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North Korea

North Korea Talks Resume, Then Stall

Paul Kerr

Meeting for the first time in more than a year, the United States, North Korea, and four other countries failed to reach agreement on a statement of principles to guide negotiations to end the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula. At the conclusion of the July 26-Aug. 7 talks, participants agreed to recess for several weeks. Talks are now set to resume the week of Sept. 12.

Despite the recess, this round of six-party talks is already widely regarded as the most successful after three previous rounds achieved little concrete progress. And North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has been allowed to proceed unfettered since December 2002 (see "CHRONOLOGY: More Than A Decade of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear Tensions"). In addition to the United States and North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea are the other participants in the talks.

The Talks

Although the parties were unable to reach agreement, this round of talks lasted much longer than previous ones, was by all accounts “businesslike” in tone, and included an unprecedented number of U.S.-North Korean bilateral talks, a persistent North Korean demand. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

Immediately after the recent nuclear crisis began in October 2002, the United States refused to meet with North Korea. But the Bush administration has gradually increased its bilateral contacts over time, both within the six-party talks and elsewhere, although Washington insists that it is not engaging in bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang.

China took the lead in drafting the joint statement of principles, eventually producing the version currently in dispute. No official text of the draft has been released, but according to public official sources and private accounts of the talks, it addresses several ongoing issues in U.S.-North Korean nuclear diplomacy.

The most publicized point of dispute has been whether the statement, which includes a commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, could also address North Korea’s demand that it be permitted to retain the right to civilian nuclear technology. The draft also touches on other issues including a goal to hold another round of talks shortly after the current one is concluded, an implied agreement to take reciprocal steps in implementing any ultimate settlement, the formulation of a security guarantee for North Korea, procedures for normalizing Pyongyang’s relations both with Washington and Tokyo, and a solution to North Korea’s chronic energy crisis.

During the talks, South Korea presented a new proposal that called for providing North Korea with electricity directly from the South. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill said during an Aug. 17 Washington, D.C., event that the proposed scheme would begin to increase North Korea’s electrical supply within “two and a half to three years, once we have a nuclear deal.”

Hill indicated during several public appearances that other issues will not be covered in the statement of principles. These controversial issues include the sequence of the various steps outlined in any final deal, the verification of any final denuclearization agreement, and the kind of declaration that should be expected from North Korea regarding its suspected uranium-enrichment program.

Hill indicated Aug. 17 that during a bilateral meeting the U.S. delegation presented relevant intelligence to the North Koreans regarding the program. North Korea’s uranium-enrichment effort has been a long-standing point of controversy in the six-party talks because Pyongyang has refused to admit to such a program.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gae Gwan suggested during an Aug. 14 CNN interview that North Korea would be willing to discuss the program. Although he denied that North Korea has a “uranium-based nuclear weapons program,” Kim said that his government would “clarify” any relevant “credible information or evidence” presented by the United States.

Arms Control Today reported in May that North Korean officials have previously suggested through third parties that Pyongyang would be willing to discuss the enrichment program. (See ACT, May 2005.)

Draft Statement Controversies

Still, Pyongyang’s refusal to give up its right to possess peaceful nuclear energy technology received the most attention. Kim said in the CNN interview that Pyongyang had made a “strategic decision to denuclearize the Korean peninsula” and reiterated North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s June promise that Pyongyang would return to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), from which it announced its withdrawal in 2003, and accept related International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. However, Vice Minister Kim also said that Pyongyang wants to use peaceful nuclear technology in the future.

According to Hill, North Korea also has demanded that its “desire” for proliferation-resistant, light-water nuclear reactors be included in the statement of principles.

The United States says it opposes any North Korean nuclear facilities because of concerns that Pyongyang will use them to make fissile material for nuclear weapons. However, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Kai-moon told CNN Aug. 21 that Seoul believes North Korea can be permitted peaceful use of nuclear energy once it dismantles all nuclear weapons and related programs, returns to the NPT, and comes into full compliance with its IAEA safeguards obligations. Hill subsequently indicated in several press appearances that the United States could be flexible on the issue.

A Year Without Talks

There was a brief glimpse of hope for the talks’ continued progress after the last round in June 2004. During that round, the United States made its first concrete offer to resolve the nuclear crisis. Its proposal described a two-phase process in which North Korea would freeze, then dismantle its nuclear facilities in return for fuel oil provided by the talks’ other participants, as well as several U.S.-initiated incentives. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

However, North Korea later refused to participate in another round of talks scheduled for the following September. Pyongyang partly explained its decision by blaming what it said was “hostile” U.S. policy. It was also widely believed that North Korea was awaiting the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. (See ACT, October 2004.)

But in recent months, the talks had seemed increasingly likely to resume. Perhaps most importantly, Kim Jong Il told a senior South Korean official in June that Pyongyang would be willing to return to the talks and eliminate its nuclear weapons programs. He also went so far as to say that the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was the “dying wish” of his father, North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung. (See ACT, July/August 2005.)

Kim reiterated his father’s apparent wish during a July 13 meeting with an envoy of Chinese president Hu Jintao, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korea announced its return to the talks after a July 9 bilateral meeting between Hill and Vice Minister Kim. According to a KCNA statement, the “ U.S. side clarified its official stand to recognize [North Korea] as a sovereign state, not to invade it and hold bilateral talks within the framework of the six-party talks.”

These remarks reflected the culmination of a months-long, multilateral diplomatic effort to restart the talks. North Korea has dialed back during the past several months its conditions for returning to the talks while Washington has moderated its rhetoric toward Pyongyang and engaged in more bilateral meetings with North Korea. (See ACT, June 2005.)

North Korea has for some time been attempting to discern whether Washington has a policy of overthrowing the North Korean government. Asked Aug. 14 whether he believes the United States is actually pursuing such a policy, rather than negotiating in good faith, Vice Minister Kim told CNN that he “need[s] more time to judge” Washington’s true intentions.

The talks were to have resumed the week of Aug. 29, but North Korea’s Foreign Ministry stated that day that Pyongyang was extending the recess because the United States was conducting a joint military exercise with South Korea. It also complained of Washington’s appointment of Jay Lefkowitz as special envoy for human rights in North Korea. Pyongyang has repeatedly cited joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and U.S. pressure on human rights issues as indications that the White House is seeking to overthrow the Kim Jong Il regime.



Kim Willing to Talk, Does Not Say When

Paul Kerr


North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told a senior South Korean official June 17 that Pyongyang is willing to participate in another round of six-party talks designed to resolve the crisis surrounding Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. However, no date has been set.

Kim told South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dongyoung that North Korea “could” return to the talks in July once Washington has “determined to recognize and respect” the North Korean regime. Kim also indicated that his government could eliminate its nuclear weapons program, according to a statement from Chung’s ministry.

The talks have been stalled since the participants, which also include China, Japan, Russia, and the United States, met in June 2004.

Kim and Chung also discussed a new South Korean proposal to undertake an economic project with the North if the nuclear issue is resolved. Seoul has not publicly disclosed the proposal’s details, which are apparently still being formulated. South Korea made a similar offer during two previous rounds of six-party talks.

North Korea did not commit to a date for future talks at a bilateral meeting held in Seoul a few days later. The two sides did agree “to take substantial measures to peacefully resolve the nuclear issue…as soon as a favorable atmosphere for the talks is forged,” according to a June 24 joint statement.

Department of State spokesperson Adam Ereli told reporters June 23 that the United States is “continuing to work with our partners…to move North Korea to come up with a date” for the talks.

North Korea appears to be continuing its attempts to discern whether the United States has changed what Pyongyang refers to as a “hostile policy” of regime change.

Reflecting North Korea’s evident focus on U.S. rhetoric, a June 3 Foreign Ministry statement praised President George W. Bush’s referral to the North Korean leader as “Mr. Kim Jong Il” during a late May press conference. Bush’s use of the more respectful title, which he also used during a June 10 press conference following a summit meeting with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, contrasted with his April reference to Kim as a “dangerous person” and a “tyrant.”

