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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Nuclear Nonproliferation

The U.S. Atomic Energy Act Section 123 At a Glance

April 2019

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: April 2019

Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954 establishes the conditions and outlines the process for major nuclear cooperation between the United States and other countries. In order for a country to enter into such an agreement with the United States, that country must commit to a set of nine nonproliferation criteria. As of January 15, 2019, the United States has entered into 26 nuclear cooperation agreements that govern nuclear cooperation with 49 countries, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Taiwan. 

The nine nonproliferation criteria for section 123 agreements are as follows:

  • Nuclear material and equipment transferred to the country must remain under safeguards in perpetuity.
  • Non-nuclear-weapon states partners must have full-scope IAEA safeguards, essentially covering all major nuclear facilities.
  • A guarantee that transferred nuclear material, equipment, and technology will not have any role in nuclear weapons development or any other military purpose, except in the case of cooperation with nuclear-weapon states.
  • In the event that a non-nuclear-weapon state partner detonates a nuclear device using nuclear material produced or violates an IAEA safeguards agreement, the United States has the right to demand the return of any transfers.
  • U.S. consent is required for any re-transfer of material or classified data.
  • Nuclear material transferred or produced as a result of the agreement is subject to adequate physical security.
  • U.S. prior consent rights to the enrichment or reprocessing of nuclear material obtained or produced as a result of the agreement.
  • Prior U.S. approval is required for highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium obtained or produced as a result of the agreement.  An agreement permitting enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) using U.S. provided material requires separate negotiation.
  • The above nonproliferation criteria apply to all nuclear material or nuclear facilities produced or constructed as a result of the agreement.

Section 123 requires that the Department of State submit a Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement (NPAS) explaining how the nuclear cooperation agreement meets these nonproliferation conditions. Congress has a total of 90 days in continuous session to consider the agreement, after which it automatically becomes law unless Congress adopts a joint resolution opposing it.

The President may exempt a proposed agreement from any of the above criteria upon determination maintaining such a criteria would be “seriously prejudicial to the achievement of U.S. non-proliferation objectives or otherwise jeopardize the common defense of the United States.” Exempted 123 agreements would then go through a different process than non-exempt agreements, requiring a congressional joint resolution approving the agreement for it to become law. There are no 123 agreements in force that were adopted with such exemptions.

In 2006, Congress passed the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act which amended the AEA to permit nuclear cooperation with India, a country which is not a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and does not maintain full-scope safeguards. The Hyde amendment has been criticized for undermining U.S. international counterproliferation efforts. The 40-year 123 agreement with India came into force in December 2008.

Most recently, the United States negotiated and signed new agreements with the United Arab Emirates in 2009 (notable for having “gold standard” provisions) and Vietnam in 2014 and signed new agreements to replace existing ones with Australia in 2010, Taiwan in 2013 (which also included “gold standard” provisions), China and South Korea in 2015, and Norway in 2016. “Gold standard” provisions refer to a country agreeing to forgo enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear material.

The Trump administration submitted signed new 123 agreements with Mexico and the United Kingdom to Congress in May 2018. The United Kingdom was previously covered under the U.S.-European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) 123 agreement, but after the UK withdraws from the European Union, the bilateral agreement between the U.S. and the EU will take effect. Japan’s agreement technically expired in 2018, but renewal terms dictate that the agreement shall remain in force until terminated by a party.

The Trump administration is currently negotiating a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. The next agreement which will expire without renewal terms in place (which could trigger an easier automatic renewal without the need to renegotiate or resubmit the agreement to Congress) will be with Egypt in December 2021.

For more information on individual agreements, see the "Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer," by the Congressional Research Service.

The "Gold Standard"

A 123 agreement alone does not permit countries to enrich or reprocess nuclear material acquired from the United States and permission to do so requires a further negotiated agreement.  A debate is currently underway in the nonproliferation community over the “gold standard,” named so following the U.S.-UAE 123 agreement signed in 2009 whereby the United Arab Emirates (UAE) voluntarily renounced pursuing enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies and capabilities.  The UAE agreement stands in stark contrast to the “blanket consent” granted to India, Japan, and EURATOM, who have ENR approval from the United States. 

Additionally, the UAE also agreed to ratify the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Model Additional Protocol. The Additional Protocol aims to gather a more comprehensive picture of a state’s nuclear and nuclear-related activities, including related imports and exports, as well as substantially expanding the IAEA’s inspections authorities. The United States has not in recent years negotiated a 123 agreement with a state that had not signed an additional protocol.

ENR capabilities are controversial because the process transforms raw uranium into highly enriched uranium or spent nuclear fuel into weapons-grade plutonium. While these capabilities are generally used for energy purposes, there are concerns of serious proliferation risks when a country obtains the technology because the same technology can be used to make nuclear weapons. Gold standard provisions for 123 agreements would require any state-party to a 123 agreement with the United States to renounce ENR activities. The Department of Energy and the U.S. nuclear industry advocate a continuance of the case-by-case approach followed thus far in renewal agreements. A case-by-case approach allows countries to apply for ENR permission, and has been successfully pursued by India and Japan.

