Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Agence France-Presse ("SKOREA WANTS TO SUSPEND, NOT END, NKOREA POWER PROJECT: FOREIGN MINISTER," 11/05/03) reported that ROK Foreign Minister Yoon Young-Kwan said his government wants a one-year suspension, not an end, to a multi-billion dollar energy project in the DPRK. Yoon's remarks came after the US, Japan, the ROK and the European Union met inconclusively in New York this week to discuss the fate of the controversial project. "Our government's position is to temporarily suspend it for one year. That means work could resume after one year," Yoon said during a briefing here. An international consortium, called KEDO, set up to build two nuclear reactors for North Korea under a now ruptured 1994 pact on Tuesday delayed a decision on a US request to suspend the 3.72-billion-dollar project. Executive members of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO) consortium which groups the US, Japan, the ROK and the European Union instead decided to reach an agreement by November 21.
This move may make sense in the short-term diplomatic arena but I have my doubts about the long-term implications. Most now acknowledge that KEDO and the construction of light-water reactors were acceptable to the U.S. and Japan (major financial backers of the project) because they believed that North Korea wouldn't be around to see the completion of the project. So why not offer a sop to North Korea's conceit that the issue of nuclear power plants is really an energy issue and not a proliferation one? But North Korea is still here and all indications are that in the unlikely event that the light-water reactors are completed in a still existing North Korea, they will be next to useless for energy purposes (the antiquated and crumbling North Korean power grid isn't able to use most if not all the energy the reactors would generate). The other way in which KEDO was a sop to the DPRK was that it fed the conceit that North Korea is a major power in the world, and major developed powers have nuclear power plants (if not nuclear weapons). I think that many in the DPRK would be stunned if they ever found out how insignificant North Korea is in the minds of most people in the world and how few in the developed world share the North Koreans' high opinions of their leaders and themselves. So if Seoul wants to continue the charade either because it sees it as a part of continuing engagement or because it looks forward to the day when it, as the capital of a unified Korea, gets two more power plants, it would make sense to me to have Seoul foot the entire bill.

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