Dáil debates

Tuesday, 8 March 2005

Other Questions.

Nuclear Weapons Programme.

2:30 pm

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Question 63: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Irish and European position towards the existing situation which pertains in North Korea with regard to the threat of nuclear weapons being developed in that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7734/05]

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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Question 135: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's views on recent statements from North Korea relating to its nuclear capability and the withdrawal from talks by that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7622/05]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 63 and 135 together.

The issue of the nuclear programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK, is kept under close and regular scrutiny within the European Union. The International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, has the responsibility of carrying out inspections of nuclear and related facilities under the safeguards agreements which are mandatory for states party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, which the DPRK ratified in 1985. However, following the expulsion of the IAEA inspectors on 31 December 2002, the agency has been unable to draw conclusions regarding the nuclear activities in that country.

In January 2003, the DPRK went further and announced its withdrawal from the NPT. However, the IAEA board of governors, in a resolution of February 2003, confirmed that the agency's safeguards agreement with the DPRK remained binding and in force. It called upon the DPRK to remedy its non-compliance by taking all steps deemed necessary by the agency.

At the most recent meeting of the IAEA annual general conference in September 2004, a further resolution noted with concern the repeated official DPRK statements declaring its intention to build up a nuclear deterrent force. This resolution urged the DPRK to reconsider those actions and announcements and to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons programme in a prompt, transparent, verifiable and irreversible manner.

At the same meeting, the European Union expressed its concern that the IAEA had not been able to carry out its verification activities and, therefore, was not in a position to confirm that nuclear material had not been diverted to non-peaceful uses. The EU called for the DPRK's compliance with its safeguards agreement with the IAEA and full implementation of all the required safeguard measures, including the return of IAEA inspectors.

The issue of the DPRK's nuclear programme is also being addressed within the framework of the six-party talks process. This involves China, the DPRK, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States. Three rounds of talks have taken place since the process was initiated in 2003. However, on 10 February last, the DPRK announced that it has produced and now possesses nuclear weapons and that it is to suspend its participation in the six-party talks for an indefinite period. The international community has expressed serious concern at these developments and strenuous diplomatic efforts to convince the DPRK to return to the talks process are under way.

The DPRK was the subject of discussion most recently at last week's meeting of the IAEA board of governors in Vienna. Here, the EU strongly condemned the DPRK's announcement of 10 February last and again urged it to completely dismantle any nuclear weapons programme in a prompt manner. The EU also indicated its support for the efforts of the IAEA director general to enter into dialogue with the DPRK, with a view to restoring the verification role of the IAEA.

In a subsequent statement issued on 3 March, the IAEA board of governors expressed serious concern over the DPRK statement of 10 February and made clear that the DPRK nuclear issue was a serious challenge to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, as well as to the peace and stability of north-east Asia. The board emphasised the importance of continued dialogue to achieve a peaceful and comprehensive solution of the DPRK issue and in this regard said it attached great importance to the crucial role played by the six-party talks. The board strongly encouraged all parties to redouble their efforts to facilitate a resumption of the six-party talks at an early date and without preconditions.

Ireland, together with its partners in the EU, supports the six-party talks process and urges the DPRK to co-operate with the international community to find a solution to the nuclear issue. While not directly involved in these talks, the EU has availed of every opportunity to confirm the Union's willingness to contribute to the international efforts to move matters forward. The Union has also indicated its readiness to consider enhanced co-operation with the DPRK if the current difficult situation can be resolved in a satisfactory manner.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Is it the Minister's understanding that the non-proliferation agreement involves the reduction in nuclear capacity of those with existing nuclear capacity as well as the prohibition of the extension of nuclear capacity to countries such as the DPRK? I agree with the Minister that such developments could be seriously destabilising to the region. How does the six-nation approach in the case of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea contrast with the approach on, for example, developments in Iran?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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It is accepted that the authorities in the DPRK have difficulties regarding the participation of the US in the six-party talks. Regarding Iran, the talks are led by three countries of the EU and the US is supporting the talks and the diplomatic efforts in that respect. That situation is moving along fruitfully. The DPRK situation is somewhat different and more worrying. Talks are taking place. China and the US are engaged in talks in Seoul as we speak. The British Ambassador, as the representative of the EU in the DPRK has made strenuous efforts to get the DPRK authorities back into the six-party talks. Those efforts will continue.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Does the Minister agree with my interpretation of the non-proliferation agreement that it was always the intention that there would be a reduction in existing nuclear capacity?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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In view of the Minister's statement that the North Korean Government expelled the nuclear inspectorate in 2002, is it not strange that he decided to set up diplomatic relations with that country? How can he justify the decision to set up diplomatic relations with North Korea in those circumstances? I do not understand the Minister's defence of his decision, which was that Ireland had the Presidency of the European Union and was forced to do so. I cannot accept that as a defence. Our foreign policy should be based on our own beliefs and needs. We should not be bounced into arrangements with countries such as North Korea and Burma because of our Presidency of the European Union. How can the Minister justify a decision to set up diplomatic relations with a country that only a short time previously expelled the nuclear inspectorate?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I disagree with the Deputy's "head in the sand" philosophy. There are parameters with which any normal nation must concur. However, I concur with the decision to open diplomatic relations with countries such as Burma and the DPRK on our own terms.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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It is the Minister who has his head in the sand.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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We had the Presidency of the EU and in that role we had a duty. Perhaps some day the Deputy will have that opportunity, although it will be 2030 and he may be retired by then or Fine Gael may not be in power.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister should not hold his breath.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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When a country has the Presidency of the EU it must be able to deal on a one-to-one basis with countries outside its normal sphere of interests. It was decided that it would be better to have diplomatic relations with Burma and the DPRK. When our ambassador to North Korea, who is non-residential and operates from Seoul, met the DPRK authorities he made all the relevant points on issues such as human rights and the non-proliferation treaty on our behalf. He would not have been able to make those points if we did not have diplomatic relations with the DPRK. I do not, therefore, accept the Deputy's "head in the sand" attitude in that regard, and God help Ireland if he is ever in charge of foreign policy.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I do not understand the Minister's schizophrenic attitude to foreign policy. On the one hand he states we must have diplomatic relations in order to discuss issues on which we differ. On the other, the Minister has broken off relations by not proceeding to set up diplomatic links. The Minister cannot have it both ways. I do not understand his line of reasoning. The Government made rash decisions on which the Minister had to rapidly backtrack because of the gross records of those two countries.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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In view of the indications previously given by the Burmese authorities regarding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the participation of her party in the National Convention of Burma, and given that we were going to set up relations which would have been of mutual benefit to both countries, what better way is there of getting our point across on the issues in question than by not proceeding with the setting up of those relations?

When we set up diplomatic relations with the DPRK, the situation was not as drastic as it is today. Our ambassador has indicated our views very strongly to the authorities there. I do not, therefore, accept the Deputy's "head in the sand" attitude. I believe in discussion. It is far better for us as a small neutral nation that punches far above its size and that is regarded as an honest broker and respected in most of the corners of the world to be there using our influence. It is better that we should start relations with countries where there are difficulties on human rights issues etc. so that we can at least exert influence at the table in that respect.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister asked me a question. May I answer it?

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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No. The purpose of Question Time is for Members to ask the Minister questions, not the other way around.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I would not concede anything to such countries until they carried out their promises. The Minister was sold a sucker. It is not the first time the Minister made a bad error.