Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
North Korea

North Korea Nuclear Talks in Limbo

Paul Kerr

Despite much diplomatic activity, six-party talks designed to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis have yet to resume after an approximately eight-month hiatus.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told a visiting senior Chinese official Feb. 21 that Pyongyang would return to the “negotiating table anytime if there are mature conditions.” Kim’s announcement apparently overturned an official statement made only days earlier that indicated that Pyongyang would not soon participate in the talks.

Wang Jiarui, a senior Chinese Communist Party official, delivered a pointed message from President Hu Jintao expressing support for resuming the talks “at an early date,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Wang’s visit followed the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Feb. 10 announcement that Pyongyang would “suspend participation in the talks for an indefinite period.” The statement also contained Pyongyang’s most authoritative pronouncement to date that it possesses nuclear weapons.

The United States responded to the Feb. 21 North Korean statement by reiterating its readiness to resume talks in the six-party format. ‘’All of the other five parties—the United States, China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Russia—are, in fact, ready to return to the table at an early date and without preconditions,’’ Department of State spokesperson Richard Boucher said Feb. 22.

Still, the next round of six-party talks has yet to be scheduled.

Election-Related Delays
In September 2004, North Korea opted out of what would have been the fourth round of the talks in 18 months. At that time, there were indications that Pyongyang wanted to see how the U.S. presidential elections would turn out before gauging how to approach the talks. Since President George W. Bush’s November re-election, North Korean officials repeatedly stated that they were assessing his second-term policies before making a decision regarding the talks.

Prior to Wang’s meeting with Kim, U.S., Japanese, and South Korean officials had called for Beijing to use its diplomatic leverage to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. Beijing is widely believed to have the most influence on Pyongyang because it provides essential supplies of food and fuel to North Korea. (See ACT, May 2004.) The participants in the talks held a series of bilateral meetings earlier this month.

A congressional source familiar with the issue told Arms Control Today Feb. 24 that Pyongyang had told Washington through multiple diplomatic channels that it wanted Bush to make a positive statement about the North Korean regime during his Feb. 2 State of the Union Address.

Bush labeled North Korea part of an “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address.

This time, Bush confined himself to describing U.S. diplomatic efforts “to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.” But this apparently did not satisfy Pyongyang. Its Foreign Ministry, citing statements from Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asserted Feb. 10 that Washington had not changed what Pyongyang insists is a “hostile policy” to bring down the North Korean regime.

North Korea has repeatedly said that further six-party talks are pointless unless Washington changes this policy. (See ACT, December 2004.)

During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rice labeled North Korea an “outpost of tyranny” two days before Bush argued forcefully for combating “tyranny” in his Jan. 20 inaugural address.

Whither the Talks?

The talks’ future remains uncertain. Although Kim’s statement was more conciliatory in tone and omitted Pyongyang’s frequent anti-American rhetoric, it nonetheless echoed the Foreign Ministry’s statement that Pyongyang was waiting for “ample conditions and atmosphere” before returning to the talks.

Kim did not specify the conditions under which Pyongyang would resume talks. But a high-ranking North Korean diplomat told a former State Department official Feb. 11 that North Korea wants Bush to state publicly that Washington will accept “peaceful coexistence” with Pyongyang, the official told Arms Control Today.

The Bush administration, however, has indicated that it will not provide further incentives for North Korea to return to the talks. The United States wants North Korea to respond formally to a U.S. proposal presented at the last round of six-party talks, which were held in June. Part of the proposal would provide incentives for North Korea to freeze and then dismantle its nuclear facilities. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

Boucher indicated Feb. 10 that the U.S. proposal is negotiable, but only in the six-party talks.

Meanwhile, tactical differences persist between Washington and the other parties. The United States has favored a more hard-line approach, while the other participants have supported increased engagement with North Korea.

For example, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kong Quan told reporters Feb. 22 that both Washington and Pyongyang should be “flexible” and “make greater efforts on the issue.”

Tokyo, however, may be taking a tougher line. Japan’s Foreign Ministry stated Jan. 26 that it will take “more stringent” measures against North Korea if the latter does not do more to account for Japanese citizens Pyongyang abducted some years ago. (See ACT, October 2002.)

Tokyo has also adopted new regulations, which take effect March 1, requiring ships entering Japanese ports to carry insurance. It is widely believed that these regulations could adversely impact North Korean ships, most of which are uninsured.

Reactor Suspension Extended; North Korea Nuclear Talks Stall

Paul Kerr

With six-party talks designed to resolve a two-year-old North Korean nuclear crisis stuck in limbo, the United States, Japan, and South Korea have opted to renew the year-long construction freeze of two nuclear reactors promised to Pyongyang as part of the 1994 Agreed Framework.

The executive board of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), charged with implementing the agreement, announced Nov. 26 that it will extend its suspension of the project. The Agreed Framework diffused an earlier crisis over Pyongyang’s plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. It called for North Korea to suspend operation of its graphite-moderated nuclear reactor, as well as the construction of two larger reactors, in return for two light-water nuclear reactors (LWRs) and 500,000 metric tons of heavy-fuel oil from KEDO as well as other benefits. It is more difficult to use LWRs to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

KEDO’s board—which is comprised of the United States, South Korea, Japan, and the European Union—said it would continue to suspend construction of the reactors for another year, beginning Dec. 1. The suspension first took effect Dec.1, 2003. The board had suspended the fuel oil shipments in November 2002 following the U.S. announcement that North Korea had admitted to having a prohibited uranium-based nuclear program. (See ACT, December 2003.)

The announcement came at a time of diplomatic uncertainty, with Pyongyang indicating that it was still assessing President George W. Bush’s second-term plans. Pyongyang “intends to follow with patience the course of policy-shaping by the second-term Bush administration,” according to a Dec. 14 statement from Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

In September, North Korea refused to attend a round of talks, and no further discussions have been scheduled. Since then, the other members, including the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China, have continued diplomatic efforts to induce North Korea to return to the talks, including Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 low-level U.S.-North Korean meetings in New York. The talks, however, appear to have made little progress.

Whether reactor construction will ever resume is unclear. The KEDO statement said the project’s future “will be assessed and decided by the executive board before the expiration of the suspension period,” but the Bush administration has repeatedly stated that it does not want the project revived. The United States did not fund KEDO’s administrative budget in fiscal year 2004 and did not request funds for fiscal year 2005.

For now, KEDO will continue “the preservation and maintenance work” associated with the project, the statement said.

Even if the reactor project is terminated, however, KEDO might still have a future. A Bush administration official told Arms Control Today in June that the organization could play a role in implementing a U.S. proposal which was presented during the last round of six-party talks held that month. Part of the U.S. proposal would provide incentives for North Korea to freeze and then dismantle its nuclear facilities, including the formulation of proposals to provide Pyongyang with non-nuclear energy assistance. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

North Korea has still not given a formal response to the U.S. offer. Instead, KCNA has continued to issue statements blaming the United States for the stalemate and reiterating North Korean complaints that the United States has a “hostile policy” to bring down the regime. (See ACT, December 2004.)

Perhaps attempting to address North Korea’s concerns, Bush and several U.S. officials reiterated in December that Washington does not intend to overthrow the North Korean regime but rather wants Pyongyang’s leadership to change its behavior.

Secretary of State Colin Powell further dismissed reports Dec. 3 that the North Korean government has become increasingly unstable, emphasizing that the United States wanted to continue the six-party talks.

Washington has repeatedly said that it has no intention of attacking North Korea, but the Bush administration’s North Korea policy has been characterized by disagreements about the correct mix of pressure and engagement. (See ACT, July/August 2004.) The June proposal offers a provisional multilateral security guarantee that U.S. officials have said could serve as the basis for a future permanent peace agreement on the Korean peninsula.




U.S. Allies Split on North Korea; Talks Stalled as Pyongyang Waits

Paul Kerr

Since the Nov. 2 re-election of President George W. Bush, the United States, along with North Korea’s neighbors, has accelerated diplomatic efforts to convene another round of six-party talks. However, Washington and the other participants still appear to differ on how the crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program should be resolved.

The six parties, which also include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, agreed after the most recent talks in June to meet again before the end of September, but North Korea refused to do so. The parties had hoped to ease a crisis that began in October 2002 when U.S. officials said their North Korean counterparts had acknowledged having a clandestine uranium-enrichment program. North Korea has since said it has accelerated its nuclear weapons efforts, moving ahead with a plutonium-based program that had been frozen by a 1994 agreement with the United States. Either highly enriched uranium or plutonium can provide the explosive material for a nuclear weapon. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to China, Japan, and South Korea in October to coordinate diplomatic strategies in an unsuccessful effort to bring North Korea back to the table. It is widely believed that Pyongyang refused to attend the talks because it was waiting for the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

On Nov. 9, North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il told Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei that Pyongyang is evaluating Washington’s post-election North Korea policy before committing to a meeting, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.

Additionally, Mitoji Yabunaka, a director-general in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, urged North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan to attend another round before the year’s end, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated Nov. 16. Kim declined, however, and reiterated Pyongyang’s complaints about what it terms Washington’s “hostile” policy. The two officials met during bilateral working-level talks concerning Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese citizens. (See ACT, November 2002.)