The term “gold standard” was coined during the very end of the George W. Bush administration when the U.S.-UAE deal was signed in January 2009, and it was declared the new standard for nuclear cooperation agreements, though several subsequent agreements did not uphold the supplementary standard under the Obama administration. A 2011 letter from the Obama administration to Capitol Hill renounced the idea of a uniform approach to 123 agreements and advocated for a case-by-case approach in future negotiations.  (See ACT, March 2012). The Trump administration has been even less clear on their position regarding gold standard provisions. This has been particularly prevalent in the ongoing negotiations on a Saudi Arabia 123 agreement.

Ongoing Saudi Negotiations and Congressional Actions

The Trump administration began formal negotiations on a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia in February 2018, though negotiations have been off-and-on since 2012. The negotiations are being led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry,. Though some officials, particularly at the State Department, have said that the administration is pressing Saudi Arabia to commit to forgoing the ability to make nuclear fuel and to adopt the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, reports suggest Saudi Arabia has been resisting these restrictions. Concerns about nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia grew after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last year that Saudi Arabia would develop nuclear weapons if Iran did and after the October 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Congress has shown bipartisan support for both encouraging gold standard provisions and a more active role for Congress in overseeing both the ongoing negotiations with Saudi Arabia specifically, and 123 agreement more broadly. Members of Congress have expressed concern over reports on senior administration officials’ potential conflict of interest in negotiating a US-Saudi civil nuclear cooperation agreement, and the secrecy around the current negotiations and recently provided authorizations by the Trump administration, claiming that they have not been appropriately appraised as per the Atomic Energy Act.

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The Nuclear Security Summits: An Overview of State Actions to Curb Nuclear Terrorism 2010–2016

July 2018

The 2016 Nuclear Security Summit brought to a close President Barack Obama’s high-level initiative to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism and secure weapons-usable nuclear materials. The four biannual summits from 2010-2016 played a significant role in bringing high-level political attention to the threat posed by vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials around the world and strengthening the global nuclear security regime.

Download this report.

Summit Reflects New Attitudes, Old Challenges


July/August 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

The historic Singapore summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have emphasized pageantry over substance, but the document both leaders signed could start a serious negotiating process on eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they sit down with their respective delegations for the U.S.-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island in Singapore, June 12.  (Photo:  Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)Their June 12 joint statement committed North Korea to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” and both countries to hold follow-on negotiations at the “earliest possible date” to implement the leaders’ understandings.

Upon his return to Washington on June 13, Trump claimed to have achieved his goal, tweeting misleadingly that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea." The reassurance was premature at best, given that the summit statement did not commit Kim to take any specific steps to halt his nuclear weapons program. Negotiations on what comes next are bound to be difficult, and the history of failed agreements (see box) will weigh on the talks.

Still, by talking rather than threatening, Trump and Kim have stepped back from what seemed to be an accelerating slide toward a conflict with the risk of nuclear weapons use in 2017. Kim, one of the world’s most isolated leaders, bolstered his standing by attaining a one-on-one meeting with a U.S. president. It remains to be seen if the meeting created the necessary political momentum to begin a negotiating process or if it sends the wrong message about leveraging illicit nuclear activities for political gain. Iran, for one, may note the disparity in U.S. treatment.

The U.S. negotiators, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, must try to convert the declared understandings into detailed commitments and then into actions leading to North Korea's complete and verifiable nuclear disarmament—the very goal that has eluded negotiators in the past. How this goes in the coming weeks, months, and perhaps years—not the day-after celebratory tweets from the U.S. president—will determine whether the meeting was a historic turning point or another diplomatic disappointment.

Going into the summit, North Korea and the United States had different expectations about what denuclearization entails. (See ACT, May 2018.) The reference to “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” does not appear to have resolved those differences, and gaps are already discernable between the two countries’ interpretations of the summit commitments.

Before the summit, Pompeo told reporters in Singapore that the “complete and verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is the only outcome that the United States will accept.”

When pressed by reporters after the summit on why there was no inclusion of the word “verification” in the summit document, Pompeo said that verification was understood as part of “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” A June 13 statement on the summit published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) did not mention verification.

Differences in interpretation have plagued U.S. negotiations with North Korea in the past. Most recently, a February 2012 moratorium on long-range missile tests collapsed when North Korea conducted a satellite launch in April of that year. Satellite launch vehicles were not expressly mentioned in the so-called Leap Day deal; the United States said it was understood that such launches were also prohibited, whereas North Korea said they were permitted. (See ACT, May 2012.)

The KCNA statement said that the two leaders agreed “it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action” to achieve peace, stability, and denuclearization.

John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, said June 20 in an interview with Fox News that all sanctions will remain in force until there is evidence of North Korean denuclearization.

It may be difficult for the United States to retain sanctions pressure, given the steps Kim has taken to halt nuclear weapons and certain missile tests and to engage in negotiations with the United States and South Korea.

Following the summit, China called for the UN Security Council to support the diplomatic process and adjust sanctions, “including to pause or remove the relevant sanctions” if North Korea “acts in accordance” with Security Council resolutions. In addition to requiring North Korea to halt nuclear weapons and missile tests, the Security Council resolutions also demand Pyongyang abandon its nuclear program in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner.