However, the Foreign Ministry also indicated that North Korea is waiting to determine whether Bush’s remarks have “put an end to the scramble” between administration officials who support a hard-line North Korea policy and those who have favored a more moderate approach.

Pyongyang’s apparent exploration of U.S. intent has been going on for several months. For example, the country’s Foreign Ministry complained in May that Washington was issuing conflicting statements about the true nature of its North Korea policy. Additionally, the Foreign Ministry argued June 2 that a comment from Vice President Dick Cheney criticizing Kim indicated Washington’s “intention not to recognize” the North Korean regime.

Nevertheless, Kim referred to Bush as “His Excellency” and stated that, in his view, the president would be “a good person to talk with.”

Kim also made what appears to be a new offer regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. According to Chung, the North Korean leader said that Pyongyang will “accept thorough inspection” of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after a nuclear deal is reached.

North Korea has previously offered to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in return for U.S. incentives. But in July 2004, then-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that North Korean officials had rejected a U.S. demand during the last round of six-party talks for IAEA participation in verifying any nuclear deal. (See ACT, September 2004.)

Until December 2002, agency inspectors monitored North Korea’s nuclear facilities that had been frozen under a 1994 agreement with the United States. North Korea ejected the inspectors that month and subsequently announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). (See ACT, January/ February 2003.)

Kim also said that a 1992 agreement to keep the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons is still “valid,” according to Chung. By contrast, North Korea in May 2003 called the agreement a “dead document.” Pyongyang has since claimed it is augmenting its nuclear arsenal. (See ACT, June 2003.)

Additionally, Stanford University professor John Lewis said June 6 that North Korean officials provided him with more details about their nuclear demands during his recent visit to the country. Lewis told National Public Radio that Pyongyang wants Washington to take such actions as ending its perceived commitment to defend South Korea with nuclear weapons if necessary. The discussions are to be conducted as mutual nuclear disarmament talks, Lewis said.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry stated March 31 that it wished to have disarmament talks “on an equal footing” because it is a “full-fledged nuclear weapons state.” The United States has withdrawn its nuclear weapons from South Korea, and South Korea has forsworn nuclear weapons as a party to the NPT.



North Korean Capabilities Remain Unclear

Paul Kerr

As six-party talks designed to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis have stagnated, concerns have increased that Pyongyang is bolstering its nuclear weapons capabilities. Some intelligence analysts have detected signs that Pyongyang may be preparing for a nuclear test, producing additional fissile material, and augmenting its nuclear weapons delivery capabilities. However, the evidence regarding both North Korea’s actions and future intentions remains unclear.

Nuclear Test Preparations
U.S. officials have continued to voice concerns that North Korea may conduct its first nuclear weapons test. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told CNN May 15 that Washington has seen North Korean “activity that is consistent with possible preparations for a nuclear test” but added that “[w]e don’t know for sure.”

Hadley also said that “action would have to be taken” in the event of such a test, but did not elaborate.

U.S. officials have previously told Arms Control Today that fears that North Korea may conduct a nuclear test are driven more by the country’s recent provocative statements, such as its March claim to be a “full-fledged nuclear weapons state,” rather than by any new intelligence. (See ACT, May 2005.)

This apparently remains the case. A congressional source familiar with the matter told Arms Control Today May 19 that North Korea has a “theoretical capability” to test a nuclear weapon, but added that the relevant U.S. intelligence continues to be ambiguous. A North Korean decision to conduct such a test would be “political” rather than “technical,” the source said.

Although Hadley said that the United States has shared its information with “our allies in the six-party talks,” some appear to dispute the value of the intelligence.

For example, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lee Kyu-hyung stated that “there is not any evidence” that Pyongyang is preparing to test, The New York Times reported May 17.

The head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Ko Young-koo, cast additional doubt on the intelligence. During a May 13 meeting with South Korean lawmakers, Ko dismissed reports that North Korea is digging a tunnel and building a viewing stand in preparation for a nuclear test, the semi-official Yonhap News Agency reported.

China, Japan, and Russia are also part of the six-party process.

More North Korean Plutonium?
Meanwhile, North Korea claims to have taken steps that could allow it to obtain additional plutonium. Its foreign ministry announced May 11 that the country has “successfully finished the unloading of 8,000 spent fuel rods” from its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. Pyongyang had announced in April that it had shut down the reactor.

About two months after the recent nuclear crisis began in October 2002, North Korea announced that it was restarting the reactor, which, along with North Korea’s reprocessing facility and approximately 8,000 spent fuel rods, had been frozen under a 1994 agreement with the United States. North Korea subsequently claimed to have reprocessed the spent fuel, which had been monitored by UN inspectors and is estimated to contain sufficient plutonium for several nuclear weapons.

If North Korea’s current claims are true, Pyongyang’s actions would allow it to bolster its plutonium stockpile. U.S. intelligence assesses that North Korea has produced one or two nuclear weapons using plutonium produced prior to the 1994 Agreement. (See ACT, March 2005.)

A North Korean Nuclear Warhead?
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby made headlines April 28 when he suggested during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that North Korea may be able to attach a nuclear warhead to an ICBM capable of reaching the United States. This was the first time that a U.S. intelligence official has made such a statement.

Asked by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) whether the agency assesses that “North Korea has the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear device,” Jacoby replied that “they have the capability to do that.”

His remarks contradicted Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Thomas Fingar’s February 2005 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Fingar told the committee that there is “no evidence” that North Korea has either produced nuclear weapons or “mated them to a missile capable of delivering them to the United States.”

Yet, whether Jacoby’s statement was based on a different assessment within the intelligence community or was in error is not clear. Speaking to reporters April 29, Pentagon spokesperson Lawrence Di Rita said that Jacoby was “not offering a new assessment,” but would not say whether Jacoby misspoke, adding that “his words were what his words were.” Asked whether North Korea can attach a warhead to a missile, Di Rita replied, “I don’t believe we know that.”

The congressional source said that there are no new community-wide intelligence assessments of North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities.

According to a DIA statement issued after Jacoby testified, the admiral was “reiterating” testimony given to the committee in March. At that time, Jacoby testified that North Korea’s Taepo Dong-2 missile “could deliver a nuclear warhead to parts of the United States in a two-stage variant and target all of North America with a three-stage variant.” CIA director Porter Goss testified at the same hearing that the missile “is capable of reaching the United States with a nuclear-weapon-sized payload.” (See ACT, April 2005.)

North Korea, however, has never conducted an explosive test of a nuclear device, a step widely regarded as necessary for developing a reliable, ICBM-deliverable nuclear warhead. According to an August 2003 CIA report, North Korea has “validated” designs for “simple fission” nuclear weapons without conducting explosive tests. But a 1996 Department of Defense report describes a “simple fission weapon” as one that “could be delivered by aircraft or tactical missiles,” rather than an ICBM.

In interviews with Arms Control Today, two intelligence officials, as well as the congressional source, cautioned that North Korea may still decide to attach an untested warhead to a missile.

Additionally, past intelligence reports may call into question Pyongyang’s ability to produce a nuclear warhead for an ICBM. According to a 1999 DIA report, North Korea will not be able to develop a nuclear warhead lighter than 650-750 kilograms in the “near term.” The Taepo Dong-2 “could deliver a 650-kilogram warhead to Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific Northwest, or a much lighter warhead to most of the United States,” the report says.

A 1999 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is less specific, stating that the Taepo Dong-2 “could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload,” which is “sufficient” for an early generation nuclear weapon.

The 2,000-kilometer-range Taepo Dong- 1 is the longest-range missile North Korea has flight-tested. As configured, that missile cannot reach the United States. The longest-range missile North Korea has deployed is the 1,300-kilometer-range Nodong, according to a 2001 NIE. North Korea has never flight tested the Taepo Dong-2.



North Korea: Time for Results

Daryl G. Kimball

Nearly one year has passed since the last round of six-party talks between North Korea and the United States and four other Asian powers, designed to contain and reverse Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. With the prospects for dialogue fading and North Korea's capabilities growing, it is time for a new and more effective diplomatic strategy that has the full support of regional allies, keeps North Korea at the negotiating table, and begins to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Since ejecting international inspectors in 2002 and restarting its plutonium operations in 2003, North Korea is believed to have separated enough plutonium for as many as six bombs. In recent weeks, North Korea has shut down its reactor at Yongbyon to harvest a new batch of plutonium.