Both North Korea’s Foreign Ministry and state-run media continued to accuse the United States of planning to overthrow the Pyongyang regime, including through the use of military force. A Nov. 16 statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) contended that the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) interdiction exercise in late October, which Japan hosted, is part of this strategy.

PSI participants intend to carry out cargo interdictions to stop shipments of weapons of mass destruction and related goods to and from countries of proliferation concern. The participants claim that the initiative does not target any particular country, but U.S. officials have made it clear that North Korea’s shipments of missiles and related components are an interdiction priority.

Pyongyang has not yet responded to the U.S. proposal presented in June but continues to argue that Washington should reward North Korea for freezing its nuclear facilities. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

North Korea also has continued to criticize Washington’s handling of recently discovered South Korean nuclear activities. A Nov. 20 KCNA statement implied that Washington’s application of “double standards” with respect to Pyongyang’s and Seoul’s respective nuclear programs may jeopardize the six-party talks. The statement dismissed the current International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation of recently revealed South Korean nuclear research and added that North Korea will “never dismantle its self-defensive nuclear deterrent force unless a thorough and understandable probe is made into South Korea’s nuclear issue.”

The IAEA has said that the South Korean nuclear activities in question have ceased and that there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. North Korea, by contrast, has developed the infrastructure to develop nuclear weapons and claims it possesses such weapons.

Tactical Differences?
Although North Korea has yet to respond to the June U.S. proposal, the Bush administration has not made any further diplomatic gestures toward Pyongyang. Instead, it is admonishing North Korea to respond in the next round of six-party talks, a senior administration official told reporters Nov. 17.

Bush discussed North Korea with the four other participating countries at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meeting in Chile. He stated Nov. 20 that the other parties are “united” and are sending a clear message that Pyongyang must dismantle its nuclear weapons programs.

Recent public statements, however, suggest persisting tactical differences. The United States has favored a more hard-line approach while the other participants have supported greater engagement with North Korea. Indeed, Washington formulated its June proposal, which moderated its previous diplomatic approach, in response to the other participants’ recommendations. The two-phase proposal, which was the Bush administration’s first concrete offer to resolve the dispute, provides incentives for North Korea to freeze and then dismantle its nuclear programs. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson told reporters Nov. 19 that the talks are “meeting with some difficulties” and Beijing wants “all parties” to show “patience and flexibility.” South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun was more explicit in a Nov. 14 speech in Los Angeles, arguing that economic sanctions “would not be a desirable solution” and “[t]he use of force should be restricted as a negotiating strategy,” Agence France Presse reported.

The senior administration official did not directly answer when asked if the United States would be more flexible in response to pressure from its allies. Instead, the official cited some past U.S. successes in obtaining support for its approach while acknowledging that “we still have more work to do.” Another senior administration official argued that “pressure” from North Korea’s neighbors will induce Pyongyang to resolve the matter “peacefully through the six-party talks.”

North Korea Skips Six-Party Talks

Paul Kerr

Despite a June agreement, North Korea refused to take part in another round of six-party talks before the end of September, blaming both U.S. policy and South Korea’s recently revealed nuclear experiments. Still, all parties continue to express interest in future talks.

All six parties—which also include China, Japan, and Russia—agreed during the last round of talks in June to hold another high-level session, as well as another working-group meeting of lower-level officials, before the end of September. North Korea, however, had already signaled in August that the talks would be delayed, saying President George W. Bush’s criticism of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il made it “impossible” to attend further talks. (See ACT, September 2004.)

The talks are designed to resolve the most recent North Korean nuclear crisis, which began in October 2002 when U.S. officials claimed that their North Korean counterparts had acknowledged having a clandestine uranium-enrichment program. Since then, North Korea has accelerated its nuclear activities.

Seeking to shift the blame for the delay, North Korea argued in a Sept. 27 government newspaper article that the United States has “destroyed the fundamental basis” of the talks. The article asserted that Washington is refusing to “reward” Pyongyang for freezing its nuclear facilities—a repeated North Korean demand. It also accused the United States of continuing its “hostile policy” of threatening North Korea with military force. This criticism did not directly address the proposal that the United States introduced at the June round of talks. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

North Korea also criticized the United States for applying “double standards” to North Korea’s and South Korea’s nuclear activities, which it describes as similar. In August, South Korea revealed that government scientists had conducted small-scale uranium-enrichment experiments and separated a small quantity of plutonium (see page 33). Both uranium enrichment and plutonium separation can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. There is no evidence, however, that South Korea’s recently disclosed experiments are part of a nuclear weapons program.

By contrast, North Korea has developed the infrastructure to manufacture nuclear weapons and said it possesses such weapons. On Sept. 27, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon made the most definitive public statement about the matter to date, telling reporters in New York that Pyongyang has reprocessed approximately 8,000 spent fuel rods produced in a small nuclear reactor and “weaponized” the separated plutonium, the Associated Press reported.

North Korea produced the spent fuel rods before its reactor program was frozen by the 1994 Agreed Framework, a bilateral agreement with the United States. In December 2002, North Korea ejected UN inspectors who were monitoring the spent fuel as part of the agreement. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

In a Sept. 27 statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency, North Korea denied widespread speculation that it is delaying the talks until after the November U.S. presidential election.

It does not appear that the six-party talks process will break down altogether. The other five parties have said they will work to make sure another round takes place. For its part, North Korea demanded Sept. 27 that Washington “take practical action to revive the…fundamental basis” for the talks, as well as admit its “involvement” in the South Korean nuclear experiments. The article did not elaborate.



North Korea Criticizes U.S. Nuclear Proposal, Blasts Bush

Paul Kerr

A series of recent statements from North Korea has raised doubts about whether September nuclear talks with the United States and four other countries will take place, despite the participants’ June agreement to hold them.

Since the June talks, when the United States made its first concrete offer thus far to resolve a nearly two-year-old nuclear standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program, North Korea has criticized the U.S. proposal and blasted President George W. Bush in statements carried by its state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). It has neither provided Washington with a formal response to the U.S. proposal nor, despite efforts by third parties, agreed to a date for new talks.

An Aug. 24 KCNA statement said that recent comments by Bush made it “quite impossible” to attend any talks. It said that “there is a question as to whether there is any need for [North Korea] to negotiate with the [United States] anymore.” South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuk said two days later that Pyongyang may be trying to delay the next round of talks until after the U.S. presidential election in November, Chosun Ilbo reported.

In an Aug. 26 interview with Arms Control Today, a Bush administration official familiar with the talks said that statements referring to Bush as “a thrice-cursed fascist tyrant” and “human trash” may be attempts to elicit a harsh response from U.S. officials. Such a reaction would provide North Korea an excuse for not attending the talks, whereas Pyongyang’s outright refusal would anger the other participants, the official said.

A Department of State spokesperson told Arms Control Today Aug. 30 that the United States still expects both the talks and a working group meeting of lower-level officials to be held before the end of the month. China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea are also participants.

The June round of six-party talks was the third such round held in Beijing. The talks have been held to resolve a crisis that began in October 2002 when Washington announced that a U.S. delegation visiting Pyongyang claimed their North Korean counterparts acknowledged having a clandestine uranium-enrichment program. Such a program would have violated the 1994 Agreed Framework, an agreement between the United States and North Korea that froze the latter’s nuclear reactor and related facilities.

The Agreed Framework resolved an earlier crisis, when North Korea was discovered diverting spent nuclear fuel from a reactor. Both uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuel can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. Since the onset of the recent crisis, North Korea has restarted its nuclear reactor, claimed it has reprocessed the spent fuel, and said that it already possesses nuclear weapons.

Several governments have attempted to encourage the next round of talks. For example, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer visited North Korea in August to persuade Pyongyang to attend the next round. North Korean officials told him they remain “committed” to the talks, he wrote in an Aug. 23 article, but did not agree to a firm date.

Proposals and Reactions
The U.S. proposal called for a two-phase process in which North Korea would receive fuel oil from China, South Korea, and Russia after agreeing to dismantle its nuclear programs following an initial freeze. Japan agreed during the meeting to participate in providing fuel oil.

According to the proposal, the United States and the other parties to the talks would also draft a multilateral security agreement and begin surveying North Korea’s energy needs.

Washington is willing to negotiate the details of a security assurance with its allies but requires that the agreement not be legally binding, interfere with existing security alliances, or be limited to a bilateral U.S.-North Korean agreement.

Additionally, the United States would begin bilateral discussions with North Korea on the removal of U.S. sanctions— discussions that could eventually lead to talks on normalizing relations between Washington and Pyongyang. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee July 15 that the United States still links full normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations to other issues, such as improving North Korea’s human rights record and restricting its conventional forces.

Kelly also discussed a counterproposal North Korea presented at the June meeting. Pyongyang offered to “refrain from” producing, testing, or transferring nuclear weapons, as well as conditionally to freeze “all the facilities related to nuclear weapons and products churned out by their operation.” The latter is a probable reference to the production of fissile material. The freeze would ultimately result in the dismantling of Pyongyang’s “nuclear weapons program,” a North Korean official said.

Although Kelly said North Korea identified its nuclear reactor as a nuclear weapons-related facility, the overall scope of Pyongyang’s proposed freeze is unclear. Kelly did note, however, that the proposed freeze would not include plutonium produced prior to the Agreed Framework.