In follow-up negotiations, Pompeo will need to clarify with his North Korean counterparts the expectations for denuclearization or run the risk that Pyongyang may exploit any ambiguity in the future.

Despite differences over scope and sequencing, the summit may yield concrete results. Kim is more likely to take verifiable steps to halt and roll back his nuclear and ballistic missile programs if there is a fundamental shift in U.S.-North Korean relations, and despite the insults Kim and Trump traded last year, the two leaders seem to have developed a personal chemistry.

North Korea has long stated that its nuclear weapons are a deterrent against “U.S. hostile policy” toward the country. The KCNA statement on June 13 said that if the United States is willing to take “genuine measures to improving trust” between the two countries, North Korea will take commensurate steps. The statement also said the two countries should commit to refrain from “antagonizing” one another and noted that Trump and Kim have “deepening friendly feelings.”

Trump’s expressions of admiration for Kim, despite myriad human rights abuses, and his announcement at the June 12 summit news conference that the United States would suspend joint “war games” with South Korea may demonstrate that Washington is willing to take steps to respond to North Korea’s security concerns.

Trump’s decision to suspend all military exercises and his adoption of Pyongyang’s term of “war games” to describe the drills caught many off guard, including South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. military forces in Korea. South Korea later agreed to suspend the planned exercises in August.

Pompeo had acknowledged in his June 11 news conference that addressing North Korea’s security concerns and steps on denuclearization must go hand in hand, but did not indicate that Trump was putting a suspension of exercises on the table during the summit.

Trump did say that the United States would resume military exercises if negotiations with North Korea fail to make progress. He did not indicate if the continued suspension was tied to a continuation of North Korea’s voluntary pledge in April to halt long-range ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests.

China has long pushed an interim “freeze for freeze” proposal in which North Korea would agree to halt testing in exchange for a halt of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. Last year, U.S. officials including H.R. McMaster, the then-national security adviser, rejected that concept. (See ACT, November 2017.)

As the dominant regional power, China is playing an important, if unclear, role. Kim met with Chinese President Xi Jinping twice in the lead-up to the summit and again on June 19. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on June 12 that the Trump-Kim summit has “important and positive meaning.”

 

North Korea's Past Nuclear Agreements at a Glance

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” as stated in the Singapore summit statement, follows a history of agreements that at times curbed but ultimately failed to stop North Korea from producing and testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them. Following is a summary of some of the previous agreements.

Jan. 20, 1992: The two Koreas sign the South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, agreeing not to test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons or to possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium-enrichment facilities. They also agree to mutual inspections for verification. The following year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found that North Korea had clandestinely separated a small amount of plutonium.

Aug. 12, 1994: The United States and North Korea sign an “agreed statement” that establishes a three-stage process for the elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In return, the United States promises to move toward normalized economic and diplomatic relations and assures North Korea that it will provide assistance with the construction of proliferation-resistant power reactors to replace North Korea’s graphite-moderated reactors.

Oct. 21, 1994: The United States and North Korea conclude four months of negotiations by adopting the Agreed Framework. The accord calls for North Korea to freeze and eventually eliminate its nuclear facilities, a process that will require dismantling three nuclear reactors. North Korea agreed to allow the IAEA to verify compliance through special inspections and to allow 8,000 spent nuclear reactor fuel elements to be removed to a third country, in exchange for heavy fuel oil shipments and the construction of two, more proliferation-resistant light-water reactors. Calling for movement toward full normalization of political and economic relations, the accord also serves as a jumping-off point for U.S.-North Korean dialogue on Pyongyang’s development and export of ballistic missiles. The agreement broke down by 2002 over accusations by
each side that the other had failed to comply with key obligations.

June 15, 2000: Following a historic summit, North and South Korea sign a joint declaration stating they have “agreed to resolve” the question of reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The declaration included promises to reunite families divided by the Korean War and to pursue other economic and cultural exchanges. No commitments are made regarding nuclear weapons or missile programs or military deployments in the Demilitarized Zone.

Sept. 19, 2005: The participants in the six-party talks conclude a statement of principles to guide future negotiations. North Korea commits “to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date” to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and to IAEA safeguards. It also called for the 1992 Joint Declaration to be “observed and implemented.” Washington affirms in the statement that it has no intention to attack or invade North Korea. The statement commits the participants to achieving “the verifiable denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula “in a peaceful manner.” Implementation disputes arose, and North Korea conducted its first nuclear test explosion on Oct. 9, 2006.

Feb. 8-13, 2007: The fifth round of the six-party talks concludes with an action plan of initial steps to implement the September 2005 joint statement on North Korea’s denuclearization. North Korea agreed to halt the operation of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon during a 60-day initial phase in return for an initial shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil. The action plan also established five working groups to “discuss and formulate specific plans” regarding economic and energy cooperation, denuclearization, implementation of a “Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism,” North Korean relations with the United States, and North Korean relations with Japan. The statement called for Pyongyang to provide a complete declaration of all of its nuclear programs and disable all of its existing nuclear facilities in return for an additional 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil or its equivalent. By the end of 2008, however, the last of the six-party talks ended in a stalemate due to a U.S.-North Korean dispute over the verification of North Korea’s declaration.

