as part of new bilateral cooperation between Japan and Mexico, Uribe said.

Following in Mexico’s footsteps, the Peruvian legislature approved a bill last month to contribute $100,000 worth of crude oil to KEDO. The oil is to be shipped soon.

Victor Aritomi, Peruvian ambassador to Japan, said the move was initiated by President Alberto Fujimori, who drafted the bill after visiting Japan in May for a bilateral summit.

“During President Fujimori’s Tokyo visit in May, Japanese officials asked him to cooperate with KEDO activities by offering Peruvian crude oil to help achieve KEDO’s annual oil shipment target to North Korea,” Aritomi said. “The president answered yes, saying Peru is a member of the Pacific family.”

As in the case of Mexico, Peru’s contribution of crude oil to KEDO is a new pattern of cooperation between the two sides of the Pacific to ensure peace and stability in Asia, Aritomi said.

While admitting the amount of oil pledged by Mexico and Peru is only a symbolic gesture this year, Terada said the government wants to add momentum to the new type of Latin American involvement in the KEDO process.

“In 1967, Latin American nations opened for signature the Treaty of Tlatelolco, a multilateral pact to make the whole region a nuclear weapons-free zone,” Terada said. “This fact makes us even confident of further Latin American support for KEDO.”

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