Now, some U.S. intelligence assessments suggest North Korea may be preparing to conduct a demonstration nuclear test explosion. A test would certainly dispel doubts about North Korea's capabilities, but it could precipitate military confrontation and lead other states to rethink their non-nuclear weapons status. An already dangerous situation would become a disaster.

Despite a failed policy, the Bush administration still insists that tough talk and pressure from China will convince Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table and agree to U.S. terms for disarmament. Not surprisingly, North Korea's insecure and isolated leaders have responded with a series of provocative statements and actions. After Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described North Korea as an "outpost of tyranny," North Korean officials made their most explicit claim about having "manufactured nukes."

Rather than changing course, the latest responses from Washington range from inadequate to impractical to imprudent. Some Bush officials try to downplay the crisis and at the same time suggest that rumors of nuclear test preparations should motivate China to cut off energy aid to North Korea and compel Pyongyang to return to the bargaining table. Other "anonymous administration officials" float trial balloons in the news media about possible U.S. efforts to win UN Security Council support for a virtual quarantine of North Korea.

Understandably, U.S. allies and partners in the region are deeply concerned and are as impatient with the United States as they are with North Korea. China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea are urging North Korea to return to the multiparty talks and say that a nuclear test would result in strong punitive action. For now, however, China and South Korea are refusing to withhold economic and energy assistance to North Korea out of concern that it would worsen prospects for a peaceful solution.

Leaders in Beijing and Seoul also recognize that, before they exert their last bits of leverage on North Korea, the United States needs to demonstrate greater flexibility to give the next and perhaps last six-party meeting a chance. As former U.S. special envoy on North Korea Charles Pritchard told The Boston Globe, "You have got to explore the possibility of real dialogue before you declare failure. We haven't yet made a good faith effort."

Clearly, China and other states have a vital role to play. But if there still is a chance for diplomacy to work—and there is—it is the United States and North Korea that will ultimately have to strike a deal.

For instance, the White House should drop its long-standing policy not to negotiate directly with North Korea within or even outside the six-party process. Although multiparty talks can deliver maximum international leverage, progress should not be held hostage to process.

Fortunately, the administration may already be moving in this direction. On May 13, U.S. special envoy Joseph Ditrani and North Korea's UN ambassador quietly held direct "working level" talks in New York.

Further meetings, however, will do little in the absence of a realistic U.S. negotiating strategy. Diplomats on all sides must be authorized to go beyond fixed talking points and earlier positions. The last U.S. offer calls for North Korea to disarm before it would get firm security guarantees and economic assistance. North Korea demands the delivery of aid and security assurances first, to be followed by a suspension of some of its nuclear activities. Instead, the two sides should reconsider South Korea's 2004 three-phase plan of corresponding positive incentives in return for the verifiable dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear capabilities following a clear timetable.

To maintain progress, regional powers, including China, must do their part and make clear that, if North Korea's deviates from any agreed deal, they are prepared to impose uncompromising economic and political pressure.

President George W. Bush is fond of noting that the "consensus among nations that proliferation cannot be tolerated...means little unless it is translated into action." Now is the time for meaningful action, before it is too late.



Allies Seek to Restart North Korea Talks

Paul Kerr

Almost one year after the last round of six-party talks, diplomatic tensions surrounding North Korea’s nuclear program continue to mount. No new talks are scheduled, Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program continues unhindered, and there are signs that the government may test a nuclear weapon. The United States and the other four participants in the six-party talks are still attempting to bring North Korea back to the bargaining table, but they continue to grapple with persistent disagreements regarding negotiating tactics.

Nevertheless, a May 13 meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials suggests that another round may take place. Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, U.S. special envoy to the six-party talks, and Jim Foster, director of the Department of State’s Office of Korean Affairs, held a “working level” meeting in New York with North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pak Gil Yon, and his deputy, Han Song Ryol.

State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher told reporters May 19 that DeTrani and Foster “reiterated” the administration’s North Korea policy and urged Pyongyang to return to the talks. The six parties, which also include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, have met twice as a group since their first meeting in August 2003. (See ACT, September 2003.)

U.S. and North Korean officials periodically hold working level meetings in New York to clarify policy positions, Boucher explained. The Bush administration has repeatedly refused to engage in bilateral negotiations with North Korea, stating that such discussions should be confined to the six-party talks.

Boucher said that the United States requested the meeting, but did not explain why. However, he indicated that the request followed the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s May 8 request to meet directly with U.S. officials in order to confirm reports that the United States will recognize North Korea as a “sovereign state” and hold bilateral talks “within the framework of the six-party talks.”

The two sides discussed both of these issues, Boucher said. The United States has already taken actions that appear to satisfy the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s stated demands. U.S. officials have held bilateral discussions with their North Korean counterparts on the sidelines of each six-party meeting, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told CNN May 9 that “the United States of course recognizes that North Korea is sovereign.”

Rice has made similar statements during the past several months as part of what has been widely regarded as an effort to send a positive signal to Pyongyang. However, the two governments had not directly discussed the issue since a working-level meeting last December.

Both sides appear to have taken small steps to reach common ground. A State Department official told Arms Control Today May 24 that the U.S. statements regarding North Korea’s sovereignty could be seen as a way of “implicitly saying” that the United States is not pursuing what Pyongyang charges is a “hostile policy” of “regime change.” Pyongyang frequently asserts that this policy not only includes a planned U.S. military attack but also measures such as economic pressure. (See ACT, December 2004.) Pyongyang has previously stated that it would not return to the talks unless Washington demonstrates that it intends to reverse this policy.

Administration officials have stated repeatedly that the United States has no intention of attacking North Korea, but have rarely addressed other potential methods of regime change.

For its part, North Korea seems to have dropped its conditions for returning to the talks. Those conditions have recently included a demand that Rice apologize for referring to Pyongyang as one of several “outposts of tyranny” during her January 2005 confirmation hearings, as well as a request for President George W. Bush to state publicly that Washington will accept “peaceful coexistence” with Pyongyang. (See ACT, May 2005.)

The extent to which U.S. policy has actually changed, however, is unclear. A congressional source familiar with the matter told Arms Control Today May 19 that the recent U.S. statements regarding Pyongyang’s sovereignty do not constitute “much of a change,” but acknowledged that they seem to go beyond the administration’s previous non-invasion assurances.

Bush’s recent rhetoric has not served to clarify U.S. policy. Although he indicated continued U.S. support for the talks during an April 28 press conference, he also referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a “dangerous person” and a “tyrant.”

Bush argued forcefully for combating “tyranny” in his January inaugural address. (See ACT, March 2005.)

To date, however, the United States has not persuaded North Korea to return to the talks. In its first public statement regarding the New York meeting, the country’s foreign ministry announced May 22 that Pyongyang “will continue to closely follow the U.S. attitude” and convey its decision regarding the talks “when an appropriate time comes.”

However, the statement added that U.S. officials’ “disturbing outbursts” subsequent to the meeting have caused “confusion” about the true nature of the Bush administration’s North Korea policy. As an example, the foreign ministry cited a May 15 statement from National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that the United States will continue to “pressure” North Korea.

Allies Urge U.S. Flexibility
The May 13 meeting followed repeated calls by the other participants in the six-party talks for the United States to show more flexibility in its approach.

Warning that it cannot wait indefinitely for the process to yield results, the United States has continued to exhort the other governments to pressure North Korea to return to the negotiations.

Bush is to meet South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun June 10 to discuss “the way forward on North Korea,” the White House said. In working-level talks May 16-19, South Korea failed to persuade its northern neighbor to rejoin the negotiations. The two Koreas, however, agreed to hold higher-level talks June 21-24, and Seoul agreed to provide Pyongyang with 200,000 tons of fertilizer.

Administration officials have suggested that they may ask the UN Security Council to take up the matter, a move that could lead to the imposition of sanctions on North Korea, but Washington has not set a deadline for abandoning the talks.

