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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

1994 Agreed Framework

In 1994 the United States seriously considered using force to halt the North Korean development of nuclear weapons. A diplomatic solution was brokered and with the participation of Japan and South Korea, the United States agreed to supply fuel oil and build light-water reactors in exchange for North Korean cessation of nuclear weapons development.

In a major initiative in July 1988, South Korean President Roh Tae Woo called for new efforts to promote North-South exchanges, family reunification, inter-Korean trade, and contact in international forums. Roh followed up this initiative in a UN General Assembly speech in which South Korea offered for the first time to discuss security matters with the North. Initial meetings that grew out of Roh's proposals started in September 1989. In September 1990, the first of eight prime minister-level meetings between North Korean and South Korean officials took place in Seoul, beginning an especially fruitful period of dialogue. The prime ministerial talks resulted in two major agreements: the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation (the "basic agreement") and the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (the "joint declaration").

In late 1991, North and South Korea signed the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation and the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Joint Declaration called for a bilateral nuclear inspection regime to verify the denuclearization of the peninsula. The Declaration, which came into force on 19 February 1992, states that the two sides "shallnot test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deployor use nuclear weapons," and that they "shall not possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities." A procedure for inter-Korean inspection was to be organized and a North-South Joint Nuclear Control Commission (JNCC) was mandated with verification of the denuclearization of the peninsula.

On 30 January 1992, the DPRK also signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA, as it had pledged to do in 1985 when acceding to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This safeguards agreement allowed IAEA inspections to begin in June 1992. In March 1992, the JNCC was established in accordance with the joint declaration, but subsequent meetings failed to reach agreement on the main issue of establishing a bilateral inspection regime.

When North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Kim Tal-Hyon visited South Korea for economic talks in July 1992, President Roh Tae Woo announced that full North-South Economic Cooperation would not be possible without resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. There was little progress toward the establishment of an inspection regime, and dialogue between the South and North stalled in the fall of 1992.

The North's agreement to accept IAEA safeguards initiated a series of IAEA inspections of North Korea's nuclear facilities. This promising development was halted by the North's refusal in January 1993 to allow special inspections of two unreported facilities suspected of holding nuclear waste. Ignoring the South-North Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, North Korea refused IAEA inspections and operated nuclear reprocessing facilities, making the world suspicious of its nuclear intentions.

Lack of progress on implementation of the denuclearization accord triggered actions on both sides that led to North Korea's March 12, 1993, announcement of its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The North's threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) brought North-South progress to an abrupt halt. Tensions ran high on the Korean Peninsula as the confrontation between North Korea and the United States deepened.

The UN Security Council, on 11 May 1993, passed a resolution urging the DPRK to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to implement the 1991 North-South denuclearization accord. It also urged all member states to encourage the DPRK to respond positively to this resolution and to facilitate a solution.

The US responded by holding political-level talks with the DPRK in early June 1993 that led to a joint statement outlining the basic principles for continued US-DPRK dialogue and North Korea's "suspending" its withdrawal from the NPT. A second round of talks was held July 14-19, 1993, in Geneva. The talks set the guidelines for resolving the nuclear issue, improving U.S.-North Korean relations, and restarting inter-Korean talks, but further negotiations deadlocked.

Finally, an Agreed Framework was signed between the US and North Korea in Geneva on 21 October 1994 , capping the on-and-off bilateral negotiations which altogether had lasted for more than a year and a half.

As part of the 1994 agreement, North Korea agreed not to restart its 5-megawatt reactor, sealing the facility. It was not to reprocess the spent fuel from the 5-megawatt reactor, rather ship it out of the country. Secondly, Pyongyang agreed to freeze construction of its 50 and 200 megawatt reactors and of its reprocessing plant. Thirdly, North Korea agreed to fully disclose its past nuclear activity and open facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency officials. Finally North Korea was to remain a member in good standing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Following the DPRK's spring 1994 unloading of fuel from its five-megawatt nuclear reactor and the resultant US push for UN sanctions, former President Carter's visit to Pyongyang in June 1994 helped to defuse tensions and resulted in renewed South-North talks. A third round of talks between the US and the DPRK opened in Geneva on July 8, 1994. However, the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, on July 8, 1994, halted plans for a first ever South-North presidential summit and led to another period of inter-Korean animosity. The talks were recessed upon news of the death of North Korean President Kim Il Sung, then resumed in August.

Finally, an Agreed Framework was signed between the US and North Korea in Geneva on 21 October 1994 , capping the on-and-off bilateral negotiations which altogether had lasted for more than a year and a half. The 1994 framework calls for the following steps:

  • North Korea agreed to freeze its existing nuclear program under enhanced IAEA safeguards.
  • Both sides agreed to cooperate to replace the D.P.R.K.'s graphite-moderated reactors for related facilities with light-water (LWR) power plants.
  • The two sides agreed to move toward full normalization of political and economic relations.
  • Both sides will work together for peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
  • Both sides agreed to work together to strengthen the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The framework agreement is essentially aimed at eliminating North Korea's ability to make nuclear arms. It also allows the two countries to move toward finally establishing normal political and economic relations. The crisis over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program has been defused to a certain degree, but difficult talks and negotiations still lie ahead to resolve the issue and settle permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Under the framework agreement, the North would freeze and eventually dismantle its existing suspect nuclear program, including the 50 MW and 200 MW graphite-moderated reactors under construction, as well as its existing 5 MW reactor and nuclear fuel reprocessing facility. In return, Pyongyang would be provided with alternative energy, initially in the form of heavy oil, and eventually two proliferation-resistant light water reactors (LWR). The two 1,000 MW light-water nuclear reactors would be safer and would produce much less plutonium (the key material for atomic weapons), in order to help boost the supply of electricity in the North, which is now in a critical shortage. The agreement also included gradual improvement of relations between the US and the DPRK, and committed North Korea to engage in South-North dialogue.