Feb. 29, 2012: Following a Feb. 23–24 meeting between the United States and North Korea in Beijing, the two countries announce in separate statements the “Leap Day” agreement by North Korea to suspend operations at its Yongbyon uranium-enrichment plant, invite IAEA inspectors to monitor the suspension, and implement moratoriums on nuclear and long-range missile tests. The United States says that it would provide North Korea with 240,000 metric tons of food aid under strict monitoring. The agreement fell apart over a dispute about whether it prohibited “space launches” and North Korea’s March 2012 attempt to use a rocket to loft a satellite into orbit.

March 8, 2018: Following a series of ballistic missile tests in 2017, including successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) flight tests; threats of military attack from the United States; and North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test explosion on Sept. 3, 2017, senior South Korean officials convey an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

June 12, 2018: Trump and Kim meet for about four hours in Singapore and sign a joint communique in which they agree to establish “new” U.S.-North Korean relations, build a “lasting and stable peace regime” on the Korean peninsula, and recover remains of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War. Kim commits to “work toward complete denuclearization” on the Korean peninsula, and Trump commits to provide unspecified “security guarantees” for North Korea.

By talking rather than threatening, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stepped back from an accelerating slide toward a conflict. Still, eliminating Kim’s nuclear weapons is a
tall order.

The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, June 29, 2018

UN Secretary-General Calls for JCPOA Implementation UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the nuclear deal with Iran is at a “crossroads” and expressed his deep regret over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement and reimpose sanctions. Guterres also called upon all states to support the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), saying “it is important that the withdrawal of one country not impede the ability of others to fully implement their commitments under the [JCPOA] or to engage in activities consistent with resolution...

The Six-Party Talks at a Glance

June 2018

Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102

Updated: June 2018

The six-party talks were a series of multilateral negotiations held intermittently since 2003 and attended by China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States for the purpose of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. The talks were hosted in Beijing and chaired by China. North Korea decided to no longer participate in the six-party process in 2009. In subsequent years, other participants, notably China, have called periodically for a resumption of the process. 

Leading up to the Six-Party Talks

The United States and North Korea negotiated the 1994 Agreed Framework amidst rising concerns about Pyongyang’s nuclear activities, including North Korea’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The agreement halted that decision and as part of the accord, North Korea pledged to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for energy aid, including two proliferation-resistant light-water reactors.

The Agreed Framework collapsed in October 2002 due to alleged violations from both sides. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly claimed that in a bilateral meeting, North Korea had admitted it possessed a uranium-enrichment program, which Pyongyang denied, and which would violate the deal. The United States was slow to deliver the energy aid promised in the agreement. The construction of the future light-water reactors was far behind schedule. The first reactor was initially slated for completion in 2003 but was not likely to be operational until 2008 at the earliest. See the U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework at a Glance for more information. In January 2003, North Korea declared its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). For more information, see Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy.

In early August 2003, North Korea declared its willingness to attend six-party talks to be held in Beijing. In between periods of stalemate and crisis, the six-party talks arrived at critical breakthroughs in 2005, when North Korea pledged to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs” and return to the NPT, and in 2007, when the parties agreed on a series of steps to implement that 2005 agreement. While the steps were never fully realized, and North Korea remains outside of the NPT, Pyongyang did disable the nuclear reactor that produced plutonium for its weapons program.

First Round

The First Round of talks began August 27, 2003 in Beijing. The initial North Korean position called for a normalization of relations and a non-aggression pact with the United States, without which, Pyongyang maintained, a dismantling of its nuclear program would be out of the question. The United States had previously rejected a non-aggression pact proposal earlier that summer and remained firm on that point during the talks; this stumbling block precluded any substantive agreement in the First Round. On the second day of talks, the North Korean delegate, Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il stated that North Korea would test a nuclear weapon soon to prove that it had acquired that ability.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi outlined six points of consensus that had been reached by the end of the round. These included a commitment to work to resolve the nuclear issue through peaceful means and dialogue, pursuing a nuclear-free Korean peninsula while bearing in mind the security of North Korea, and avoiding acts that would aggravate the situation further.

Second Round

While China called for a return to the forum, South Korea, Japan, and the United States met separately to discuss joint strategies for the next round and possibilities for a verifiable inspection system. In late October 2003, China secured an agreement from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to return to the six-party talks, after U.S. President George W. Bush expressed an openness to providing informal security assurances short of a non-aggression pact or peace treaty. The United States, however, still would not allow its diplomats to hold direct talks with North Korean negotiators and demanded unilateral concessions on the part of Pyongyang. The central U.S. demand was that North Korea declare its willingness to the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of its nuclear programs, a policy that had come to be known as CVID.