The other participants have publicly agreed that the talks cannot continue indefinitely and have left open the possibility of taking the issue to the Security Council. Most have also publicly warned Pyongyang against conducting a nuclear test, even though they appear to be less concerned that North Korea will take such a drastic measure.

Nevertheless, U.S. efforts to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang continue to meet resistance from other participants who have, to varying degrees, continued to show greater enthusiasm for engaging North Korea.

For example, senior Chinese diplomat Yang Xiyu articulated Beijing’s most pointed criticism to date of the administration’s negotiating stance. Yang told The New York Times May 12 that “a basic reason” for the talks’ lack of progress “lies in the lack of cooperation from the U.S. side.”

In particular, Yang argued that Bush’s reference to the North Korean leader as a tyrant undermined efforts to persuade North Korea that the Bush administration is serious about negotiating. He also questioned the effectiveness of tactics, such as economic sanctions, to pressure North Korea and suggested that Washington and Pyongyang use an “informal channel” to discuss the situation.

The United States has previously altered its negotiating approach in response to similar prodding. For example, it presented a formal proposal, which included several incentives for North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs, at the last round of talks partly because other participants had urged Washington to test North Korea’s intentions. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)



Daryl Kimball Discussing Iran and North Korea on News Hour



On May 2, 2005, Daryl Kimball appeared on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS for a segment called "Nuclear Tensions" and discussed the nuclear challenges created by Iran and North Korea.

Nuclear Tensions

To see the segment or read a transcript, click here.


On May 2, 2005, Daryl Kimball appeared on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS.

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U.S. Pushes to Restart North Korea Talks

Paul Kerr


After a fresh series of provocative North Korean actions, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill traveled to China, Japan, and South Korea late last month in another effort to restart six-party talks designed to eliminate Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The talks, which also include Russia, have been stalled for nearly a year.

A Bush administration official, as well as a congressional source familiar with the matter, told Arms Control Today that recent North Korean statements, along with a modest amount of new intelligence, have increased U.S. officials’ concern that North Korea may test nuclear weapons. Pyongyang has not tested such weapons, although it has threatened to do so.

In addition, a senior North Korean diplomat said April 18 that Pyongyang had halted the operation of its five-megawatt nuclear reactor, an action that could permit it to obtain additional plutonium for use as fissile material in nuclear weapons. The announcement came approximately two months after North Korea announced that it possesses nuclear weapons.

The United States believes that North Korea possesses one or two plutonium-based nuclear weapons and may possess enough fissile material for several more. Whether Pyongyang is in the process of augmenting its purported nuclear arsenal, however, remains unclear.

Administration and congressional sources confirmed an April 25 Wall Street Journal report that the United States sent an urgent diplomatic message to allies earlier in the month notifying them of U.S. concerns that North Korea might conduct a nuclear test. The message also asked at least certain talks participants, such as China and South Korea, to urge Pyongyang to refrain from provocative behavior.

The other participants have been more supportive of engaging North Korea than has the United States. Nevertheless, South Korean Foreign Minster Ban Ki-moon warned North Korea against testing April 25, stating that such an act would result in Pyongyang’s “isolation.”

The congressional source said the other countries would likely follow suit, but perhaps not publicly.

Although conveying impatience with Pyongyang’s behavior, U.S. officials continued to express support for the talks. Department of State spokesperson Adam Ereli acknowledged April 25 that “the stalemate has gone on…longer than any of us would have liked” but “vehemently” denied that administration officials are “at the end of our rope on this.”

In an April 28 news conference, President George W. Bush also indicated continued U.S. support for the talks, adding that other actions, such as involving the UN Security Council in the matter, would depend on other participants’ support. China, which has veto power on the Security Council, and South Korea have resisted asking that body to take up the issue.

The duration of the current diplomatic track “is dependent upon our consensus amongst ourselves,” Bush said.

For its part, North Korea continues to express a willingness to return to the talks, albeit under certain conditions.

Pyongyang says it wants the United States to end its “hostile policy” toward North Korea, express a willingness to accept peaceful coexistence with the current regime, and retract Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s reference to the government as one of several “outposts of tyranny” during her January 2005 confirmation hearings. (See ACT, April 2005.)

Perhaps significantly, North Korean officials have also hinted that Pyongyang may change its stance on discussing its suspected uranium-enrichment program. The congressional source, as well as a witness to at least one such discussion, told Arms Control Today that these officials have suggested to unofficial interlocutors within the past several months that Pyongyang is willing to discuss U.S. concerns about the program in private bilateral talks.

Suspicions that North Korea is pursuing the capability to enrich uranium have played a central role in the current nuclear crisis. The standoff began in October 2002 after a visiting U.S. delegation accused Pyongyang of pursuing such a program covertly. North Korean officials admitted as much, U.S. officials said later, but Pyongyang has denied that it made such an admission. Highly enriched uranium and plutonium are the two types of fissile materials used in nuclear weapons.

The issue has also become a major point of contention in the six-party talks. During the last round, the United States insisted that North Korea disclose and dismantle the program, but the North Korean delegation denied that it has such a program and refused to discuss the matter. Pyongyang has not publicly changed this position.

The United States has said repeatedly that it will not engage North Korea in bilateral negotiations, although it has met privately with the North Koreans during the six-party talks. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

Testing and Threats
According to the congressional source, the United States has identified “about half a dozen” possible North Korean nuclear testing sites and has recently seen “foggy” indications that Pyongyang may be preparing to test. However, South Korea’s National Security Adviser Kwon Jin-ho dismissed reports of such preparations in an April 27 radio interview, stating that “no unusual [North Korean] moves have been detected.”

Washington’s concerns stem mainly from Pyongyang’s recent provocative statements, rather than any new intelligence, the administration official said.

A March 31 North Korean Foreign Ministry statement describing the country as a “full-fledged nuclear weapons state” is one such example. Speaking to reporters April 27 in Beijing, Hill voiced concern about what North Korea “might do to further demonstrate that [status],” Reuters reported.

Hill’s warning came three days after North Korean Army Staff Chief Kim Yong Chun further escalated the tension, stating that Pyongyang will “steadily bolster its nuclear deterrent force,” according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The extent to which a nuclear test would advance North Korea’s weapons capabilities is unclear. According to an August 2003 CIA assessment, North Korea has “validated” designs for simple fission nuclear weapons without conducting “yield-producing nuclear tests.”

U.S. officials are also concerned about a reported North Korean threat to transfer nuclear weapons to terrorists. North Korea expert Selig Harrison told reporters April 9 that, during a recent meeting, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan said Pyongyang might give nuclear weapons to terrorists if “the United States drives us into a corner.”

North Korea has previously implied that it would transfer nuclear weapons to other countries, but Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR) Thomas Fingar told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in February that “[t]here is no convincing evidence that [North Korea] has ever sold, given, or even offered to transfer such material to any state or nonstate actor.”

Reactor Shutdown
Han Song Ryol, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the UN, told USA Today April 18 that North Korea had shut down its research reactor at Yongbyon. Pyongyang plans to reprocess the spent fuel to produce additional nuclear weapons, Han added.

South Korea has verified the reactor shutdown “through various channels,” Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry official Kim Sook told the Korean Broadcasting System the same day.

Whether Pyongyang is in the process of producing additional plutonium is unclear.

Stopping the reactor’s operation is necessary if North Korea is to unload the reactor’s irradiated nuclear fuel rods. Spent nuclear fuel can be “reprocessed” to separate plutonium from other elements of those fuel rods, which can then be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

Despite Han’s boast, other observers are not certain that Pyongyang intends either to unload or reprocess the fuel rods.

South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency quoted an unnamed South Korean “senior government official” April 18 who contended that North Korea suspended the reactor merely for “technical reasons.” That official cautioned that this assessment could change, the report said.

The U.S. assessment that North Korea has one or two weapons is believed to have been based on estimates of the amount of plutonium North Korea separated from spent fuel produced in the reactor prior to a 1994 agreement with the United States. Whether Pyongyang has since built weapons is unclear.

