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U.S.-North Korea relations

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Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

North Korea joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state in 1985, and North and South Korean talks begun in 1990 resulted in a 1992 Denuclearization Statement. However, lack of progress in developing and implementing an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the inspection of the North's nuclear facilities led to North Korea's March 1993 announcement of its withdrawal from the NPT. A UN Security Council resolution in May 1993 urged the D.P.R.K. to cooperate with the IAEA and to implement the 1992 North-South Denuclearization Statement. It also urged all member states to encourage the D.P.R.K. to respond positively to this resolution and to facilitate a solution of the nuclear issue.

U.S.-D.P.R.K. talks beginning in June 1993 led, in October 1994, to the conclusion of the U.S.-D.P.R.K. Agreed Framework. The Agreed Framework called for the following steps:

  • North Korea agreed to freeze its existing nuclear program to be monitored by the IAEA;
  • Both sides agreed to cooperate to replace the D.P.R.K.'s graphite-moderated reactors with light water reactor (LWR) power plants, to be financed and supplied by an international consortium (later identified as the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization or KEDO);
  • The United States and the D.P.R.K. agreed to work together to store safely the spent fuel from the five-megawatt reactor and dispose of it in a safe manner that does not involve reprocessing in the D.P.R.K.;
  • The two sides agreed to move toward full normalization of political and economic relations;
  • Both sides agreed to work together for peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula; and
  • Both sides agreed to work together to strengthen the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

In accordance with the terms of the Agreed Framework, in January 1995 the U.S. Government eased economic sanctions against North Korea in response to North Korea's decision to freeze its nuclear program and cooperate with United States and IAEA verification efforts. North Korea agreed to accept the decisions of KEDO, the financier and supplier of the LWRs, with respect to provision of the reactors. KEDO subsequently identified Sinpo as the LWR project site and held a groundbreaking ceremony in August 1997. In December 1999, KEDO and the (South) Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) signed the Turnkey Contract (TKC), permitting fullscale construction of the LWRs. In January 1995, as called for in the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework, the United States and D.P.R.K. negotiated a method to store safely the spent fuel from the five-megawatt reactor. According to this method, U.S. and D.P.R.K. operators would work together to can the spent fuel and store the canisters in the spent fuel pond. Actual canning began in 1995. In April 2000, canning of all accessible spent fuel rods and rod fragments was declared complete.

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In 1998, the United States identified an underground site in Kumchang-ni, D.P.R.K., which it suspected of being nuclear-related. In March 1999, after several rounds of negotiations, the United States and D.P.R.K. agreed that the U.S. would be granted "satisfactory access" to the underground site at Kumchang-ni. In October 2000, during Special Envoy Jo Myong Rok's visit to Washington, and after two visits to the site by teams of U.S. experts, the U.S. announced in a Joint Communiqué with the D.P.R.K. that U.S. concerns about the site had been resolved.

As called for in Dr. William Perry's official review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, the United States and the D.P.R.K. launched new negotiations in May 2000 called the Agreed Framework Implementation Talks.

North Korea policy under George W. Bush

Following the inauguration of President George W. Bush in January 2001, the new Administration began a review of North Korea policy. At the conclusion of that review, the Administration announced on June 6, 2001, that it had decided to pursue continued dialogue with North Korea on the full range of issues of concern to the Administration, including North Korea's conventional force posture, missile development and export programs, human rights practices, and humanitarian issues. In 2002, the Administration also became aware that North Korea was developing a uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons purposes. U.S.-D.P.R.K. tensions mounted, however, when Bush categorized North Korea as part of the "Axis of Evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address.

When U.S.-D.P.R.K. direct dialogue resumed in October 2002, this uranium- enrichment program was high on the U.S. agenda. North Korean officials acknowledged to a U.S. delegation, headed by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James A. Kelly, the existence of the uranium enrichment program. Such a program violated North Korea's obligations under the NPT and its commitments in the 1992 North-South Denuclearization Declaration and the 1994 Agreed Framework. The U.S. side stated that North Korea would have to terminate the program before any further progress could be made in U.S.-D.P.R.K. relations. The U.S. side also made clear that if this program were verifiably eliminated, the U.S. would be prepared to work with North Korea on the development of a fundamentally new relationship. In November 2002, the members of KEDO agreed to suspend heavy fuel oil shipments to North Korea pending a resolution of the nuclear dispute.

In December 2002, Spanish troops boarded and detained a shipment of Scud missiles from North Korea destined for Yemen, at the United States' request. After two days, the United States released the ship to continue its shipment to Yemen. This further strained the relationship between the US and North Korea, with North Korea characterizing the boarding an "act of piracy."

In late 2002 and early 2003, North Korea terminated the freeze on its existing plutonium-based nuclear facilities, expelled IAEA inspectors and removed seals and monitoring equipment, quit the NPT, and resumed reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium for weapons purposes. North Korea subsequently announced that it was taking these steps to provide itself with a deterrent force in the face of U.S. threats and the U.S.' "hostile policy." Beginning in mid-2003, the North repeatedly claimed to have completed reprocessing of the spent fuel rods previously frozen at Yongbyon and later publicly said that the resulting fissile material would be used to bolster its "nuclear deterrent force." There is no independent confirmation of North Korea's claims.

President Bush has claimed that the United States has no plans at this time to invade North Korea now or in the forseable future. He also claims that the United States intends to make every effort to achieve a peaceful end to North Korea's nuclear program in cooperation with North Korea's neighbors, who have also expressed concern over the threat to regional stability and security they believe it poses. The Bush Administration's claimed goal is the complete, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. North Korea's neighbors have joined the United States in supporting a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula.

Beginning in early 2003, the United States proposed multilateral talks among the most concerned parties aimed at reaching a settlement through diplomatic means. North Korea initially opposed such a process, maintaining that the nuclear dispute was purely a bilateral matter between the United States and the D.P.R.K.. However, under pressure from its neighbors and with the active involvement of the People's Republic of China, North Korea agreed to three-party talks with China and the United States in Beijing in April 2003 and to six-party talks with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia in August 2003, also in Beijing. A second round of six-party talks was under discussion in late 2003. During the August 2003 round of six-party talks, North Korea agreed to the eventual elimination of its nuclear programs if the United States were first willing to sign a bilateral "nonaggression treaty" and meet various other conditions, including the provision of substantial amounts of aid and normalization of relations. The North Korean proposal was unacceptable to the United States, which insisted on a multilateral resolution to the issue, and refused to provide benefits or incentives for North Korea to abide by its previous international obligations. In October 2003, President Bush said he would be willing to consider a multilateral written security guarantee in the context of North Korea's complete, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of its nuclear weapons program. In early 2005, US government mislead its East Asia allies that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. This backfired when the Asia allies discovered that US government had concealed involvement of Pakistan, a key U.S. ally was the weapon's middle man. In March 2005, Condoleezza Rice had to travel to East Asia in a effort to repair the damage.

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