U.S. officials have also said that for progress to be made North Korea has to acknowledge that it has a uranium-enrichment program and abandon hopes to retain a peaceful nuclear program. Pyongyang’s public statements indicate that it has not done either.

For its part, North Korea argues that the U.S. proposal does not provide enough rewards up front. In an Aug. 10 KCNA statement, Pyongyang said that, as a “first-stage step,” it wants the United States to lift economic sanctions, “directly join in energy compensation” for two million kilowatts of electricity, and remove it from the U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism.

In June, North Korea made similar demands but seemed to indicate more flexibility on timing. For example, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson at the time called for a U.S. “commitment” to lift sanctions, rather than lifting them immediately.

Some North Korean statements have suggested that Pyongyang wants the United States to help provide heavy-fuel oil as it did under the Agreed Framework. The administration official characterized such a demand merely as a potential pretext for postponing the talks, adding that the United States will not give fuel oil because of congressional opposition.

Pyongyang and the United States have also squared off over how an eventual agreement might be verified. Pyongyang said at the June meeting that it was willing to discuss the matter during the six-party talks. Furthermore, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson indicated July 14 that Pyongyang will allow outsiders to verify facilities after they are frozen but will only discuss verifying other nuclear activities, such as its pre-1994 plutonium production, “at the phase of dismantling its nuclear program.” Kelly noted that North Korea wants to exclude the International Atomic Energy Agency from any verification effort, contrary to U.S. wishes. The United States has a verification plan that it has been discussing with allies.


North Korea Nuclear Talks: The View From Pyongyang

Dr. C. Kenneth Quinones

In June the Bush administration made its first serious proposal to end a nearly two-year-old standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program. The administration is to be commended for abandoning its “take it or leave it” position after a year of intense diplomacy and three formal rounds of negotiations. Nevertheless, Pyongyang has treated the proposal as little more than “old wine in a new bottle.”

After a mid-August informal discussion in New York among representatives of the nations involved in the six-party nuclear talks, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry declared that the United States “is, in actuality, not interested in making the dialogue fruitful but only seeks to give an impression that it makes efforts to solve the (nuclear) issue.”

Consequently, movement toward a resolution of the U.S.-North Korean nuclear impasse remains tentative at best. Progress is complicated by the onset of U.S. presidential elections and the mistrust that Washington and Pyongyang hold for each other as seen in the recent spate of insults exchanged between the leaders. There has been more than five decades without a peace treaty and more than a decade of talks and tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear aspirations. An even more serious obstacle, however, may be the lack of understanding by U.S. negotiators of the concerns and motivations of their North Korean interlocutors.

The United States’ relatively inexperienced negotiators and senior officials are all too aware of the limits and constraints that domestic politics and external realities place on their diplomatic options, but they have placed little importance on knowing their enemy. North Korea, on the other hand, boasts a seasoned negotiating team and a well-honed strategy for extracting concessions. Ensuring a favorable outcome for U.S. interests in any future talks means closing this knowledge gap.

Hawks and Doves
First and foremost, U.S. officials must not view North Korea as a monolith. The private comments of North Korean officials indicate that, like Washington, Pyongyang is no stranger to bureaucratic battles over turf and tactics between the army and the party, the military and civilians, or hard-liners and moderates. Although Kim Jong Il’s supremacy is unchallenged, he both exploits these different approaches for tactical gain and is constrained by bureaucratic rivalries and institutional commitments.[1]

The visual contrast between Pyongyang hawks and doves is striking. North Korean generals literally wear their authority on their chests. Their uniforms are accented with broad, red strips and decorated with row upon row of bright brass medals, a display intended to excite awe and command attention. It is they who always flank Kim Jong Il on the reviewing stand whenever he shows off his hawkish side. Routinely, this is done on Armed Forces Day and on July 27, the day the Korean War armistice was signed. In North Korea, the date is celebrated as “victory over American Imperialism.” On these and other days of national commemoration, legions of North Korean troops goose-step through Kim Il Sung Plaza, their rifles raised and pointed with shiny, razor-sharp bayonets. Behind them rumble a multitude of polished tanks, mechanized artillery, and freshly painted ballistic missiles. Next come wave after wave of Korean Workers Party members carrying thousands of fluttering red flags.

The scenes are provocative and captivating. Pyongyang invites international journalists to photograph and film these displays. This greatly magnifies the impact as the pictures are broadcast around the world. The scenes arouse concern and fear in the minds of viewers in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere. Visually and mentally, such displays are designed to contrast war’s potential cost with diplomacy’s dividends. Pyongyang’s aim clearly is to intimidate and to deter potential attackers such as the United States.

Pyongyang’s dovish side is much more subdued. Easily ignored during the massive displays of military might is the uninspiring gray, four-story office building in Kim Il Sung Plaza’s northeast corner: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The appearance of North Korea’s diplomats abroad, like their building, is anything but awe inspiring. They usually appear in nondescript, dark business suits decorated only with a single “Kim Il Sung” button on the lapel. Nothing about their appearance conveys authority or political potency. The international press tends to give these usually muted diplomats only brief notice.

Like so many things in North Korea, however, appearances can be deceiving. Both sides fit together to form a tightly coordinated whole that is unwaveringly loyal to their “Supreme Commander.” Kim Jong Il deftly displays both faces of his regime’s “personality” to advance what he sees as North Korea’s interests and his survival in power.

This is not done whimsically. Civilian and military officials claim that Kim Jong Il encourages them to assert their views, even if they differ. The process generally resembles that of the “interagency” process in Washington. Key officials debate and formulate formal recommendations, which they submit to the Supreme Commander. Such a practice is consistent with the national ideology, juche (self-reliance). It allows impressive pragmatism so long as the primary concern remains “serving the Supreme Commander” and furthering the nation’s interests. Once Kim Jong Il has decided his priorities and goals, however, the matter is settled. Further debate could be considered a challenge of his authority and result in dismissal or worse.

When relations between Washington and Pyongyang are tense, which has been the case almost continuously since 2001, North Korea’s dovish side is overshadowed by its hawkish alter ego. Being out of sight, however, does not necessarily mean that they are out of Kim Jong Il’s mind. On the contrary, Pyongyang’s diplomats during such times are most likely campaigning in Beijing, Moscow, the United Nations, and even South Korea to nurture doubts about U.S. intentions and policies toward North Korea. They also are intensely engaged in garnering the economic resources and access to the international market place that Kim Jong Il desperately needs to perpetuate his regime. Engaging in negotiations with the United States, in short, although highly significant, preoccupy only a small elite element of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

Despite their differences in style, North Korea’s diplomats and generals share the same overriding goal: the survival of Kim Jong Il’s regime. This marks an important shift from Kim Il Sung’s Cold War priority of reunifying the Korean nation. The Soviet Union’s demise and South Korea’s democratization and industrialization have compelled Pyongyang to adjust its priorities.

As early as 1990, in fact, Kim Il Sung seemed to have settled on a dual-track strategy to ensure his regime’s longevity. Secretly, he began to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Simultaneously, he dispatched his top diplomats to defuse international hostility. A central goal of his diplomatic game plan was and remains the normalization of relations with the United States. After succeeding his father in 1994, Kim Jong Il quickly learned to deploy his generals and diplomats to shift between a hawkish readiness to defend his domain and a dovish readiness to engage in negotiations.

On the dovish track, the successes of Kim Jong Il’s diplomats in such pursuits keep them in business and Kim Jong Il tuned to their advice. In recent years, his emissaries have greatly increased his nation’s diplomatic and commercial ties around the world and brought home impressive amounts of humanitarian aid and new technology.

On the military track, debates have raged over what has motivated North Korea’s persistent pursuit of nuclear weapons. Some have argued that it wishes to use its nuclear capability as a negotiating card to engage the United States. Others contend that North Korea remains committed to using coercive diplomacy backed by a nuclear capability to promote its national interests and to sustain its ruling regime. Both views are quite credible, but they reflect conjecture in Washington more than strategic thinking in Pyongyang.[2]

On the other hand, North Korea’s preoccupation with regaining military parity with the United States and South Korea is not conjecture. Such parity existed during the Cold War. Thanks to help from the then Soviet Union, the North Korean People’s Army had succeeded in building one of the mightiest conventional land forces in the world. Its more than 1 million-man force was equipped with the most advanced mechanized equipment.

This parity ended in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of Moscow’s military aid to North Korea. Simultaneously, the U.S. use of “smart bombs” established U.S. superiority over Soviet military technology by devastating Soviet tanks and other mechanized equipment used by Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War. Most important was the end of the Soviet nuclear umbrella over North Korea. Since at least 1953, the two allies had ensured that North Korea could rely on Moscow’s nuclear deterrence capability. Soon after assuming power, the new Russian government informed its old ally in Pyongyang of its intention to revise their defense pact, and North Korea lost its Soviet nuclear umbrella.

Since then, North Korea’s hawks have resisted a diplomatic accord that would phase out the nation’s budding nuclear capability while its foremost adversary was able to retain the same capability. The doves have contended that such agreements would better ensure the survival of the ruling regime by giving it access to the international community and the resources it needs. Whether this North Korean debate has ended remains unclear.