North Korea announced in December 2002 that it was restarting the reactor, which, along with North Korea’s reprocessing facility and approximately 8,000 spent fuel rods, had been frozen under the 1994 agreement. Later that month, North Korea ejected International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors charged with monitoring the freeze. The United States announced in February 2003 that North Korea had restarted the reactor.

Pyongyang’s announcement followed the escalation of bilateral diplomatic tensions after the October 2002 meeting with the U.S. delegation.

Pyongyang has since claimed to have reprocessed the spent fuel previously subject to IAEA monitoring. That fuel would have contained enough plutonium for “several more” nuclear weapons, then-CIA director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February 2004.

North Korea’s possible reprocessing likely formed the basis for current CIA director Porter Goss’s February 2005 statement before the same committee that Pyongyang’s “capability” to produce nuclear weapons has “increased.” (See ACT, March 2005.)

South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung reportedly stated in February, however, that North Korea has reprocessed “only part of the spent fuel rods.” Siegfried Hecker, a senior fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2004 that the fuel rods were no longer in storage when he visited North Korea earlier that year, but he could not verify North Korea’s reprocessing claim. (See ACT, March 2005.)

A 2004 Congressional Research Service report stated that the fuel rods currently in the reactor could yield enough plutonium for one nuclear weapon annually.

Describing another possible danger of North Korea’s unfettered nuclear program, a 2003 INR assessment indicates that North Korea is more apt to export nuclear material as it produces more plutonium. Pyongyang would be “most likely to export nuclear material if it has more fissile material than it believes it needs for deterrent purposes and if it perceives little risk” that such a transaction would be detected, the assessment said.


After a fresh series of provocative North Korean actions, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill traveled to China, Japan, and South Korea late last month...

NPT Withdrawal: Time for the Security Council to Step In

By George Bunn and John B. Rhinelander

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) provides that a state-party intending to withdraw from the treaty must give the UN Security Council three months’ notice of its intention and provide the Security Council with its reasons for withdrawal. This provision was intended to give the Security Council an opportunity to deal with any withdrawal that might produce a threat to international peace and security.

More than two years ago, North Korea renewed its 1993 notice of withdrawal from the NPT, a notice that had been suspended a decade earlier during negotiations with the United States. That announcement left the Security Council with only a single day before North Korea would become the first country to withdraw from the NPT.

The Security Council did nothing. Indeed, it has continued to ignore North Korea’s action even as Pyongyang has repeatedly stated its intention to produce nuclear weapons, sending a dangerous message to other states considering withdrawal. The once-every-five-years NPT review conference that will meet in New York this month provides a valuable opportunity to address the North Korea case and prod the Security Council to address similar cases that may emerge.

North Korea’s Actions and Security Council Inaction
Article X of the NPT provides a “right” to withdraw from the treaty if the withdrawing party “decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this [t]reaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” It also requires that a withdrawing state-party give three months’ notice.

In January 2003, North Korea cited this provision, announcing its intention to withdraw from the NPT after U.S. officials said that Pyongyang had admitted to efforts to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Soon thereafter, North Korea kicked out International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors who had been monitoring its nuclear reactors and associated fuel-cycle facilities in Yongbyon to ensure that plutonium was not diverted to weapons purposes. Pyongyang has since claimed on several occasions that it is making nuclear weapons from the plutonium, and U.S. officials continue to accuse North Korea of enriching uranium for additional nuclear weapons.

The episode was in many ways a repeat of a similar standoff a decade earlier. In March 1993, North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT after questions were raised about whether it was covertly reprocessing plutonium for nuclear weapons. The IAEA a month later referred the case to the Security Council. Later, as the United States was preparing for an attack on North Korea’s reactor and plutonium separation site, former President Jimmy Carter met with then-North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. Carter reported to then-President Bill Clinton that North Korea was prepared to negotiate with the United States.[1]

Carter’s intervention led to U.S.-North Korean talks, to the pulling back by North Korea of its 1993 notice of withdrawal a day before it would have become effective, and to the eventual negotiation of the 1994 Agreed Framework between the two countries. That agreement froze Pyongyang’s plutonium-based nuclear program for nearly a decade, although U.S. officials claim it did not block parallel uranium-enrichment efforts for some of that period.[2] In both cases, however, North Korea pushed its NPT rights beyond their limits. It took advantage of information and technology gained from other countries that may well have relied on its promises to use them for peaceful uses.

The NPT has usually been interpreted as permitting its non-nuclear-weapon members to produce plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) so long as these materials are not later used to make nuclear weapons.[3] Plutonium and enriched uranium can be used to power nuclear reactors but also to provide the explosive material for nuclear weapons. To assure that nuclear materials and facilities are not used to make nuclear weapons, the NPT and associated bilateral NPT safeguards agreements require disclosures of nuclear activities by states-parties and authorize inspections by the IAEA. Significant violations of such agreements are supposed to be referred to the IAEA Board of Governors and ultimately to the Security Council.

Yet, confronted by North Korea’s string of broken promises, the Security Council has dodged this difficult case. In particular, it has not decided whether Pyongyang should be permitted to withdraw from the NPT and have the ability to use its known plutonium-separation facility and a possible uranium-enrichment facility to make plutonium and HEU for nuclear weapons.

In 1993, after North Korea gave its notice of withdrawal from the NPT and after the IAEA had referred Pyongyang’s noncompliance to the Security Council, China refused to endorse steps, such as the use of force, to restrain North Korea from withdrawing. The other permanent members of the Security Council (France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and a majority of the nonpermanent members appeared ready to adopt a resolution demanding that North Korea not make nuclear weapons or withdraw from the NPT. Because of China’s opposition, however, the resolution was limited to calling on, but not requiring, North Korea to permit IAEA inspections, a step North Korea refused to take.[4]

In early 2003, North Korea again gave notice of withdrawal, this time taking the position that it was only resurrecting its prior notice so that only one day of notice was required. Again, China stood as an obstacle to Security Council action, insisting instead on negotiations with Pyongyang. Thus, Beijing blocked the Security Council from even requiring that North Korea continue complying with the NPT while North Korea’s grounds for withdrawal were being considered. Instead, beginning in April 2003, China played host to a series of negotiations, which in addition to North Korea and the United States also included North Korean neighbors China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. The six-party talks have made little progress to date.

The Security Council Role
China has twice blocked an action or decision on North Korea or even a debate on how the treaty’s provisions on withdrawal should be interpreted in North Korea’s case. Still, at some point, the Security Council is likely to be forced to consider what role it should play in cases where the withdrawal from the NPT of a state threatens international peace and security.

After all, there is not only the outstanding case of North Korea but also the potential case of Iran. Tehran has been under investigation by the IAEA for more than two years largely because of its efforts to enrich uranium. In its negotiations with Europe over its uranium-enrichment program, the Iranians have sometimes suggested that, if pressed too hard, they would follow in North Korea’s footsteps and withdraw from the NPT. As reluctant as some Security Council permanent members seem to be to confront this issue, it is likely that NPT states-parties and the Security Council will sooner or later have to address the council’s power to enforce the NPT prohibition against acquisition of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear-weapon parties.

Under the UN Charter, the Security Council is empowered to take action against threats to international peace and security, and many countries would probably regard the acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea or Iran as such a threat.[5] Likewise, it appears that significant violations of the NPT and its safeguards agreements should be reported to the Security Council, as some may be seen as threats to international peace and security. The IAEA’s statute directs it to report significant incidents of noncompliance to the Security Council, the “organ bearing the main responsibility for maintenance of international peace and security.”[6]

The IAEA board did report North Korea’s noncompliance to the Security Council, although the council failed to command North Korea to take any specific action. In the case of Iran, the United States has repeatedly asked the IAEA board to make a report of Iran’s noncompliance but to no avail. Instead, the board has chosen to await the outcome of wider inspections by the IAEA, most of which Iran has accepted, as well as negotiations between three European nations and Iran aimed at addressing concerns about Tehran’s uranium-enrichment program.