The Second Round of talks began February 25, 2004. On the second day of talks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Russian lead negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Alexander Losiukov, both reported that North Korea had offered to destroy its nuclear weapons program, but would not discontinue its peaceful nuclear activities. This represented a partial reversal from its January offer. While both China and Russia supported an agreement on this new basis, the United States, Japan, and South Korea insisted that the North eliminate all of its nuclear facilities and programs. U.S. officials believed that the North Korean civil nuclear program was impractical for economic use and was likely a front for other activities.

The Chairman’s paper that was eventually circulated at the end of the discussions in lieu of a joint statement did not include any initial steps agreements, but reaffirmed all parties’ commitment to a nuclear-weapons-free Korean peninsula.

Third Round

On June 23, 2004, the six states reconvened to begin the Third Round of negotiations. Expectations were muted by uncertainties generated by the Presidential election in the United States later that year.

In the run up to the talks, the United States circulated its first set of formal proposals for a step-by-step dismantling of the North Korean nuclear program. (See ACT, July 2004.) The proposal granted North Korea a three-month preparatory period to freeze its programs, and also requested the transmittal of a full account of activities. South Korea presented a similar proposal that largely adhered to the base U.S. demand for CVID. At the opening ceremony of the Third Round, North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan reiterated that his country was willing to accept a “freeze for compensation” program that would lead to renunciation of its nuclear weapons program.

Again lacking the consensus necessary for a joint statement, a Chairman’s statement was issued instead. In addition to reaffirming commitments made previously, the parties stressed the need for a “words for words” and “action for action” process towards resolution of the crisis.

Fourth Round

Nearly a year of uncertainty divided the Third and Fourth Rounds of the six-party talks. In part, this was due to the Presidential election in the United States, which took place in early November 2004 and resulted in a second term of office for George W. Bush. North Korea stated that it intended to wait for a restatement of the second Bush administration’s policies before deciding on whether to attend the next round of talks.

In early February 2005, North Korea declared itself in possession of nuclear weapons and said it would not attend future six-party talks. It accused the United States of attempting to overthrow its government and referred to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s statement in her confirmation hearing that North Korea was an “outpost of tyranny.” Finally, following a July 2005 meeting in Beijing with the new U.S. lead negotiator Christopher Hill, North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan announced that his country would be willing to attend a new round of talks during the week of July 25, 2005.

One of the inducements which drew North Korea back to the negotiating table was a U.S. recognition of North Korea as a sovereign state coupled with a statement that it had no intention to invade North Korea. These were reiterated on the first day of negotiations. The resulting talks were considerably longer than previous rounds, lasting a full 13 days. The United States softened its opposition to a North Korean civil energy program, while a joint statement based on resurrection of a 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that barred the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons was discussed. The United States also engaged in lengthy bilateral discussions with the North Korean delegation, lifting prior restrictions prohibiting U.S. negotiators from engaging the North Koreans directly.

On September 19, 2005, the six parties achieved the first breakthrough in resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis, issuing a joint statement on agreed steps toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula “in a phased manner in line with the principle of commitment for commitment, action for action.”

North Korea committed itself to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing programs, returning to the NPT and accepting IAEA inspections. In return, the other parties expressed their respect for North Korea’s assertion of a right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy and agreed to discuss the provision of a light water nuclear reactor “at an appropriate time.” The United States and South Korea both affirmed that they would not deploy nuclear weapons on the peninsula, and stated, along with Russia, China, and Japan, their willingness to supply North Korea with energy aid. The United States and Japan, further, committed themselves to working to normalizing relations with North Korea.

The day after the Joint Statement was agreed, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry declared that the United States should provide a light water reactor “as early as possible.” (See ACT, November 2005.) Although Pyongyang appeared to back away from that demand in the following days, disagreements over the timing of discussions on the provision of such a reactor remained.

Fifth Round

The next round of talks began on November 9, 2005 and lasted three days. The Six Parties expressed their views on how the Joint Statement should be implemented, but no new achievements were registered and substantial negotiations were neither attempted nor envisioned. U.S. lead negotiator Christopher Hill said, “We were not expecting to make any major breakthroughs.” The meeting concluded without setting a date for the next round of talks.

Following the end of the first session, the negotiating climate deteriorated significantly. U.S. sanctions on North Korean trading entities as well as Banco Delta Asia of Macau provoked strong condemnation from Pyongyang. North Korea boycotted the six-party talks once again, and conducted multiple missile tests in July and its first nuclear test on October 9, 2006.

In response, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1718 on October 14, requiring North Korea to refrain from further nuclear or missile testing, abandon its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile programs, and immediately rejoin the six-party talks.

Further discussions resumed in February 2007 which concluded in an agreement on initial steps to implement the 2005 Joint Statement.  The February 13 agreement called for steps to be taken over the next 60 days in which North Korea committed to shutting down and sealing the Yongbyon nuclear facilities and to discussing a list of its nuclear-related activities with the other parties. The United States and Japan committed to engaging in talks to normalize relations, while all parties would work to provide 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, all within the 60 day period. The United States also agreed to begin the process of removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and terminating the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act with regards to North Korea. The agreement set a March 19, 2007 date for a Sixth Round of talks and outlined a framework for follow-on actions by the six parties to implement the September 2005 Joint Statement.