Risks of Diplomacy
In this environment, striking a diplomatic deal with the United States poses profound risks for Kim Jong Il. North Korea’s leader, diplomats, and generals agree that the United States is their worst enemy and greatest threat. President George W. Bush’s prior public calls for regime change in North Korea and forceful toppling of the Hussein regime have only deepened this conviction. Given this perspective, and his generals’ belief that they can again defeat “American imperialism” as they believe they did in the Korean War, Kim Jong Il wants to avoid any appearance of bowing to the United States.

Yet, until recently, U.S. officials seemed to expect Kim Jong Il to place his full trust in his foremost critic, Bush. For three-and-a-half years, Bush demanded that Kim Jong Il unilaterally, “completely, verifiably, and irreversibly dismantle” (CVID) North Korea’s entire arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Washington further demanded that Kim Jong Il accept a so-called Libyan solution, which means conceding to all of Bush’s demands without being assured anything in return until this process is complete.

From Kim Jong Il’s point of view, such a demand is unacceptable. It requires that he first trust his enemy more than his generals. It also requires that he order his politically potent generals unilaterally to give up the awesome arsenal that Kim Jong Il and his father ordered them to build to defend their nation and his regime. Although Kim Jong Il appears confident in his generals’ loyalty, his hesitancy about striking a deal suggests uncertainty about two key concerns: whether he can trust Bush and, secondly, whether he can trust his generals’ longer-term willingness to comply with the terms of such a negotiated settlement.

Nor would it seem politically astute for either Kim Jong Il’s generals or diplomats to advocate unilateral disarmament as they might promptly be deemed traitors. Acceptance of Washington’s terms would expose their nation to the unrestrained might of its most powerful enemy. Similarly, Kim Jong Il could arouse doubts about his future intentions were he to ignore their advice and bow to Washington’s demands.

If a diplomatic deal is to be struck, North Korea’s diplomats face formidable challenges. They must convince the United States and its allies to give them something of significance to their Supreme Commander. Only then can they convince him and his generals that they are indeed working to promote the nation’s security and to prolong the regime. Without their Supreme Commander’s trust and political support, North Korea’s diplomats are politically too impotent to strike any negotiated deal.

Yet, in part because of a combination of pressure and economic inducements from Beijing, plus some from Seoul and Tokyo, Kim Jong Il since September 2003 has shown a preference for pursuing a negotiated settlement. A second and possibly equally potent motivation is Kim Jong Il’s realization that war with the United States would inevitably end his regime.

Moreover, Washington’s recent proposal may have made a negotiated settlement more likely. The recent U.S. proposal calls for a two-phase process in which North Korea would receive fuel oil from China, South Korea, and Russia after agreeing to first freeze, then dismantle its nuclear programs. The United States and the other parties to the talks would also draft a multilateral security agreement and begin surveying North Korea’s energy needs. Additionally, Washington would begin bilateral discussions with North Korea on the removal of U.S. sanctions. The benefits spelled out in the proposal could then be withdrawn if North Korea did not comply.

Still, given the timing of the Bush administration’s offer, only five months before a presidential election, and the obvious hostility between Pyongyang and Washington, North Korea is not likely to alter its stance in the forthcoming talks. Having had only two leaders during its half-century of history, North Korean negotiators prize consistency in a diplomatic partner and have been dismayed by the ups-and-downs of U.S. policy. Given the shifts in policy that have come with each new U.S. administration—engagement with the elder Bush’s administration, deeper engagement under Clinton, and then a pullback under the current Bush administration—Pyongyang has ample reason to fear that a commitment by one U.S. administration might not endure during the next president’s tenure.

Such hesitation is evident in Pyongyang’s reaction to Washington’s most recent offer, which left many there wondering, “Is Washington making a temporary adjustment or a strategic shift?” Unless this is clarified to Pyongyang’s satisfaction, progress at the next round of talks in September 2004 is unlikely.

Negotiating Tactics
North Korea’s basic goal in any negotiation is to achieve maximum gains for minimum concessions. The process begins by appearing “hard to get,” avoiding any appearance of eagerness to engage in negotiations. This tactic is evident now as Kim Jong Il probably hopes such a strategy will cause Beijing and Seoul to increase the economic value of their inducements for North Korea’s participation in the talks. Pyongyang has intentionally maintained ambiguity regarding its future intentions and goals. This ambiguity surrounds its actual nuclear capability—whether it has reprocessed all 8,100 nuclear spent fuel rods, whether it possesses a uranium-enrichment program—as well as whether it intends to test any nuclear weapons.

All the while, Pyongyang has kept the door to negotiations open by proclaiming its willingness to “put everything on the table” in direct negotiations with the United States. This posturing has several purposes. Pyongyang is striving to keep Washington off balance while appealing to China and other nations’ concerns. Pyongyang also plays off the other side’s vulnerabilities. Pyongyang points to the United States’ reluctance to negotiate as the primary impediment to progress while declaring that it is the victim of a hostile U.S. policy and that it really would like to negotiate a peaceful resolution.

Pyongyang also is searching for Washington’s bottom line. Given Bush’s commitment to achieve a “peaceful diplomatic solution” and continuing preoccupation with Iraq, Pyongyang believes that the Bush administration will eventually engage in negotiations. The questions it wants answered are when will bilateral negotiations begin and how much is Washington willing to give North Korea in exchange for giving up its nuclear ambitions.

North Korea’s diplomats always demand more than they can realistically expect to obtain. During negotiations, they “struggle” intensely to achieve these unrealistic goals. They do so less out of the expectation that they will get everything that they demand. Instead, their more likely goal is to impress their “Great Leader” Kim Jong Il with their sincerity and devotion to him. Ultimately, when the other side appears to have exhausted its flexibility, Pyongyang’s leadership directs that the “struggle” cease so it can consolidate its gains before starting a new negotiating cycle. Yet, equally important to achieving its desired results is the atmosphere Pyongyang strives to create surrounding the negotiations. This process begins at home.

Arguably the best indication that Kim Jong Il is willing to engage in substantive negotiations to resolve the second nuclear crisis was his dispatch of members of North Korea’s “diplomatic dream team” (see sidebar) to Beijing in February and June 2004 to participate in the six-party talks. Heading the North Korean delegation was Kim Gye Gwan, his deputy Li Gun, and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Han Song Ryol.

Moving Forward
After a half century of animosity, the normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations is long overdue. Before any negotiations can begin to achieve progress toward a diplomatic solution, both sides must first build a foundation of mutual trust and understanding. Even the deeply troubled U.S.-Soviet relationship had a tradition of mutual trust rooted in their shared experience of defeating Adolf Hitler during World War II. Between 1945 and 1990, each nation educated a generation of experts who understood the other side and could advise leaders and negotiators how best to negotiate.

Right now, there is no similar basis in the U.S.-North Korean relationship. North Korea has fostered a team of “American experts” who are impressively equipped to engage and negotiate with the United States. The U.S. government, however, has not formed a similar team of North Korea experts, and those who worked with Pyongyang in the Clinton and elder Bush administrations have been largely excluded from the halls of power during the current administration.

The six-party talks have been extremely valuable in this regard. The participants have discovered that they share the common goals of achieving a peaceful, negotiated end to nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula as well as a nuclear-free peninsula. The primary antagonists, however, the United States and North Korea, have yet to have sufficient trust in each other to engage in bilateral negotiations.

So, once and if bilateral U.S.-North Korean talks commence, North Korean diplomats will have the upper hand, at least initially. They are experienced negotiators while their U.S. counterparts have been denied the opportunity to negotiate. The North Koreans are well versed in U.S. diplomacy, strategy, culture, and language. The Americans are largely novices when it comes to North Korea. The North Koreans will share a common goal and strategy. The Americans, however, may not be able to do the same. Their goal of disarming North Korea is shared, but not necessarily their strategy for attaining that goal.

Reaching an agreement with Pyongyang that will pass muster on Capitol Hill, in the press, and in the executive branch will be extraordinarily difficult. Without a better understanding by U.S. negotiators of their North Korean counterparts, it might well be impossible. The time to close the knowledge gap is now.


1. The content of this article reflects the author’s experiences between 1992 and 2004 in dealing with North Koreans. In September 1992, he was the Department of State’s sole officer responsible for North Korean issues, continuing through the 1993-1994 U.S.-North Korean nuclear negotiations as the first U.S. official representative posted to North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center (where the author lived and worked during much of 1995) and as a negotiator with the North Korean People’s Army concerning the recovery of U.S. soldiers’ remains left behind in North Korea during the Korean War. Specific dates and titles were confirmed in published directories such as East Asia: Biographical Information on DPRK Figures (Foreign Broadcast Information Service [FBIS], 1995) and North Korea Directory (Radiopress, 1989-2002) and in the FBIS generally.

2. An extensive library is available regarding the U.S.-North Korean nuclear impasse: Peter Hayes, American Nuclear Dilemmas in Korea (Toronto: Lexington Books, 1991); Mitchell Reiss, Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain Their Nuclear Capabilities (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995); Leon Sigal, Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy With North Korea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998); Scott Snyder, Negotiating on the Edge (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1999); James Clay Moltz and Alexandre Mansourov, The North Korean Nuclear Program (New York and London: Routledge, 2000); David Albright and Kevin O’Neill, eds., Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle (Washington, DC: Institute for Science and International Security, 2000); Henry Sokolski, ed., Planning for a Peaceful Korea (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2001); Selig Harrison, Korean Endgame (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); and Robert Gallucci, Daniel Poneman, and Joel Wit, Going Critical (Brookings Institute, 2004).