Further, while Article X provides a “right” to withdraw from the treaty, this right is not free from conditions. In addition to providing three months’ notice of its intention to withdraw, the state-party must also provide the Security Council and the other countries with a statement of the “extraordinary events” it regards as having “jeopardized” its “supreme interests.”[7]

A purpose of this requirement is to provide the Security Council with information it needs to review the withdrawal. Presumably the withdrawing party will make its best arguments for withdrawal in this notice. The NPT withdrawal clause thus gives the consent of the parties, including the withdrawing party, to council action to deal with withdrawal. If the withdrawal could produce a “threat to the peace,” the Security Council can take action to deal with it.[8] The “right” to withdraw is thus qualified, and the Security Council may limit its exercise. Moreover, the expiration of the three-month NPT notice-of-withdrawal period does not end the power of the Security Council to take action pursuant to the UN Charter, its basic source of authority, to deal with threats to the peace such as North Korea’s actions.

In its announcement of withdrawal in early 1993, North Korea gave reasons for withdrawal that appeared inadequate to the United States and most other members of the Security Council. North Korea’s notice said that it faced a “grave situation” created by two events: a U.S.-South Korean military exercise in South Korea and an IAEA board decision calling for special inspections by IAEA inspectors at locations in North Korea that had not been inspected previously. The IAEA board had questioned whether North Korea had violated its safeguards agreement at sites where inspections had not been permitted by North Korea, but North Korea’s 1993 notice argued that this board request was made “on the basis of the intelligence information fabricated by the United States.”[9]

North Korea’s one-day notice of withdrawal in 2003 was perhaps intended to avoid IAEA demands to inspect its efforts to produce nuclear weapons. In 2003, Pyongyang apparently did not feel compelled to provide any reasons for its withdrawal because it considered its action only an end to its 1993 withdrawal suspension.

Limits on the Right to Withdraw: Negotiating History
Much of the NPT withdrawal clause was modeled after a similar clause in the Limited Test Ban Treaty. That treaty resulted from 1963 U.S.-British-Soviet negotiations and prohibits nuclear-weapon testing everywhere but underground. The test ban’s withdrawal provision, however, was clearly intended to give the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as others who were expected to join the treaty later, unconditional rights to withdraw from the treaty by simply giving notice to the other parties of the “extraordinary events” the withdrawing party regarded as having “jeopardized their supreme interests.”[10] In that treaty, no notice to the Security Council of intended withdrawal and no reasons for withdrawal were required.

The NPT is different. In crafting the NPT withdrawal clause in 1967, U.S. and Soviet negotiators followed much of the test ban treaty’s language, but they added new language showing a clear change of meaning. In particular, the new language added the Security Council as a required recipient of the notice of and the reasons for withdrawal. It also added the requirement of “a statement of the extraordinary events [the withdrawing party] regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”[11]

At the NPT negotiations in the 1960s, these two NPT additions to the test ban treaty language were questioned by Brazil, a participant in the formal negotiating conference. Brazil complained that the NPT additions would limit the right to withdrawal beyond the simple requirement of notice that appeared in the Limited Test Ban Treaty. In his response, the Soviet representative who had agreed with the U.S. delegation on the withdrawal language, agreed with Brazil that there would be new limitations in the NPT. He justified these by explaining that “observance of the nonproliferation treaty and its effectiveness are bound to be related to the powers of the Security Council, which according to [UN] Charter, Article 24, has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.”[12] This explanation was accepted by the United States and, eventually, by most of the other members of the Geneva Disarmament Conference. The NPT language was not changed from the U.S.-Soviet draft.

This language was clearly intended to require notice of withdrawal to the Security Council for a purpose: to enable the Security Council to consider a party’s withdrawal immediately and to take action, including the use of force if necessary, to maintain international peace and security under the powers of Chapter VII of the UN Charter.[13] The negotiating history shows that the right to withdrawal is not absolute; it can be conditioned by the Security Council, and its exercise can be prohibited by the Security Council. IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has suggested that notice to the council of an NPT withdrawal “should prompt an automatic review” by the council.[14]

What are the Security Council’s legal powers to act in such a case? If the council finds that the withdrawal might foreshadow a threat to the peace, it has authority to take action, including the use of force, to require a delay in withdrawal, to prevent withdrawal, or to direct other action by the withdrawing party as a condition of withdrawal. A withdrawal from the NPT that might produce a threat to the peace would clearly give the Security Council jurisdiction to prohibit or condition the withdrawal. It would even permit the council to order the use of force to prevent a state from carrying out actions that would have been in violation of the NPT if the state had not withdrawn from the treaty.[15]

Conditioning Withdrawal
Assuming the Security Council permits withdrawal, what conditions could it impose? A high-level panel of former ministers and former presidents appointed by the UN secretary-general from 19 countries, including Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to the first President Bush, concluded recently that a notice to the Security Council of withdrawal from the NPT “should prompt immediate verification of [the withdrawing NPT party’s] compliance with the [t]reaty, if necessary, mandated by the Security Council.”[16] This would mean that it, for example, could command a withdrawing party such as North Korea to permit effective inspections of its nuclear activities to see that there had been no violations of the NPT constituting a threat to international peace before the withdrawal was to take effect.

Nuclear experts from 26 countries, including the United States, convened later by ElBaradei also agreed that the Security Council should consider taking action in the event of a notice of withdrawal. They said that the council, “as the international organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, should be prepared to respond to such action [for example, withdrawing from the NPT to operate an enrichment or reprocessing facility without international inspection], insofar as withdrawal from the NPT could be seen as a threat to international peace and security.”[17]

What else might be considered by the Security Council? At a meeting of NPT states-parties in 2004 to prepare for the 2005 NPT Review Conference, France argued that withdrawing NPT states-parties should remain responsible for violations of the NPT they had committed while members even if they withdrew. It said that the Security Council could prohibit a withdrawing NPT party from using nuclear materials, facilities, or technologies acquired from others while it was an NPT party. It added that these should be returned to the states that provided them.[18]

It is not clear what North Korea might be required to give up under this proposal. North Korea received nuclear assistance from the Soviet Union starting in the 1950s before it joined the NPT. It was the Soviet Union that helped train North Korean scientists in nuclear technology, that provided an experimental reactor for training and research, and that pressed North Korea to join the NPT. The burned fuel rods from which North Korea has made plutonium came from an operating reactor in Yongbyon copied after one in the United Kingdom, the design for which had been made public. The natural uranium used to fuel this reactor probably came largely from North Korea’s own mines.[19]

At the same 2004 NPT preparatory committee for the 2005 NPT Review Conference, Germany suggested that all “nuclear equipment, technology, and know-how” obtained because of membership in the NPT should remain forever restricted to peaceful uses under IAEA safeguards even if an NPT party withdrew from the treaty. If implemented by the Security Council, this proposal would have an effect on what North Korea could use for making weapons. Germany also called on the 2005 NPT Review Conference to produce an agreement “that the right of withdrawal cannot be exercised in cases where the state in question is…in noncompliance with the NPT,” as North Korea was when it withdrew.[20]

These proposals by France and Germany would apply to the withdrawing party, but they might also provide a means for preventing the countries that supplied the withdrawing party with nuclear materials and technology from unintentionally violating the NPT’s strictures. Otherwise, those countries might also be considered to have violated the treaty if the recipient later leaves the treaty and develops nuclear weapons with the materials and technology. After all, nuclear exports that would “assist” a non-nuclear-weapon country to make nuclear weapons are prohibited by the NPT unless the nuclear facilities that result are to be under IAEA safeguards.[21] A report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace suggests that the Security Council adopt a resolution stating that, as a matter of principle, an NPT party that withdraws from the treaty remains responsible for violations committed while it was a party to the treaty.[22]

Proposals for the NPT Review Conference
A group of nuclear experts organized by Stanford and Princeton Universities concluded that countries such as North Korea that withdrew from the NPT should not be permitted to “use fissile materials or production facilities acquired while they were parties to the treaty to make nuclear weapons.” In their view, to make clear that this would not be permitted:

[T]he Security Council should state that the withdrawal of a country from the NPT in this fashion would constitute “a threat to the peace” under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and it should be prepared to authorize an escalating series of measures against any country that does so.…In this manner, the Council could make clear that all nuclear materials, facilities, and related equipment in a country’s possession at the time it leaves the NPT must remain under IAEA safeguards.[23]

In 1992 the national leaders of the members of the Security Council issued a statement that the spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction constituted a “threat to international peace and security” within the meaning of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes the council to take action against such threats.[24] Given this precedent and the major emerging threats to the nuclear nonproliferation regime that the world faces today, the Security Council should take similar action to demonstrate that it will examine any NPT withdrawal, including that of North Korea, to see whether the withdrawal could produce a future threat to international peace. The NPT review conference could ask the Security Council to announce that it will examine any future NPT withdrawal cases to determine whether the withdrawal is for the purpose of making nuclear weapons. If it is judged to be so, the council could determine whether this would constitute a threat to international peace and security and what would need to be done to prevent the withdrawing state from making nuclear weapons.

