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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1194

Senator CARR —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. The minister would be aware that many Australians would be concerned about the prospect of nuclear proliferation. I refer to the current crisis on the Korean peninsula. What is the government's assessment of the prospect for resolution of this conflict?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The present crisis is about the failure of North Korea, the DPRK, to meet its treaty obligations to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency, and, through it, the international community, with information about its past nuclear activity. Of central concern at present is the DPRK's refusal to date to allow IAEA inspectors to undertake procedures during a defuelling operation that is presently going on at its main nuclear reactor at Pyongyang which would ensure that the agency would be able to undertake an effective analysis of the spent fuel rods at a later date. That analysis would allow the IAEA to reconstruct the operating history of the reactor to determine whether the DPRK has in the past retained undeclared spent fuel which could, if reprocessed to produce plutonium, be used in nuclear weapons.

  So far as present and future accumulation of nuclear material is concerned, as distinct from unravelling the past, the situation is somewhat less worrying. As of now, the agency, the IAEA, continues to have some safeguards arrangements in place for declared nuclear material in North Korea, including that which is now being unloaded from the reactor in question.

  In relation to the main current issue, on 30 May the UN Security Council issued a presidential statement, which was unanimously adopted, expressing in very strong terms the council's concern at the DPRK's action in continuing to defuel its main nuclear reactor and, as a result, putting at risk the past data. The Security Council is due to meet again on this issue tomorrow, Friday, 3 June, with the Director-General of the IAEA reporting to the council on the current situation.

  The basic question now in issue for the Security Council and for the international community to consider, if it is the case that historical data may be irretrievably lost, is whether to, in effect, draw the line on the past, concentrating efforts on ensuring that no further material is diverted for nuclear weapons production in the future, or whether not to draw a line, as it were, but rather to respond strongly, including through possible sanctions action, to the actions that have been taken by the DPRK to conceal its past activities.

  The matter immediately in issue is the future of a third round of high level talks between the United States and North Korea which were intended to take place shortly to allow discussion to begin on a wider package of political, economic and security issues and so lay the foundations for a longer term solution to the whole nuclear issue. Obviously, a great deal of discussion is now going on as to diplomatic options for resolving the current tensions.

  I say this about the military side of the equation: although there have been no recent indications of increased preparations for military hostilities on the Korean peninsula, the general level of tension has certainly not been helped in present circumstances by North Korea's very untimely test firing of a tactical anti-ship missile just a day or so ago, on 31 May. That missile is thought to be similar in design to the Chinese silkworm missile and of a type which is a fairly standard part of the inventories of most modern armed forces. The missile firing into the Sea of Japan was one of a series of tests which have been planned since early 1993.

  Finally, I say this: resolution of the DPRK nuclear issue is obviously of the highest security significance to Australia and the region. We remain committed to dialogue and negotiation as the best way to resolve the issue. We are urging constantly all key players, including the North Koreans, to take steps which will allow this to happen. But, failing this, we would, as I previously indicated in this place, support action agreed by the UN Security Council.