Pyongyang's "Diplomatic Dream Team"

Pyongyang’s negotiators are a diplomatic “dream team” handpicked by titular head of state Kim Yong Nam and his deputy Kang Sok Ju, first vice minister of foreign affairs.

Despite their extensive travel outside North Korea and relatively unrestrained access to information from all corners of the world, Pyongyang’s veteran negotiators retain an unwavering loyalty to Kim Jong Il, his ideology, and their nation. Rarely will a team member mention Kim Jong Il by name, instead preferring the phrase “the highest level of our government.” Early in the U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks, North Korea’s chief delegate opened each session with a long, rambling political polemic. Obvious U.S. boredom eventually halted the practice.

The team’s worldview is typical of North Koreans. It is anchored in the view that all Koreans, North or South, share their nation as the focal point and victim of centuries of great-power rivalry. In North Korea, this international rivalry is expressed in Marxist-Leninist jargon. Domestically, however, North Koreans view their political and social systems in Confucian terms. Confucianism’s goal is social harmony. This is possible only when individualism, the source of anarchy, is suppressed and one’s aspirations and conduct merge with those of society as a whole to better serve the common good.

North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, established a political system that blended selective elements of Marxism-Leninism with Confucianism. He placed himself at the apex of this highly stratified sociopolitical pyramid. Reinforcing this philosophical outlook is an extensive array of “carrots and sticks.” Diplomats and their families, for instance, enjoy access to the nation’s best educational institutions, employment for their spouses either in the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang or at diplomatic posts abroad, and ample economic compensation that includes access to modern living quarters in Pyongyang; the best food and clothing available in North Korean society; and, of course, frequent travel abroad. Breaking with the system would exclude one from these “carrots” and expose both the individual and their family to the “sticks” of possible ostracism, even imprisonment.

A Hierarchy of Negotiators
Like so much in North Korean society, the “dream team” is hierarchical. Members are divided into groups similar to the “strings” on an athletic team in the United States. There appear to be at least three “strings.” The first string works directly with Kim Jong Il in the formulation of policy and strategy for dealing with the United States. The second string now represents Pyongyang at the six-party talks and is responsible for liaison with the United States. The remaining string provides various types of support to the other two teams.

Overseeing the entire operation is the first string of Kim Yong Nam and Kang. Kim Yong Nam, who served for a decade as North Korea’s foreign minister, is Kim Jong Il’s mentor and most trusted civilian adviser. Kang is Kim Yong Nam’s closest deputy and Pyongyang’s chief negotiator and master tactician regarding dealings with the United States. Whenever U.S. delegations have called on Kim Jong Il, both Kim Yong Nam and Kang have been present. The current foreign minister, Paek Nam Sun, plays a limited role in policy toward the United States; this is Kang’s “turf,” a claim he earned as North Korea’s chief negotiator in U.S.-North Korean nuclear negotiations in 1993-1994.

The second string, responsible for day-to-day negotiations, is headed by Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Gye Gwan. (North Korea has several vice ministers, but they distinguish themselves based on their area of expertise. Highest ranking of the vice ministers is Kang.) His deputies are Li Hyong Chol, former director of North American affairs, and Li Gun, the current director of the same office. Both served together in New York as deputy permanent representatives to the United Nations. The current North Korean deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Han Song Ryol, also is on the second team.

Tae Yong Jung and Pak Myong Kuk are prominent members of the third string. Like Han, they have accompanied Kim Gye Gwan and Li Gun to the six-party talks. Jung’s formal title is acting director-general for American affairs on the Flood Damage Relief Committee (FDRC). Formed in 1995, this interagency committee coordinates humanitarian relief matters between North Korea and international relief agencies, foreign governments, and private groups. Jung oversees the coordination of all related humanitarian activities between his government and U.S. official and private humanitarian aid agencies. Pak Myong Kuk, or “Big Pak,” as he is known because of his height, is an expert in consular affairs.

The Military
The Korean People’s Army (KPA) asserts strong influence on North Korea’s foreign policy and negotiations but is not allowed to be present during actual negotiations. Other attempts at military-to-military cooperation have generally foundered. Since 1994, KPA has sought to open its own, separate channel of direct communication to the U.S. military. Its aim is to replace the long-established channel through the Military Armistice Commission to the United Nations Command (UNC). The effort thus far has been in vain despite occasional general-to-general talks between both armies.

Under the banner of “humanitarian” issues, the U.S. and North Korean armies decided in May 1996 to conduct joint operations to recover the remains of U.S. military personnel who died in North Korea during the Korean War. Despite the UNC’s opposition, the agreement opened a direct channel between the two armies but only for this purpose.

Kim Yong Nam—The Decision-Maker
Kim Yong Nam, whose official title is president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, links the team to the “Supreme Command.” Born in 1925, Kim graduated from Kim Il Sung University, North Korea’s leading university, before going abroad to study in Moscow during the Korean War. Upon his return in 1954, he began working in the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) International Affairs Department. Kim rose steadily through the KWP’s ranks. By 1970 he was elected to the Central Committee and in 1978 became a member of the Political Bureau.

Early in his career, Kim caught the attention of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung. Appointed vice minister of foreign affairs in 1963, Kim Yong Nam accompanied Kim Il Sung on trips to the Soviet Union, China, and Romania. It is believed that Kim Yong Nam has made at least 15 trips to foreign nations. In the 1980s, Kim Yong Nam served as foreign minister, a post he held until Kim Jong Il promoted him to premier after Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994.

In the 1980s, as the Soviet Union faltered, Kim concentrated on rallying the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM) diplomatic support for his nation, its leader, and his juche ideology. The NAM is an association of developing nations that claimed to fill the diplomatic and ideological middle ground between the Soviet Union’s communist bloc and the United States-led Western bloc of capitalist nations. Kim’s successful promotion of Pyongyang’s ties with NAM members, especially in Africa and the Middle East, combined with his adroit diplomatic skills and ardent loyalty to Kim Il Sung won him the unwavering trust of the “Great Leader” and his son.

After the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991, Kim Yong Nam visited New York in September 1992 to represent North Korea at the United Nations’ annual gathering of the General Assembly. I was the first U.S. diplomat to meet and engage him in substantive conversation. At the time, the abrupt reunification of Germany, the collapse of the Soviet-led communist bloc in Eastern Europe, and the bankruptcy and evaporation of the Soviet Union had discredited the communist ideology. Even China, in the wake of the Tiananmen uprising and welcoming of foreign investment, appeared destined to turn to capitalism. Prospects for the North Korean regime’s survival and its nationalistic brand of socialism seemed bleak.

Yet, during lunch together, Kim Yong Nam confidently asserted that North Korea would hang on. When pressed to explain his prediction, he said that North Korea’s leadership was superior to that of all other communist nations.

Kang Sok Ju—The Strategist
Kang has long served as the first vice minister of foreign affairs. Born in Pyongyang in 1939, he has followed the same career path as his mentor Kim Yong Nam, with whom he has worked for more than 30 years. After graduating from Kim Il Sung University, Kang rose through the ranks of the KWP International Affairs Division during the 1970s and began dealing with foreign diplomats in 1986. Kang is thoroughly acquainted with the United Nations, delivering North Korea’s acceptance of membership speech when his country was admitted to the international organization in 1991.

At the end of 1992, it was Kang who engaged in the first formal negotiations between the United States and North Korea regarding the recovery of the remains of 8,100 U.S. military personnel left behind in North Korea during the Korean War. Soon thereafter, Kim Yong Nam entrusted Kang with responsibility for North Korea’s diplomatic effort aimed at the United States. Kang proved to be a shrewd and tough negotiator during the 1993-1994 negotiations with the United States that culminated in the Agreed Framework intended to solve North Korea’s first nuclear crisis.

In October 1993, when the talks were stalled, a U.S. representative visited North Korea to meet Kim Il Sung. During the meeting and luncheon, Kim Il Sung and Kim Yong Nam demonstrated complete confidence in Kang by repeatedly calling upon him to respond to the representative’s questions regarding the negotiations. Each time that Kim Il Sung called on him, Kang would rise slowly, look toward Kim Il Sung, bow and begin his response by uttering the honorific Korean phrase used in pre-modern times to address the Korean monarch.

Kang shares Kim Yong Nam’s deep distrust of the United States. When I first met Kang in 1992, he told me that he and his family had survived the U.S. bombing of North Korea’s capital during the Korean War. After one raid, Kang recalled, his father sent him back into Pyongyang’s still smoldering ruins to retrieve the family’s genealogy. Kang, speaking with obvious bitterness toward Americans, said the city was so devastated that he could not locate the neighborhood where his family had once lived.

Kim Gye Gwan—Chief Delegate
Kim Gye Gwan heads North Korea’s delegation to the six-party talks. Although Kim Gye Gwan appears docile, he is one of North Korea’s most experienced negotiators. Prior to 1993, he traveled widely in Europe. Fluent in French, Kim Gye Gwan served as ambassador at large and maintained ties with socialist parties in Western Europe. Then in 1993, Kang designated Kim Gye Gwan his deputy in the first nuclear talks with the United States. At the first round of those talks, while Gallucci and Kang were dining in a private room, Kim Gye Gwan teamed up with his U.S. counterpart, East Asia Bureau Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Hubbard, in a separate private room. During their entire time together, Kim Gye Gwan spoke in flawless French while Hubbard struggled to recall the French he had learned. Fortunately, the more significant conversation had taken place between Gallucci and Kang with the help of accomplished interpreters.