Moreover, the 2005 NPT Review Conference should recommend to the Security Council that it accept Germany’s proposal that NPT withdrawal not be permitted when the NPT party withdrawing is in noncompliance with the NPT. It should also recommend adoption by the Security Council or its members of the Stanford-Princeton proposal that any party withdrawing from the NPT be prohibited from using fissile materials or their production facilities that it acquired while it was a member of the NPT.

In addition, the NPT review conference should review North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT and the future threats to international peace and security that such a withdrawal presents. The conference should be able to agree that withdrawals from the NPT can threaten at least the neighbors and rivals of the withdrawing party and could well constitute long-term threats to international peace and security in other parts of the world.

North Korea’s withdrawal is the first withdrawal from the NPT. If there are no serious consequences for North Korea, its withdrawal could open the door for withdrawals by other states. If there are no sanctions on withdrawal even when withdrawal threatens international peace and security, what is to deter other states from following in North Korea’s footsteps? The success of the NPT and, indirectly, efforts by the Europeans and the IAEA to head off a similar crisis with Iran depends upon it.

The conference should consider these various options and recommend to the Security Council that it adopt a resolution incorporating conclusions such as those we have suggested. A useful precedent is Resolution 1540, adopted last year to deal with the dangers of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to terrorists and other nonstate actors, something with which the NPT and the Biological Weapons Convention and its chemical weapons counterpart did not address adequately. A new resolution or statement to announce Security Council policies and procedures for dealing with NPT withdrawals could be useful in inhibiting withdrawals from the NPT.


1. Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry, Preventive Defense (Brookings Institution, 1999), pp. 128-133.

2. Ibid.

3. See “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Expert Group Report to the Director General of the IAEA,” IAEA Information Circular no. 640, February 22, 2005, para. 28.

4. See George Bunn, “A Brief History of the DPRK’s Nuclear Weapons-Related Efforts,” in Verifying the Agreed Framework, eds. Michael May et al. (Livermore, CA: Center for Global Security Research and Center for International Security and Cooperation, 2001), pp. 16-17.

5. UN Charter Articles 39, 41, and 42. In 1992 the members of the Security Council agreed that nuclear proliferation constituted a threat to international peace.

6. See Statute of the IAEA, as amended, arts. III.B.4 and XII.C.

7. NPT, art. X.1.

8. See UN Charter arts. 39, 41, and 42.

9. Mitchell Reiss, Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain Their Nuclear Capabilities (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995), pp. 250-253.

10. See George Bunn, Arms Control by Committee (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), p. 38.

11. The withdrawal clause for the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972 between the Soviet Union and the United States followed the NPT pattern with a fundamental exception. It made no reference to the Security Council and instead established a bilateral consultative commission that would conduct its business in secret. The United States, in exercising this six-month withdrawal right, acted lawfully under the terms of the ABM Treaty and international law. See John B. Rhinelander, “The ABM Treaty: Past, Present and Future (Part II),” Journal of Conflict Resolution and Security Law 6, no. 2, December 2001, pp. 234-236.

12. Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Conference, Provisional Verbatim 377, March 12, 1968, paras. 24-31; Mohammed Shaker, The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (New York: Oceana Publications 1980), p. 895.

13. See UN Charter chap. VII.

14. Mohamed ElBaradei, “Saving Ourselves From Self Destruction,” The New York Times, February 12, 2004.

15. See UN Charter chap. VII, arts. 39, 41, and 42.

16. High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility,” A/59/565, December 2, 2004, p. 43, para. 134.

17. See “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” para. 329.

18. See Claire Applegarth and Rhianna Tyson, “Major Proposals to Strengthen the Nuclear NPT: A Resource Guide,” April 2005, p. 31.

19. See Bunn, “A Brief History of DPRK’s Nuclear Weapons-Related Efforts,” pp. 15-16.

20. Preparatory Committee for the 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Strengthening the NPT Against Withdrawal and Non-Compliance: Suggestions for the Establishment of Procedures and Mechanisms,” NPT/CONF.2005/PC.III/WP.15, April 29, 2004, available at http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/prepcom04/papers/GermanyWP15.pdf.

21. See NPT arts. I, II, III, and IV.

22. George Perkovich et al., Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2005).

23. Center for International Security and Cooperation and Program on Science and Global Security, “Preventing Nuclear Proliferation and Nuclear Terrorism,” April 2005, chap. 2, pp. 5-6.

24. Richard Dean Burns, ed., Encyclopedia of Arms Control and Disarmament (New York: Scribners 1993), p. 460.

George Bunn, the first general counsel for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, helped negotiate the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and later became U.S. ambassador to the Geneva Disarmament Conference. John B. Rhinelander is senior counsel at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. He served as deputy legal adviser at the Department of State and legal adviser to the ABM Treaty/SALT I delegation.

North Korea Disavows Missile Moratorium; Talks Remain Stalled

Paul Kerr

On March 2, North Korea exacerbated the already tense nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, stating in a lengthy memorandum that Pyongyang is no longer bound by its more than five-year-old moratorium on testing longer-range missiles. Yet, North Korea did not say it will resume such testing.

The Foreign Ministry memorandum did not cite any recent events as reason for the decision, instead arguing that the moratorium is no longer “valid” because the Bush administration suspended previous missile negotiations between the two countries in March 2001, pending a policy review. At that time, North Korea stated that it could not maintain the moratorium “indefinitely.”

North Korea originally pledged in September 1999 that it would not flight-test longer-range missiles as long as then-ongoing negotiations with the United States continued. About a year later, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that it would discontinue testing of its Taepo Dong-1 missile, which it had once test-fired over Japan in August 1998.

North Korea’s explanation regarding the moratorium is curious because Pyongyang has reaffirmed the pledge on several occasions since March 2001. For example, Kim said in May 2001 that North Korea would extend the moratorium until 2003, and during a May 2004 summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Kim reaffirmed his September 2002 pledge to extend the moratorium indefinitely.

The 2,000-kilometer-range Taepo Dong-1 is the longest-range missile North Korea has flight-tested. As configured, that missile cannot reach the United States. A December 2001 National Intelligence Estimate stated that the longest-range missile North Korea has deployed is the 1,300-kilometer-range Nodong.

CIA Director Porter Goss told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 17 that North Korea could flight-test its longer-range Taepo Dong-2 missile “at any time,” adding that the missile “is capable of reaching the United States with a nuclear-weapon-sized payload.”

Other recent reports have been somewhat more qualified. A November CIA report stated that the Taepo Dong-2 “may” be ready for testing. It described the missile as “potentially capable of reaching parts of the United States.”

Additionally, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Thomas Fingar told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February that there is “no evidence” that North Korea has produced nuclear weapons or “mated them to a missile capable of delivering them to the United States.”

U.S. officials have also said that North Korea is in the process of deploying a new, likely road-mobile, intermediate-range ballistic missile which has been under development for years. The missile, said to be based on the Soviet SS-N-6, has a range at 2,500-4,000 kilometers, according to press accounts citing U.S. and South Korean government estimates. (See ACT, September 2004.)

Talks Remain Stalled

The United States, along with China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, has been negotiating with North Korea in talks designed to eliminate Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Speaking to reporters March 2, Department of State spokesperson Adam Ereli described Pyongyang’s threat as “not consistent with the spirit” of the talks, which have not taken place since last June.