At the time of the 1994 accord, the CIA estimated that North Korea had produced enough plutonium to manufacture 1-2 nuclear devices.

In accordance with the terms of the 1994 framework, the US Government in January 1995 responded to North Korea's decision to freeze its nuclear program and cooperate with US and IAEA verification efforts by easing economic sanctions against North Korea in four areas through:

  • Authorizing transactions related to telecommunications connections, credit card use for personal or travel-related transactions, and the opening of journalists' offices;
  • Authorizing D.P.R.K. use of the U.S. banking system to clear transactions not originating or terminating in the United States and unblocking frozen assets where there is no D.P.R.K. Government interest;
  • Authorizing imports of magnesite, a refractory material used in the U.S. steel industry--North Korea and China are the world's primary sources of this raw material; and
  • Authorizing transactions related to future establishment of liaison offices, case-by-case participation of U.S. companies in the light water reactor project, supply of alternative energy, and disposition of spent nuclear fuel as provided for by the agreed framework, in a manner consistent with applicable laws.

A few weeks after the signing of the Agreed Framework, President Kim loosened restrictions on South Korean firms desiring to pursue business opportunities with the North. Although North Korea continued to refuse official overtures by the South, economic contacts appeared to be expanding gradually.

Smooth implementation of the 1994 agreed framework was obstructed for a time by North Korea's refusal to accept South Korean-designed LWR model reactors. US and DPRK negotiators met for three weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and on June 12, 1995, reached an accord resolving this issue. North Korea agreed to accept the decisions of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) with respect to the model for the LWRs and agreed that KEDO would select a prime contractor to carry out the LWR project. The KEDO executive board announced that it had selected the South Korean-designed Ulchin 3-4 LWR as the reference model for the project and that a South Korean firm would be the prime contractor. The South Korean prime contractor would be responsible for all aspects of the LWR project including design, manufacture, construction, and management. In this Kuala Lumpur accord to the 1994 Geneva agreed framework, the DPRK also agreed to negotiate directly with KEDO on all outstanding issues related to the LWR project. On December 15, 1995, KEDO and the DPRK signed the Light Water Reactor Supply Agreement. KEDO teams have also made a number of trips to North Korea to survey the proposed reactor site; in the spring of 1996, KEDO and the DPRK began negotiations on implementing protocols to the supply agreement.

Pyongyang cooperated with Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, whose leading members are South Korea, the United States and Japan. KEDO reached an agreement on the provision of the light-water nuclear reactors by 2003, and, in return, North Korea froze its nuclear program. South Korea, which promised to bear the lion's share of the reactor project cost estimated at US$4.5 billion, asked the United States to put up at least a symbolic amount. The US administration, however, said it can make no contribution to the construction cost as Congress has not appropriated the necessary budget. An official in Seoul, however, said that South Korea cannot drop its demand simply because of domestic problems in the United States. The US Congress has been delaying approval of the cost for the reactor project. South Korean officials said the U.S. refusal to share the reactor cost would make it difficult for them to obtain approval from the National Assembly for the South Korean share.

Since the conclusion of the Supply Agreement in December 1995, six related protocols have come into effect and three rounds of expert-level negotiations have produced solid results. The ROK power company, Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), is the prime contractor for this project and has as its responsibility the design, manufacture, procurement, construction and management of the reactors. On 19 August 1997 KEDO and North Korea held a groundbreaking ceremony to begin construction of two light-water reactors.

If the two light-water reactors (LWRs) slated to be built in North Korea were operated to optimize power production, they would discharge about 500 kilograms of reactor-grade plutonium a year in highly radioactive spent fuel.

North Korea, most of all, had kept its pledge to freeze all of its nuclear facilities, including nuclear reactors and a reprocessing plant. The United States and North Korea have already taken measures to ease their economic embargoes against each other in order to pave the way for future economic exchanges necessary for carrying out the nuclear reactor project.

A more imminent issue for the three countries is how to finance the provision of heavy fuel oil to the North as interim energy until the completion of the light-water reactor power plant. Washington, which promised to bear the cost of the fuel oil, is having difficulties in raising the money.

On 07 August 2002 the Bush administration renewed their insistence that Pyongyang cooperate immediately with inspectors of the the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, to determine how much plutonium North Korea had produced. However, the North is not obliged to do so until 2005, when construction of the reactor nears completion.

Following the October 2002 revelations concerning North Korea's uranium program, First Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju [who was the chief North Korean negotiator of the Agreed Framework], describe its status as hanging by "a thread." He confirmed that North Korea believes it is still in force, though if the United States stops delivering the fuel oil, the agreement would cease to exist.

On 13 November 2002 President Bush decided to halt future shipments of heavy fuel oil to North Korea, pending verifiable steps to dismantle the newly disclosed uranium enrichment program.

On 21 November North Korea said that the 1994 pact with the United States to freeze the communist state's nuclear program had collapsed. The announcement followed the decision by Washington and its allies to cut oil supplies to Pyongyang.

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