Eventually, Kim Gye Gwan headed the North Korean team that negotiated a key understanding with the United States. He also headed North Korea’s delegation to the inconclusive four-party talks that brought together representatives from Seoul, Beijing, Pyongyang, and Washington to address Korean peninsula issues. Patient and calm, he prefers persistence and persuasion over confrontation to achieve his goals.

Li Gun – Kim Gye Gwan’s Deputy
Li Gun is Kim Gye Gwan’s deputy on North Korea’s delegation to the six-party talks. He is the opposite of his colleague Li Yong Ho. Li Gun tends to talk tough, but he can be disarmingly candid and occasionally humorous. Li apparently learned his English while stationed in Havana where he listened to radio stations in Miami. Li Gun has a reputation for solving problems and getting things done. From 1994 to 1996, as deputy director of North American affairs, he excelled at implementing aspects of the Agreed Framework.

Beginning in 1996, his efforts proved invaluable in opening the way for the U.S. Army to return to North Korea to locate and recover the remains of U.S. soldiers who had been left in North Korea during the Korean War. In 1997, Li Gun teamed up with his mentor Li Hyong Chol and came to the United States to open the liaison section at North Korea’s UN mission in New York. Li Gun accompanied Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, Kim Jong Il’s special envoy, to Washington, D.C., in October 2000. After the Bush administration assumed office in January 2001, Li Gun teamed up with Li Hyong Chol to return to Pyongyang. There, Li Gun continues to serve as deputy director-general of North American affairs at the Foreign Ministry. He also headed the North Korean delegation to the so-called three-party talks among Beijing, Pyongyang, and Washington in April 2003 that set the stage for the six-party talks.

Han Song Ryol – Link to Washington
Han Song Ryol is the junior member of Kim Gye Gwan’s team at the six-party talks. Han is a rising star in the Foreign Ministry. He first served in the United States as an assistant to Ambassador Ho Jong at the North Korean UN mission beginning in the fall of 1993. He also served on the North Korean delegation to the nuclear talks between 1993 and 1994. Han remained in the United States until 1997 to assist with implementation of the Agreed Framework. He then returned to Pyongyang to serve as the deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs division. Between 1997 and 2002, Han proved an astute liaison between his government and Americans visiting North Korea. Late in 2001, Han returned to New York to head up the U.S. liaison office in North Korea’s mission to the United Nations and was promoted to deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. Soft spoken, Han speaks fluent English and has developed a comprehensive understanding of U.S. politics and policy and trends in U.S. public opinion.


Dr. C. Kenneth Quinones is a retired diplomat and the author of numerous articles and books about U.S. relations with North and South Korea, including Beyond Negotiations—Implementation of the Agreed Framework (Tokyo: Chuokoronshinsha, 2003); and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding North Korea (New York: The Penguin Group, 2004) with Joseph Tragert. He served as the Department of State’s North Korea affairs officer from 1992 to 1994 and then as de facto liaison officer with North Korea from 1995 to 1997. He currently serves as an adviser to and representative of the U.S. humanitarian effort on North Korea issues. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

New North Korean Missile Suspected

Paul Kerr

North Korea is “in the process of deploying” a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, a Department of State official told Arms Control Today Aug. 18. The missile might be able to fly up to three times as far as previous North Korean missiles, reaching U.S. facilities in Asia.

Although the official emphasized that Pyongyang’s efforts to improve its missiles have been ongoing “for years,” recent press reports have given the issue new visibility.

The official did not dispute press accounts, based on a South Korean Defense Ministry report, that North Korea has been testing missile engines and deploying intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The official also confirmed that the missile is based on a Russian missile, reportedly the Soviet SS-N-6. The official said the United States believes North Korea is deploying the missile in a “road-mobile mode,” although the SS-N-6 was a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

The precise range of the new missile is unclear. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February that a missile similar to the SS-N-6 “could reach U.S. facilities in Okinawa, Guam, and possibly Alaska” if it were developed by North Korea.

The State Department official did not give a specific range for the missile, but several press reports cite U.S. and South Korean government estimates of 2,500-4,000 kilometers. The most advanced version of the SS-N-6 had an estimated range of 3,000 kilometers. A new missile’s range would vary considerably depending on the size of its payload.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov denied that Russia had provided North Korea with missile technology, the Interfax News Agency reported Aug. 5. Russia no longer deploys the SS-N-6.

The State Department official also stated that North Korea is “arguably” in the process of deploying the missile without flight-testing it. The official noted that Pyongyang does not develop missiles in the same way the United States does, pointing to North Korea’s deployment of its Nodong missile after only one flight test as an example of its unorthodox missile deployment practices.

However, Greg Thielmann, who served as director of the strategic, proliferation, and military affairs office in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, expressed skepticism of that possibility. Thielmann told Arms Control Today Aug. 20 that he is “dubious” that North Korea would deploy the missile without testing it, adding that it is “unclear what experience the North Koreans have with [the missile].” He also noted that the liquid-fueled SS-N-6 would carry the same operational disadvantages of previous North Korean liquid-fueled road-mobile systems, such as being more conspicuous and requiring longer launch times than solid-fueled systems.

Asked about press leaks from U.S. officials that Iran is conducting flight tests for North Korea, the State Department official said that it is “always a possibility” but added that the United States does not have solid information that such cooperation is happening. It is not clear that North Korea “would depend on Iran for anything,” the official added. Iran receives assistance from North Korea on its ballistic missile program, according to a November 2003 CIA report.

North Korea has observed a self-imposed moratorium on testing longer-range missiles since 1999. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during a May summit meeting that Pyongyang intends to continue adhering to the moratorium. (See ACT, June 2004.)

The longest-range missile North Korea has flight-tested is the Taepo Dong-1, which it launched over the Sea of Japan in 1998. 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 December 2001 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

North Korea imposed the missile testing moratorium after its 1998 tests raised tensions with Japan and the United States. Since then, the progress of its missile development program has remained uncertain. Then-CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February that North Korea’s “multiple-stage Taepo Dong-2—capable of reaching the United States with a nuclear-weapon-sized payload—may be ready for flight testing.” The 2001 NIE expressed this same judgment, adding that the Taepo Dong-2 could hit parts of the continental United States in a two-stage configuration and all of North America in a three-stage configuration. Neither of those missile configurations has been tested.

U.S. Unveils Offer At North Korea Talks

Paul Kerr

In late June, the United States for the first time presented a detailed proposal for resolving a nearly two-year-old nuclear crisis with North Korea, demonstrating new flexibility in a series of meetings that has already stretched on for more than a year. U.S. officials said that pressure from impatient allies helped force the initiative.

The talks, held in Beijing June 23-26, yielded no immediate breakthroughs, but the U.S. proposal contributed to greater optimism among the participants, which also included China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. They agreed in principle to hold another round by the end of September.

A June 26 Chairman’s Statement issued by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that “differences among the Parties remained,” but both the U.S. Department of State and North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said June 28 that the talks made progress and called for each side to study the other’s proposal.

According to Wang, all participants “stressed the need for a step-by-step process of ‘words for words’ and ‘action for action’” to resolve the crisis. Additionally, they agreed to hold another round of working group talks “at the earliest possible date” to discuss the “first steps for denuclearization.”

Prior to the talks, Japan, South Korea, and China had pushed for the United States to be more flexible in dealing with North Korea and advocated the use of incentives to persuade North Korea to resolve the nuclear issue.

The six-party talks followed working group talks held during the previous two days—the second round since the parties agreed to such lower-level talks in February.

The six-party talks marked the third round of high-level talks since an initial trilateral meeting involving the United States, North Korea, and China in April 2003. The first two rounds of six-party talks, held in August 2003 and this past February, made little headway in resolving the recent North Korean nuclear crisis.

The standoff began in October 2002 when the U.S. delegation claimed that their North Korean counterparts acknowledged that they had a clandestine uranium-enrichment program. Such a program would be in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework, an agreement between the United States and North Korea that froze the latter’s nuclear reactor and related facilities.

The Agreed Framework resolved an earlier crisis, when North Korea was discovered diverting spent nuclear fuel from its reactor. Both uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Since the onset of the crisis, North Korea has restarted its nuclear reactor, claimed it has reprocessed the spent fuel, and declared that it already possesses nuclear weapons. (See ACT, April 2004.)

New U.S. Proposal

An administration official told Arms Control Today June 24 that U.S. diplomats did not expect North Korea to accept the U.S. proposal in the near term, but that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly presented it to test North Korea’s intentions.

The proposal calls for a two-phase process in which North Korea would receive fuel oil from China, South Korea, and Russia after agreeing to first freeze, then dismantle its nuclear programs. The United States and the other parties to the talks would also draft a multilateral security agreement and begin surveying North Korea’s energy needs. Additionally, Washington would begin bilateral discussions with North Korea on the removal of U.S. sanctions. The benefits spelled out in the proposal could then be withdrawn if North Korea did not comply (see sidebar).