Sixth Round

The next round of talks began on time but came to no substantive agreement in its initial sessions after the North Korean delegation walked out over delays in the release of funds from the sanctioned Banco Delta Asia. Diplomats had been optimistic that issues surrounding the bank had been temporarily resolved, but a technical delay in the transmittal of funds led to the announcement of another adjournment.

The IAEA confirmed in July 2007 that the 5 megawatt Yongbyon nuclear reactor had been shut down and sealed. When talks resumed in September-October 2007, a second phase implementation plan was agreed upon which called for the disablement of three key nuclear facilities at the Yongbyon complex and the provision of a list of North Korean nuclear activities, both by the end of the year. North Korea further committed to not transferring nuclear materials, technology, or know-how to other parties. The other parties agreed to increase aid to North Korea to a total of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or fuel oil equivalents and to a continuation of the diplomatic normalization processes.

Following numerous delays in implementation, U.S. and North Korean negotiators met in Singapore in April 2008 and agreed on three steps through which North Korea would detail or address its nuclear activities: a declaration provided by North Korea regarding its plutonium program, the publication of a U.S. "bill of particulars" detailing Washington's suspicions of a North Korean uranium-enrichment program and Pyongyang's nuclear proliferation to other countries, and a North Korean understanding of the U.S. concerns. (See ACT June, 2008.)

Further six-party talks continued in June 2008, ending with the transmittal of North Korea’s declaration of nuclear activities. At the same time, U.S. President Bush announced that he had removed North Korea from the Trading with the Enemy Act and had notified Congress of the country’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Difficulties in agreeing on a verification system delayed the second action until October 11, 2008. The need for a verification system had been reaffirmed in a July 12 joint communiqué issued by the six parties. An August 11, 2008 proposal from the United States to allow verification inspections at sites throughout North Korea was rejected emphatically. Insisting that inspections be limited to Yongbyon, North Korea announced that it was reversing disablement actions and said it would restart its reprocessing plant. A verbal agreement was established after Hill visited Pyongyang in early October. The agreement allowed for inspections outside of Yongbyon when China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States agreed by consensus.

Progress again foundered in November when North Korea denied that it had committed in the verbal agreement to allowing the collection of samples at Yongbyon. Another session of six-party talks in December yielded no new consensus. North Korea maintained that if sampling were to take place, it would not be during second phase implementation.

On April 5, 2009, after repeated warnings from the United States, Japan and South Korea, Pyongyang test-fired a modified Taepo Dong-2 three-stage rocket, ostensibly as part of its civilian space program. The UN Security Council issued a presidential statement April 13 calling the test a violation of Resolution 1718, and expanded sanctions on North Korean firms shortly afterwards. North Korea responded on April 14, declaring that it would no longer participate in the six-party talks and that it would no longer be bound by any of the previous agreements reached in the discussions.

Since the last round of talks, each of the parties involved has at times called for their resumption. In December 2010, China, Japan, South Korea and the United States called for an emergency session of the six-party talks. In 2014, a North Korean special envoy told Russian President Vladimir Putin that North Korea would be ready to resume the six-party talks. China has continued to call from their resumption, as recently as August 2017. However, there has been little progress towards continuing the six-party talks recently.

Agreements and Declarations from the Six-Party Talks

Research by Xiaodon Liang

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Lessons from Iran for Trump’s Negotiations with North Korea

The joint statement from the historic June 12 Singapore summit meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump stated that North Korea will “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and the two countries “commit to hold follow-on negotiations.” Assessing whether the summit was a success or a failure will depend in large part on what the follow-on talks accomplish and if the process leads to concrete steps by North Korea to halt and roll back its nuclear weapons program. The indication in the summit document that the United States and...

Press Briefings on U.S.-North Korean Summit Outcomes

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The Arms Control Association was pleased to convene two telebriefings following the close of the U.S.-North Korean summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 

Recordings of the two telebriefings are available to accredited journalists upon request. Contact Tony Fleming, director for communications, to inquire.

On June 12, 2018, we invited an immediate analysis to the joint statement from

  • Ambassador Bill Richardson, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Governor Gary Locke, former U.S. Ambassador to China
  • Thomas Countryman, former Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation 
  • Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association

The following morning, we invited reactions and perspectives by

  • Thomas Countryman, former Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation 
  • Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association 
  • Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association 

Negotiating a denuclearization agreement will be a long-term, complex process. It will be critical for the two leaders to have created a framework for sustained talks and avoid pitfalls that disrupted past diplomatic efforts and risk putting the United States and North Korea back on the path of confrontation.

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Briefing following the close of negotiations in Singapore

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The Fight Continues: Reflections on the June 12, 1982 Rally for Nuclear Disarmament

On the morning of June 12, 1982, as the sun shined down on the green grass in Central Park, people began to gather carrying signs for nuclear disarmament. Throughout the morning, buses arrived from around the country. By the afternoon, nearly every blade of grass was covered. Citizens filled second, third, fifth, sixth, seventh, and Madison avenues. By mid-afternoon, the police estimated that over 750,000 people were in Central Park demanding an end to nuclear weapons. By the end of the day, that number had swelled to 1 million. The rally and subsequent march were organized around the United...

