The United States and North Korea have reached tentative understandings aimed at carrying out an accord to halt the North’s suspected nuclear weapons program, U.S. officials said Saturday.
“We understand that today in Kuala Lumpur some tentative understandings were reached between the two sides,” Robert Gallucci, the State Department official in charge of the nuclear issue, said during a news conference Saturday. But he cautioned that “the Devil is in the details” and that “we are not finished yet.”
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where talks have been underway for three weeks, a North Korean official also told reporters that a “tentative understanding” had been reached and that negotiators for both nations would now refer the matter back to their capitals.
But obstacles to a final agreement still remain in Seoul. South Korean officials say the proposed accord does not go far enough in specifying that South Korea will play a central role in providing light-water nuclear reactors to the North.
In an effort to allay those concerns, President Clinton telephoned President Kim Young Sam of South Korea last week and then dispatched to Seoul Gallucci, whose title is ambassador at large, and Winston Lord, the assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs.
They met Saturday with Kim, Foreign Minister Gong Ro Myung and other South Korean leaders.
But after a day of what Lord called “extensive and productive discussions,” it appeared that South Korea has not been fully mollified.
Under the agreement signed by Washington and Pyongyang in Geneva last October, North Korea will give up its existing nuclear program, which the United States believes is aimed at developing weapons, in exchange for the modern light-water reactors that produce less of the type of plutonium that can be used to make nuclear weapons.
The United States and South Korea have insisted that South Korean reactors be used because Seoul has pledged to pay the bulk of the $4 billion for the project. But North Korea has balked at accepting technology from its archenemy.