The U.S. proposal marks a shift from its prior position. Previously, the United States insisted that North Korea agree to the “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” of its nuclear programs but said it would not “reward” North Korea for doing so. Washington did say that it would be willing to provide a written, multilateral security agreement to North Korea and “could” normalize relations with Pyongyang if it meets U.S. demands. The administration would not specify, however, what North Korea had to do to meet U.S. demands or what benefits it could gain from doing so.

In the past, the United States linked normalizing relations to other issues, such as North Korea taking steps to improve its human rights record and reduce its conventional forces.

The administration official acknowledged that the United States had not presented a specific enough position at past talks. In recent months, some U.S. officials clarified some aspects of the administration’s policy but had only hinted at the change embodied in the U.S. offer.

An offer to engage in bilateral discussions on sanctions appears to mark another administration shift. Previously, Kelly could only meet with North Korean officials on the side of the six-party talks. The administration official emphasized, however, that bilateral talks concerning sanctions would only be for the purpose of discussing procedures for North Korea to follow and would not constitute negotiations.

Kelly met bilaterally with his North Korean counterparts during this round of talks. According to the official, Kelly was only explaining the U.S. proposal, rather than negotiating its terms, adding that Washington will have more flexibility to take bilateral actions once North Korea commits to dismantlement.

Parsing the U.S. Proposal

In a June 24 interview with Arms Control Today and a June 23 press briefing by Department of State spokesman Richard Boucher, Bush administration officials fleshed out the details of their two-phase offer to Pyongyang.

During the initial phase, North Korea would sign a written commitment to dismantle its nuclear programs under outside supervision. As soon as it does so, China, South Korea, and Russia would immediately begin providing fuel oil to North Korea. Japan’s representative to the talks said Tokyo would also participate.

During the following three months, Pyongyang would fully declare all elements of its plutonium- and uranium-based nuclear programs; open up its nuclear facilities for inspection; disable any nuclear weapons in its possession; and prepare any nuclear materials, as well as relevant components, for removal from the country. These components include any spent fuel rods from its plutonium reactor and components for gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)

In tandem, the United States and other participants would draft a provisional multilateral security guarantee, including a statement of their intent to respect North Korea’s sovereignty. The agreement could be the basis for negotiating a future permanent peace agreement on the Korean peninsula.

The United States and the other countries would also conduct a survey of North Korea’s energy needs. Washington would encourage international organizations, such as the World Bank, as well as other countries to participate in the project.

The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), which the United States set up under the Agreed Framework to provide light-water nuclear reactors and heavy-fuel oil shipments to North Korea, could play a future role in North Korean energy projects. Although the Bush administration wants to terminate the currently suspended reactor project, Washington has not yet taken a position on KEDO’s future and believes it may serve as a useful mechanism to provide energy to North Korea.

During the initial phase, Washington is also willing to engage in bilateral discussions with Pyongyang in order to clarify what North Korea must do to comply with U.S. sanctions laws and to establish a timetable for Pyongyang to act. Ultimately, such talks might lead to the normalization of bilateral relations.

As this phase would seek to test Pyongyang’s compliance, any of these steps might be halted if North Korea fails to follow through on its commitments.

In the second phase, North Korea would allow the removal of relevant nuclear components and material from the country and agree to a long-term monitoring program. The administration would prefer that the material be transferred to the United States but might be willing to let another country, perhaps Russia, take some of it.

During this phase, the United States would also provide technical assistance to North Korea to help dismantle its nuclear facilities, similar to that provided under Cooperative Threat Reduction programs with Russia and former Soviet states. The United States would also pay to retrain North Korean weapons scientists.

The officials did not supply details about verification, but U.S. officials have said they want the International Atomic Energy Agency to be involved.
U.S. officials say they are still insisting that North Korea agree to the “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of its nuclear programs. But U.S. diplomats have substituted other language in the proposal to overcome objections from North Korean officials, who found that language culturally offensive.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson said June 15 that the phrase describes “a demand which can be forced on a defeated country only.”


The administration altered course in response to U.S. allies, the administration official said. South Korea had argued for testing the North Koreans, Japanese Prime Minister Jonichiro Koizumi told President George W. Bush June 8 at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit that North Korea might be willing to make a deal on dismantlement.

Moreover, while Washington had been holding to a hard line, South Korea, Japan, and China had launched their own initiatives to improve relations with Pyongyang. (See ACT, June 2004.)

During June alone, North and South Korea concluded a shipping agreement, began measures to prevent naval clashes, and halted propaganda broadcasts along their mutual border. Also, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun stated June 15 that Seoul would increase economic aid and development assistance to Pyongyang if the North dismantles its nuclear weapons program, Chosun Ilbo reported.

As for Japan, Koizumi met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in May to discuss North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens, as well as the nuclear issue. Koizumi told reporters June 10 that he emphasized to Kim the benefits that North Korea would get from dismantling its nuclear program. Koizumi also “announced his intention to provide food and medical equipment to North Korea…through international organizations,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said May 22.

Tokyo has said it will not normalize relations with North Korea until the nuclear issue is resolved, but Japanese officials have indicated that they are willing to begin talks beforehand.

For its part, China in the past few months has supported efforts to offer North Korea incentives for cooperation and has expanded ties with the country, agreeing in April to increase bilateral economic cooperation and hosting a visit by Kim. Moreover, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong indicated disagreement with the U.S. approach in a June 8 interview with The New York Times, saying Washington “has not presented convincing evidence” that North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program exists. Zhou also claimed that there were “problems” with the U.S. dismantlement demands, although he did not elaborate.

The administration hoped that the new policy would unite the other participants behind the U.S. proposal, a plan that succeeded to an extent.

The Xinhua News Agency reported June 24 that Japan’s representative to the talks said Tokyo would also participate in providing oil to North Korea. That appeared to mark a policy shift: a Japanese embassy official had told Arms Control Today in May that Japan would not provide economic aid to North Korea until relations were normalized. South Korea, meanwhile, advanced a proposal very similar to both the U.S. proposal and one it made at the February talks. (See ACT, March 2004.)

Developing the new U.S. position apparently required administration advocates of greater engagement with North Korea to overcome the significant internal opposition that had stymied such an offer until recently. Charles L. “Jack” Pritchard, former State Department special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, told National Public Radio June 23 that this group consists of “almost the entire Pentagon...an element within the State Department” led by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, members of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, and a portion of the National Security Council led by senior director for counterproliferation Robert Joseph.Most State Department officials and the National Security Council’s Asian experts favor a “more moderate approach,” Pritchard said.

North Korea Reacts

The administration’s proposal appears to address several past North Korean demands, such as the lifting of sanctions, provision of energy assistance, and issuance of a security agreement.

North Korea countered with its own proposal at the talks. According to a June 28 North Korean Foreign Ministry statement, North Korea proposed to “refrain from” producing, testing, or transferring nuclear weapons and to freeze “all the facilities related to nuclear weapons and products churned out by their operation.” The latter is a probable reference to the production of fissile material. Whether North Korea’s nuclear reactors or reprocessing facilities are covered by this statement is unclear.

“The freeze…would lead to the ultimate dismantlement of the nuclear weapons program,” the spokesperson added. Xinhua reported June 26 that North Korea’s delegation spokesperson, Hyun Hak Bong, stated that Pyongyang will discuss verification measures during the six-party talks.

In return, North Korea wants a “reward” consisting of “energy assistance” totaling two million kilowatts—the equivalent amount of power that would have been produced by two never-completed, proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors promised under the Agreed Framework—and a U.S. commitment to lift sanctions. The statement only names “heavy oil and electricity” as forms of energy assistance, perhaps signaling compromise on North Korea’s previous demand that it be allowed to keep a civilian nuclear program. The Foreign Ministry statement is unclear on whether Pyongyang made other demands.

North Korea’s proposal also contains an element of conditionality. According to the Foreign Ministry, the length of the freeze depends on “whether reward is made or not.”

Although some aspects of North Korea’s position are similar to the U.S. proposal, disagreement remains. Hyun said Pyongyang wants Washington to join the other countries “in providing energy aid” after North Korea implements its nuclear freeze—an apparent reference to future energy projects, rather than fuel oil. North Korea “will show flexibility” on sanctions if the United States complies, Hyun said.

The Foreign Ministry also said Washington’s three-month time frame is not “realistic” and that the United States should drop its demands concerning the uranium-enrichment program, which Pyongyang has repeatedly denied possessing.





Better Late Than Never on North Korea

Daryl G. Kimball

Of the several emerging nuclear threats in the world, the revival of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program may be the most urgent and dangerous. Since late 2002, President George W. Bush has prudently maintained that he wants a “peaceful” and “diplomatic” solution to the crisis. There are no quick or easy military options.

But U.S. diplomacy has been ineffectual. Bush’s foreign policy principals have bickered over strategy. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has only fueled North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s security fears. Under pressure from allies anxious about North Korea’s ongoing nuclear activities, Bush has at last authorized a detailed and practical proposal. Negotiators must now get down to work and make up for lost time.

Unveiled at the fourth and latest round of multilateral talks in Beijing, the U.S. proposal is designed to reimpose a freeze of the North’s nuclear program and open the way toward verifiable dismantlement of its facilities and toward better U.S.-North Korean relations.