Later in the month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited China, Japan, and South Korea—all of which have been more supportive of engaging Pyongyang than has Washington—in an attempt to induce them to pressure North Korea to return to the talks. Rice especially exhorted Chinese officials to exert greater “leverage” on Pyongyang.

However, Chinese statements following a later bilateral meeting in Beijing with North Korean Premier Pak Bong Ju suggested little willingness to increase pressure on Pyongyang. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao told reporters March 24 that both the United States and North Korea “should make greater effort” to restart the talks.

Pak told his Chinese interlocutors that Pyongyang would return to the talks “at any time, as long as the time was mature,” Liu added.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry memorandum articulated what appeared to be Pyongyang’s conditions for returning to the talks, stating that the United States should end its “hostile policy” toward the country and express the “political will to come to peaceful coexistence” with Pyongyang. The memorandum also demanded that the Bush administration apologize for Rice calling North Korea one of several “outposts of tyranny” during her January confirmation hearings. (See ACT, March 2005.)

Rice dismissed these complaints as attempts to “change the subject.” She also suggested several times that the Bush administration is running out of patience for the talks, but still emphasized Washington’s support for them. Bush told reporters March 23 that the United States has not set a deadline for the negotiations.

News Analysis: Examining North Korea's Nuclear Claims

March 2005

Paul Kerr

The North Korean Foreign Ministry’s announcement Feb. 10 that Pyongyang has “produced nuclear weapons” made front-page news around the world. Yet, whether Pyongyang actually possesses such weapons is unknown, although U.S. officials say that North Korea has programs to produce both plutonium and highly enriched uranium for use as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

The Foreign Ministry statement is Pyongyang’s most definitive public comment to date regarding its nuclear arsenal. However, North Korean officials have previously made similar public statements. For example, Pyongyang’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Ri Yong Ho, said in a November 2003 interview with Reuters that North Korea possesses a workable nuclear device. (See ACT, December 2003.) Additionally, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon told reporters last September that Pyongyang had produced nuclear weapons.

A North Korean official told a U.S. delegation during an April 2003 meeting in Beijing that Pyongyang possesses nuclear weapons, the first time North Korea made such a claim. (See ACT, May 2003.)

Plutonium Program
The U.S. intelligence community first assessed during the 1990s that North Korea had one or two plutonium-based nuclear weapons, then-CIA director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February 2004.

According to an August 2003 CIA assessment, North Korea has “validated the [weapons] designs without conducting yield-producing nuclear tests.”

Tenet’s successor, former Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), testified to the same committee Feb. 16 of this year that North Korea’s “capability” to produce nuclear weapons has since “increased.” U.S. intelligence agencies have a “range” of estimates on the size of North Korea’s arsenal, Goss said, but did not elaborate.

Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Thomas Fingar offered a more cautious assessment of Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities in a Feb. 16 statement to the same panel. There is “no evidence” that North Korea has produced nuclear weapons or “mated them to a missile capable of delivering them to the United States,” he stated.

The 1990s assessment is believed to have been based on estimates of the amount of plutonium North Korea separated before concluding the 1994 Agreed Framework with the United States. In that agreement, North Korea agreed to close operation of its nuclear reactor and related facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was charged with monitoring the freeze, as well as approximately 8,000 spent fuel rods.

The Agreed Framework broke down in October 2002. At that time, U.S. officials announced that North Korean officials had acknowledged a covert uranium-enrichment program during a meeting with a U.S. delegation, a claim that Pyongyang has publicly denied. After diplomatic tensions between the two countries escalated, North Korea ejected IAEA inspectors in December 2002.

Pyongyang later claimed to have reprocessed the spent fuel, which would have contained enough plutonium for “several more” nuclear weapons, Tenet said.

North Korea’s reprocessing claim apparently forms the basis for Goss’s statement regarding Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities. Siegfried Hecker, a senior fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2004 that the fuel rods were no longer in storage when he visited North Korea earlier that year, but he could not verify North Korea’s reprocessing claim. (See ACT, March 2004.)

South Korea’s defense minister, Yoon Kwang-ung, told a National Assembly Committee Feb. 21 that North Korea has reprocessed “only part of the spent fuel rods,” Seoul’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency reported.

Hecker also testified that North Korean officials showed him a sample of what appeared to be plutonium metal, a material used to form the core of a plutonium-based nuclear weapon.

Uranium-Enrichment Program

The Bush administration asserts that North Korea has a gas-centrifuge-based, uranium-enrichment program. Gas centrifuges “enrich” uranium hexafluoride gas by spinning it at very high speeds to increase the concentration of the relevant fissile isotope.

February reports from the Washington Post and New York Times revived allegations that North Korea shipped uranium hexafluoride to Libya. Tripoli disclosed this material following its December 2003 decision to give up its nuclear weapons efforts, which included a uranium-enrichment program. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

The IAEA reported in May that Libya ordered 20 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride from a proliferation network run by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. Tripoli ultimately received approximately 1.6 metric tons of the material. U.S. officials believe that North Korea was also a customer of the Khan network.

Malaysia's inspector general of police reported in 2004 that uranium hexafluoride was shipped from Pakistan to Libya in 2001. According to the IAEA, Tripoli received one shipment of the material in 2000 and another in 2001. The agency has not disclosed the material's origin.

Experts from the IAEA examined the material before it was shipped from Libya to the United States.

The Feb. 2 Times and Post reports quoted U.S. officials asserting that laboratory tests on both the uranium hexafluoride and its storage container indicate that the material originated in North Korea.

A Department of Energy official confirmed Feb. 22 that the evidence implicating Pyongyang included traces of plutonium on the storage container, as well as isotopic tests on the uranium. The plutonium reportedly matched samples taken from North Korea’s frozen reactor site.

However, in interviews with Arms Control Today, knowledgeable sources expressed skepticism that Pyongyang was Tripoli’s uranium supplier.

For instance, the Energy Department official stated that the reported evidence does not indicate that the material originated in North Korea, adding that there is a “certain leap of faith involved” in the assessment. The official did say, however, that the uranium hexafluoride is not from Pakistan.

A recent Department of State briefing for congressional staff did not dispel doubts about the intelligence, a source familiar with the issue added Feb. 24.

A diplomatic source in Vienna said Feb. 21 that the IAEA has “evidence” that North Korea was the supplier but has found “nothing conclusive” and is still investigating the matter. As for the reported U.S. findings, the source said IAEA experts did not find plutonium traces when they tested the container. IAEA experts judge the U.S. “methodology” to be neither “credible nor reliable,” another Vienna diplomat close to the agency said Feb. 19.

North Korea has indigenous supplies of natural uranium, but whether it can produce uranium hexafluoride is unclear. A former State Department official familiar with North Korea’s nuclear programs told Arms Control Today Feb. 22 that, as of October 2002, there was no evidence that North Korea possessed a facility for producing uranium hexafluoride. North Korea does have a facility for producing uranium tetrafluoride, a uranium compound that is then converted to uranium hexafluoride, that was frozen under the Agreed Framework, the official said.

However, Gary Samore, who headed nonproliferation efforts for the White House during the Clinton administration, said North Korea could “probably start making hex [uranium hexafluoride] fairly quickly,” Nuclear Fuel reported in September 2003.

The status of North Korea’s centrifuge facility efforts is also unclear. The CIA said in November 2002 that North Korea was “constructing a centrifuge facility” capable of producing enough fissile material for “two or more nuclear weapons per year” as soon as “mid-decade.” But subsequent reports have been increasingly vague. For example, a CIA report to Congress covering the last half of 2002 says only that North Korea “had begun acquiring material and equipment for a centrifuge facility” with the apparent “goal” of building a plant. Similar reports covering 2003 say nothing about the program.

A congressional source familiar with the program told Arms Control Today Feb. 7 that North Korea is apparently making little progress on its centrifuge program, although Pyongyang has probably acquired many of the necessary components for a centrifuge facility. Washington is focused on stopping Pyongyang’s acquisition of a list of certain critical items, the source said, adding that U.S. intelligence indicates Pyongyang probably lacks some of these items.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry’s announcement Feb. 10 that Pyongyang has “produced nuclear weapons” made front-page news around the world.


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