The U.S.-North Korean Summit and Beyond

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Toward an Effective Deal on Denuclearization and Peace with North Korea

Volume 10, Issue 7, June 8, 2018

The South Korean-brokered diplomatic opening between leaders from the United States and North Korea that began in January 2018 is a welcome shift away from the missile and nuclear tests and “fire and fury” threats of 2017 that brought the region to the brink of a catastrophic war.

Donald Trump deserves credit for being so bold as to agree to pursue the June 12 summit meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The ongoing inter-Korean dialogue and prospect for a historic U.S.-North Korean summit has lowered tensions but tensions could flare up once again – especially if Trump goes off-script, acts impulsively, or if either side has unrealistic expectations about what the meeting can accomplish.

After creating unrealistic expectations for the planned summit with Kim Jong-un, canceling the encounter and then directing his team to make it happen, Donald Trump finally appears to understand that a single summit cannot resolve the decades-long North Korean nuclear problem.

After meeting with a high-level North Korean official June 1, Trump said the summit was part of a process with North Korea. Indeed, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will be a years-long endeavor, requiring reciprocal steps.

The long history of U.S.-North Korean nuclear and missile diplomacy underscores the importance of sustaining progress beyond the glow of the initial diplomatic breakthrough. Both sides need to have the political will and courage to follow through on their commitments, and they must have the skills necessary to overcome the implementation and compliance disputes and delays that will inevitably occur down the road.

The overall goal for the Trump administration, and U.S. allies and partners, should be to continue to move as quickly as possible in the right direction: toward halting and reversing and eliminating North Korea’s nuclear strike potential, and away from a worsening crisis involving a growing North Korean nuclear capability and increased risk of war.

For the June 12 summit in Singapore to be a success and to set a course for real, lasting progress, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un will need to agree on a framework for ongoing direct, expert-level negotiations to hammer out the details and timeframe for specific action-for-action steps on denuclearization, as well as concrete steps toward a peace regime on the Korean peninsula that addresses the security concerns of North Korea and other states in the region.

On the Same Page?

In the days leading up to the encounter in Singapore, it is still not clear yet whether top U.S. and North Korean leaders are on the same page about the end goals, the pace, and the sequencing of many steps involved in the complete “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.

It is also not entirely clear whether the Trump administration itself is of one mind about its own strategy. Top Trump advisors, including National Security Advisor John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence, contributed to creating a hostile environment just a couple of weeks ahead of the summit by suggesting “the Libya model” for rapid denuclearization by North Korea with promises of security only coming afterward, and threatening war if North Korea does not agree to a deal.

Given the fact that North Korea has long maintained that its nuclear weapons are a deterrent against U.S. "hostile policy," it should have been no surprise to the Trump White House that senior North Korean officials lashed out at such an approach.

As the April 2018 Panmunjeom Declaration negotiated by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the Republic of Korea’s president Moon Jae-in underscores, the North Korean leadership is only interested in talking about denuclearization if their security interests can be guaranteed.

In the days ahead of the summit, it was reported that "Trump wants Kim to commit to disarmament timetable at summit" but Trump has been advised not to offer any concessions. That is not a winning formula. You don't get something for nothing when you deal with North Korea.

The Summit and Beyond: A Process for Denuclearization and a Peace Regime

To achieve real, lasting progress, the two sides will need to agree on a framework for sustained, direct, high-level negotiations on the specific action-for-action steps toward denuclearization and a peace regime.

The North Korean denuclearization effort would be without precedent and there is no guarantee of success. No country with a nuclear arsenal and infrastructure as substantial as Kim Jong Un’s, and that has openly conducted nuclear weapon test explosions, has given up its nuclear weapons program.

The North Korean nuclear and missile programs involve dozens of sites, hundreds of buildings, and thousands of people. Rapid progress should be the goal, but as Siegfried Hecker and Bob Carlin note in their recent Stanford University study, a comprehensive denuclearization process is complex and will take years to accomplish.

A near-term priority goal for the Trump administration should be to reach a common understanding Kim Jong-un about what denuclearization entails. A good basis for common understanding would be the 1992 South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Another near-term priority should be to solidify North Korea’s declared nuclear and missile testing halt and secure a freeze on fissile material production at all suspected sites, which will help ensure that North Korea cannot expand its arsenal of some 20-60 bombs even further. This could be achieved by:

  • Securing North Korea’s pledge to sign and ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would help transform its no-test pledge into a legally-binding international commitment, and to secure agreement for on-site inspections by the CTBTO to confirm the closure of its test site. The destruction of the test tunnel entrances at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site is a positive step in the right direction, but it does not permanently prevent it from resuming nuclear tests in the future. Additional tests by North Korea could be used to achieve further advances in nuclear warhead design. This action step is likely within reach since Pyongyang has recently hinted that it might join the CTBT;
  • An agreement to halt further ballistic missile tests, including “space launches,” cease new ballistic missile production and decommission all ICBM launch sites, which could stop North Korea just short of developing a reliable long-range nuclear strike system;
  • Securing a freeze on uranium enrichment and plutonium production, to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which would put a ceiling on the potential number of nuclear devices that North Korea could assemble.