The U.S. plan would require North Korea to agree in writing to disclose and dismantle its programs and give it three months to seal all of its nuclear facilities. In exchange, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea would begin supplying fuel oil to the North. Meanwhile, the United States would extend a provisional security guarantee not to attack or overthrow the regime in Pyongyang.

If North Korea then admits inspectors to key sites and allows its nuclear weapons-related facilities to be dismantled, the United States would engage in bilateral talks on removing it from the U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism, eliminating U.S. sanctions, and providing greater international economic assistance.

The proposal represents a major shift away from the administration’s earlier and more confrontational North Korea policy. Three years ago, Bush announced he would discontinue direct talks and denounced North Korea as part of an “axis of evil.” North Korea’s secret efforts to acquire uranium-enrichment capabilities and the U.S.-led decision to cut off fuel aid worsened the situation. In late 2002, Pyongyang ejected international arms inspectors and, in January 2003, announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Since then, North Korea has most assuredly resumed plutonium production for weapons. It could already be the world’s ninth nuclear-weapon state and become a potential exporter of nuclear arms and material.

With savvy and energetic U.S. and allied diplomacy, this nightmare scenario might still be avoided. The administration’s new proposal is a good start. The White House has at last recognized the importance of offering North Korea political and economic inducements to give up its nuclear pursuits. By offering a nonaggression pledge conditioned on further progress, the White House has given Kim an alternative to the nuclear weapons program North Korea says is necessary to deter U.S. aggression, but which would seriously destabilize the region.

There will be more difficulties ahead, and the next few weeks are critical. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell must fend off administration hard-liners who may try to scuttle a deal in the false hope that the Pyongyang regime will soon collapse and that its nuclear and missile programs can be contained through economic sanctions and interdictions.
In Beijing, Kim’s representatives called the U.S. offer “constructive” and asked for time to evaluate it. The North Koreans have also made their own offer: to freeze and eventually dismantle their nuclear programs if provided with energy equivalent to a quarter of their annual production. To achieve a deal they also must be more flexible and forthcoming about their nuclear activities.

Unfortunately, the Pyongyang regime still refuses to clear up charges that it is also pursuing uranium enrichment for weapons. The existence of the effort is more certain as details of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan’s illegal nuclear supplier network have come to light. Though it represents a less urgent weapons threat than the plutonium facilities at Yongbyon, North Korea’s still-to-be-detailed uranium-enrichment project must be eliminated. By agreeing to call it a research program, negotiators might provide North Korea a face-saving way to reveal and dismantle any uranium activities.

At the same time, the Bush administration must accelerate the pace of negotiations with North Korea by pursuing immediate follow-up discussions. Bush must also give U.S. envoy James Kelly enough room to engage in the genuine give-and-take on timelines and inspection procedures necessary to secure a deal. The more time passes without inspectors on the ground to verify a freeze of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, the more its nuclear capabilities likely increase.

With serious proposals to end North Korea’s nuclear programs finally in play, leaders in Beijing, Moscow, Seoul, and Tokyo must continue to use the six-party format to press the United States and North Korea to make tangible progress. With high-level White House attention and a genuine commitment to eliminate Pyongyang’s stated motives to go nuclear, the United States may still be able to stop a new Asian nuclear arms race before it starts.







Chronology: Bush Administration Talks With North Korea

Paul Kerr

April 23-25, 2003
The United States, North Korea, and China hold trilateral talks in Beijing. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly goes to Pyongyang with strict instructions not to have any bilateral contact with the North Koreans.

The North Korean delegation, however, still manages to tell the U.S. delegation that it possesses nuclear weapons—the first time that Pyongyang makes such an admission. In addition, North Korea threatens to transfer the weapons to other countries or “display them,” Secretary of State Colin Powell tells the Senate Appropriations Committee April 30. The North Koreans also tell the U.S. delegation that they have completed reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel from the five-megawatt reactor frozen under the 1994 Agreed Framework, Powell adds.

Furthermore, the North Korean delegation tells their U.S. counterparts that Pyongyang “might get rid of all their nuclear programs…[and] stop their missile exports,” State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher states April 28. Sun Joun-yung, South Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, states May 15 that, in return, North Korea has a number of demands. These include the “normalization of relations” between the two countries and an “assurance of non-aggression,” as well as the resumption of heavy-fuel oil deliveries, and completion of the nuclear reactors promised under the Agreed Framework.

May 12, 2003
North Korea accuses the United States of violating the spirit of the 1992 Joint North-South Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, calling the agreement a “dead document” in a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) statement. Yet, Pyongyang does not explicitly repudiate the agreement.

May 24, 2003
Pyongyang indicates in a KCNA statement that it will accept multilateral talks, but adds that it first wants to hold bilateral talks with Washington “for a candid discussion of each other’s policies.”

July 15, 2003
Boucher tells reporters that North Korean officials at the UN have told the United States that North Korea has completed reprocessing the spent fuel rods from its Yongbyon reactor.

August 27-29, 2003
The first round of six-party talks is held in Beijing. The talks achieve no significant breakthroughs.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi states Aug. 29 that the participants “share a consensus” on several items: a “peaceful settlement” of the crisis through dialogue, the need to address North Korea’s security concerns, the continuation of dialogue and the six-party talks, the need to avoid actions that would escalate the situation, and a plan to solve the nuclear issue “through synchronous and parallel implementation.” The same day, North Korea issues an explicit denial for the first time that it has a uranium-enrichment program.

A U.S. official tells reporters that the U.S. delegation “made clear that we are not seeking to strangle North Korea…we can sincerely discuss security concerns in the context of nuclear dismantlement, and...we are willing to discuss a sequence of denuclearization measures with corresponding measures on both sides.”

North Korea proposes a step-by-step solution, calling for the United States to conclude a “non-aggression treaty,” normalize bilateral diplomatic relations, refrain from hindering North Korea’s “economic cooperation” with other countries, complete the reactors promised under the Agreed Framework, resume suspended fuel oil shipments, and increase food aid. Pyongyang states that, in return, it will dismantle its “nuclear facility,” as well as end missile testing and export of missiles and related components.

The North Korean delegation also threatens to test nuclear weapons or “demonstrate the means that they would have to deliver” them, according to a senior State Department official. Additionally, North Korea issues a statement Sept. 1 that it does not intend to sell its nuclear weapons or provide them to terrorists.

Wang tells reporters the same day that Washington’s policy is the “main problem” preventing diplomatic progress.

October 2-3, 2003
North Korea repeats a statement that it has completed reprocessing the spent fuel rods in June and “made a switchover in the use” of the spent fuel “in the direction increasing [sic] its nuclear deterrent force.” North Korea also states that it will continue to produce and reprocess additional spent fuel when deemed necessary.

October 16, 2003
North Korea suggests that it may test nuclear weapons, stating that it will “take a measure to open its nuclear deterrent to the public as a physical force” if the United States refuses to change its negotiating stance.

October 19, 2003
President George W. Bush states during a trip to Asia that the United States is willing to provide a written, multilateral guarantee that the United States will not attack North Korea, but makes it clear that a formal nonaggression pact is “off the table.” Powell had made a similar statement Aug. 1.

November 21, 2003
The Executive Board of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) announces that it will suspend construction of two light-water nuclear reactors for one year beginning Dec. 1.

KEDO says the project’s future “will be assessed and decided by the Executive Board before the expiration of the suspension period,” but the Bush administration believes there is “no future for the project,” Department of State spokesperson Adam Ereli says Nov. 5.


January 8, 2004
North Korea allows an unofficial U.S. delegation to visit its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and displays what it calls its “nuclear deterrent.” North Korean officials allow delegation member Siegfried Hecker—a senior fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory—to handle a jar containing what appears to be plutonium metal. North Korean officials claim that it came from reprocessing the spent fuel rods from its five-megawatt reactor.

The delegation also visits the pond that had contained the spent fuel rods that had been monitored under the Agreed Framework, and observes that the rods are no longer there. The North Korean officials tell the delegation that Pyongyang reprocessed all of the spent fuel rods between January and June 2003.

Hecker later tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he does not know for certain that the substance was plutonium and that he could not determine when it was produced.

February 25-28, 2004
A second round of six-party talks takes place in Beijing. Little progress is made, although both sides agree to hold another round of talks before the end of June 2004, as well as a working group meeting to be held beforehand.

According to Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang, North Korea reiterates that it is willing to give up its nuclear programs if the U.S. abandons its “hostile policies toward the country” and offers to “freeze its nuclear activities as the first step” if other participants take “corresponding actions.”

Additionally, South Korea’s deputy foreign minister, Lee Soo-Hyuck, issues a proposal—which China and Russia both support—to provide energy assistance to the North in return for a freeze of its nuclear program, along with a promise to dismantle it.

Wang, however, states afterwards that “sharp” differences remain between Washington and Pyongyang. According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, two specific issues divide North Korea and other participants. The first is that the United States, Japan, and South Korea want all of North Korea’s nuclear programs to be dismantled, but North Korea wishes to be allowed to retain one for “peaceful purposes.” The second is that Washington and the other two governments want Pyongyang to acknowledge that it has a uranium-enrichment program.

May 12-15, 2004
A working group of midlevel officials from South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Russia, China, and the United States meets in Beijing. No breakthroughs are reported and Chinese officials say “major differences” persist. But officials agree to hold another working group meeting before the next round of six-party talks, scheduled for later this month.






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