High-level officials from Japan, the United States and South Korea agreed Saturday to continue consultations on whether to suspend the supply of heavy oil to North Korea.
The talks will be held until Thursday, when an international consortium to build nuclear reactors in North Korea holds its board meeting in New York.
During a regular Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group meeting in Tokyo, the U.S. side explained that some in the U.S. are calling for a halt to the supply of oil because Pyongyang admitted to covertly continuing a nuclear-weapons development program, in violation of international accords.
The U.S. delegation, headed by Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, said Washington has not made a final decision on the oil issue, according to Japanese officials.
Japan and South Korea called for a softer approach, citing fears that suspending oil shipments to North Korea may drive Pyongyang to harden its stance and push ahead with the nuclear program.
Japan was represented by Hitoshi Tanaka, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau. The South Korean delegation was headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae Sik.
The three countries decided to continue coordinating their policies to reach a consensus by Thursday, the date of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization board meeting in New York. The meeting is being held to make a final decision on the supply of oil for this month.
A tanker carrying this month’s oil is already en route to North Korea, but it could turn back if KEDO decides to suspend the supply.
Under a 1994 accord between the United States and North Korea, the U.S. agreed to provide North Korea with two light-water nuclear reactors and 500,000 tons of heavy oil each year until the reactors are completed. In return, Pyongyang promised to suspend its development of nuclear weapons.
Following the accord, KEDO was established. This meant Japan, South Korea and the European Union joined the U.S. as the main financial contributors to the reactor and oil projects.
Japan and South Korea reiterated their positions Saturday that KEDO and the 1994 accord were still effective as mechanisms to guard against North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.
But after the stunning revelation last month that North Korea was operating a program to enrich uranium, some U.S. officials said the 1994 accord was effectively dead. President George W. Bush, however, has not yet made such a decision.
In a joint press statement issued Saturday, the three countries reconfirmed that North Korea’s uranium enrichment program was a violation of the 1994 accord and other international agreements.
“The three delegations once again called upon North Korea to dismantle this program in a prompt and verifiable manner,” the statement said.
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