SEOUL — After more than four years of low-key yet highly sensitive negotiations, the United States and South Korea announced a revised treaty Wednesday that continues to deny — but not permanently rule out — South Korea the right to enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel, even for peaceful purposes.
South Korea has been prevented from enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel, technologies used by countries such as North Korea to make nuclear weapons, under a 1972 treaty in which the United States helped South Korea build its nascent nuclear energy industry.
The two governments started negotiations in 2010 to rewrite the treaty, which was originally set to expire in 2013. But their differences were too big to resolve, leading them to sign a separate deal to extend the expiration date.
South Korea insisted in the talks that it needed to enrich uranium to produce fuel for its fast-expanding nuclear energy industry. It also wanted to reprocess spent fuel to reduce its nuclear waste storage.
But the United States maintained that allowing South Korea to employ those technologies, even for peaceful purposes, would set a bad precedent and undermine its global efforts to discourage the spread of activities that can be used to produce weapons-usable nuclear materials.
Both sides announced Wednesday that they had completed the bargaining, with the US ambassador, Mark Lippert, and Park Ro-byug, the chief South Korean negotiator, initialing the text in Seoul. The agreement is subject to review by the US Congress.
NEW YORK TIMES