Another early goal should be to secure a commitment by North Korea to deliver a full declaration on its nuclear infrastructure, nuclear material inventory, and its nuclear weapons stockpile to be verified later by the IAEA, using guideline and techniques established by the Model Additional Protocol for nuclear safeguards, with the support and a legal mandate from the United States and other permanent members of the UN Security Council.

At a later stage, following more intensive expert-level talks, the two sides could agree to a process and a timeline for dismantling weapons stocks and securing separated fissile material stocks under the supervision of a UN Security Council-mandated technical team consisting of specialists from nuclear weapon states, in cooperation with the technical experts from North Korea.

Facilities that are part of North Korea's nuclear complex and its longer-range missile production and deployment infrastructure would also need to be verifiably dismantled or converted under international supervision. This would be a major undertaking that could build upon the experience and lessons learned from U.S. and Russian cooperative threat reduction programs that helped eliminate excess Cold War-era stockpiles and sites.

Phased Steps to Reduce Tensions on the Peninsula

To achieve real and lasting progress on denuclearization, the U.S. side must be willing to simultaneously take a series of phased, concrete steps to demonstrate it does not have “hostile intent” toward the regime in Pyongyang and that North Korea’s security and sovereignty does not depend on possessing nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged this reality in his press briefing May 31 when he noted that the U.S. side will need to convince North Korea’s leadership that their security will be assured—and be even greater—if they make the strategic decision to pursue complete and verifiable denuclearization.

Clearly, differences still need to be ironed out on pacing and sequencing of denuclearization steps and concrete steps to assure the North Korean leadership that they can survive without nuclear weapons. Key measures might include:

  • Agreeing to security guarantees, including a commitment not to initiate the use of force against one another;
  • Removing U.S. strategic bombers and offensive strike assets, including nuclear-capable systems from U.S. and joint military exercises with allies in the region;
  • Formally initiating negotiations on a peace treaty to replace the Korean War Armistice, which would involve talks between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and Chinese leaders, and pursuing steps toward the normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations, beginning with the opening of a diplomatic interest section in Pyongyang and Washington;
  • Jointly reducing military force deployments on both sides of the DMZ in a manner consistent with a future peace treaty.

The Role of Congress

The Trump administration will also need to keep members of Congress better informed on its evolving strategy with regular reports on the negotiations. It will need Congressional advice and support to sustain the process, which will last beyond the life span of the Trump administration.

Members of Congress can and should seek clarification from the Trump administration regarding how it defines the denuclearization process and they should hold the administration accountable as to whether progress is or is not being achieved, but the executive branch will need political space to negotiate the specifics with Pyongyang.

As Senator Robert Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote in a May 16 op-ed in The Washington Post, “… even a partial agreement that verifiably begins the process of rolling back North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs would constitute success. Such an agreement should be combined with continued pressure, a strong deterrence posture and a continuation of the emerging North-South dialogue. This would over time provide a reliable pathway to full denuclearization.”

Stay Calm and Carry On

If the planned summit with Kim Jong-un falls apart or does not produce immediate results, Trump must resist the urge to abandon diplomacy and make irresponsible threats, which will only reinforce North Korea's incentive to further improve its nuclear and missile activities and increase the likelihood of a military confrontation.

There is no viable military option to deal with the North Korean nuclear challenge. A second war with a nuclear-armed North Korea would be catastrophic for all sides involved. Tens of millions of people in East Asia and possibly the United States could perish in such a conflict, which would quickly go nuclear.

Trump must also recognize that his policy of “maximum pressure” has real limits. Without a serious, sustained diplomatic effort designed to reach a deal to verifiably halt and reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, global support for the existing sanctions regime may erode.

If negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang do ultimately break down, the United States should maintain a principled, sober strategy of diplomacy and deterrence that serves U.S. and allied interests and averts a catastrophic war.

The American people support a diplomatic solution. According to a recent Pew/ Economist/YouGov survey, around 70 percent support direct negotiations between the United States and North Korea, while 62 percent say Trump should not threaten military action against North Korea if it does not give up its nuclear weapons, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll.

The June 12 encounter will capture the world’s attention. Barring a dramatic breakdown, it will be viewed as a positive first step.

But the true measure of the Singapore summit between Trump and Kim is whether it will actually lead to concrete, steady progress toward the twin goals of denuclearization and the easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The pursuit of disarmament diplomacy is hard work, and when it comes to North Korea, progress never comes easily, but it is better than the alternatives. —DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director

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What would constitute an effective deal on denuclearization and peace with North Korea?

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IAEA Report Confirms Iran’s Compliance with the JCPOA

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program June 6, and, unsurprisingly, the report found that Iran is complying with its commitments under the multilateral deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) . The report, finalized May 24, was the first since U.S. President Donald Trump violated the nuclear deal May 8 by reimposing sanctions on Iran, and withdrew the United States from the accord. The report bears out what Iranian officials stated after Trump’s announcement – that Iran would remain within the JCPOA, for now...

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