Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

South Korea and US extend nuclear agreement

The US and South Korea are extending for two years their current civilian nuclear agreement and postponing a contentious decision on whether Seoul will be allowed to reprocess spent fuel as it seeks to expand its atomic energy industry.

WASHINGTON // The US and South Korea are extending for two years their current civilian nuclear agreement and postponing a contentious decision on whether Seoul will be allowed to reprocess spent fuel as it seeks to expand its atomic energy industry.

Wednesday's announcement is a setback to South Korea's new leader, Park Geun-hye, who had made revision of the 39-year-old treaty one of her top election pledges, but it alleviates a potential disagreement between the allies when Ms Park visits Washington in two weeks to meet President Barack Obama.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the extension will provide more time for the two governments to complete the complex negotiations on a successor agreement that will recommence in June.

"These are very technical talks, and both parties felt that we needed more time," he told reporters.

South Korea is the world's fifth-largest nuclear energy producer and is planning to expand domestic use of nuclear power and exports of nuclear reactors. But its radioactive waste storage is filling up, so it wants to be able to reprocess spent plutonium. It also wants to be able enrich uranium, a process that uranium must undergo to become a viable nuclear fuel. Currently, South Korea has to get countries such as the US and France to do its enrichment.

Revising the agreement is a sensitive matter as the same technologies can also be used to develop nuclear weapons. Washington has historically opposed allowing reprocessing and enrichment by its nuclear partners so as to prevent proliferation of the technology. The issue has added sensitivity on the divided Korean Peninsula because of North Korea's active pursuit of such weapons and international demands it desist.

Victor Cha at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank said the US and South Korea had been deadlocked after two years of negotiations on a revised agreement and showing little inclination for compromise. Failure to extend the current agreement would have had a major impact on both the US and South Korean nuclear industries, and would have been a blow to the Washington-Seoul alliance, he said.

"Punting the negotiations down the road for two years is advisable, benefits industry by creating some sense of predictability, and is politically neutral," Mr Cha wrote in a commentary on Wednesday.

The current agreement, last amended in 1974, expires in March 2014. Its renewal has to be submitted to Congress by this summer for approval.

South Korea is a staunch US ally hosting American forces. The relationship was founded on strong security ties but expanded last year when a landmark free trade pact came into effect.

Ms Park will visit the White House on May 7. She will also address a joint meeting of Congress.

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National