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

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: North Korea

June 2018

Updated: June 2018

North Korea is estimated to have assembled 20-30 nuclear warheads, as of June 2019, and to have the fissile material for an estimated 30-60 nuclear weapons, as well as advanced chemical and biological weapons programs. In the past several years Pyongyang has accelerated the pace of ballistic missile testing, and twice in July 2017 tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. North Korea withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003, but its withdrawal is disputed. Beginning in 2006, the UN Security Council has passed several resolutions requiring North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile activities and imposing sanctions on Pyongyang for its refusal to comply. As of early 2018, North Korea has shown interest in pursuing negotiations regarding disarmament. 


Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties​

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • History and Diplomatic Initiatives
  • Delivery Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Additional Resources on North Korea



Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties




Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

*North Korea maintains it withdrew from the NPT in 2003, but its withdrawal is questionable.



Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty



Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)



CPPNM 2005 Amendment



Chemical Weapons Convention



Biological Weapons Convention



International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism



Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards



Australia Group

Not a member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Not a member and has frequently exported missiles and related materials

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Not a member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Not a member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol


Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Not a participant

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Not a participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Not a participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

North Korea has not filed the requested reports on its activities to fulfill the resolution

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

  • North Korea currently is estimated to have 20-30 warheads, as of June 2019, and the fissile material for an estimated 30-60 nuclear weapons. It may have as many as 20-100 warheads by 2020. 
  • North Korea is estimated to possess 20-40 kilograms of plutonium and 250-500 kilograms of highly enriched uranium with an annual estimated production of fissile material for 6-7 weapons, but there is a high degree of uncertainty surrounding these estimates.
  • North Korea was party to the NPT, but withdrew in 2003. Not all states, however, recognize the legality of North Korea’s withdrawal from the treaty.
  • North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests as of September 2017. After the first test in 2006, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1718, enacting a variety of multilateral sanctions and demanding that Pyongyang return to the NPT and halt its nuclear weapons activities.

History and Diplomatic Initiatives

The Origin of the Program

  • North Korea, with the assistance of the Soviet Union, began constructing the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center in the early 1960s and by the early 1970s, had access to plutonium reprocessing technology from the Soviet Union. 
  • In December 1985, North Korea signed the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.
  • However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered in 1992 that North Korea had diverted plutonium from its civilian program for weapons purposes.

Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

  • In December 1991, the two Koreas signed a Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Under the declaration, both countries agreed not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons” or to “possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.” The parties also agreed to mutual inspections for verification, but they were never able to reach an agreement on implementation.
  • In light of North Korea's flagrant violations, this agreement holds little weight in Seoul, which has called for an end to the prohibition on South Korean reprocessing from its bilateral nuclear agreement with the United States.
  • North Korea formally declared the Joint Declaration void in January 2013.

U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework

  • In 1994, former President Jimmy Carter and North Korean leader Kim Il Sung negotiated the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework, in which North Korea committed to freeze its plutonium-based weapons program at Yongbyon in exchange for two light-water reactors and other forms of energy assistance. The deal eventually broke down and North Korea withdrew from the NPT.
  • For more information, see The U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework at a Glance.

Six-Party Talks

  • In August 2003, in response to North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT, Russia, China, Japan, the United States, and the two Koreas launched a multilateral diplomatic process, known as the six-party talks.
  • In September 2005, the six-party talks realized its first major success with the adoption of a joint statement in which North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons activities and return to the NPT in return for security assurances and energy assistance.
  • In building on the 2005 statement, North Korea took steps such as disabling its plutonium reactor at Yongbyon in 2007 and allowing IAEA inspectors into the country. In return, North Korea received fuel oil.
  • North Korea declared it would no longer be bound by agreements made under the six party talks in April 2009 after a period of increased tensions.
  • For more information, see: The Six Party Talks at a Glance

Nuclear tests

  • On Oct. 9, 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test with an estimated yield of about one kiloton.
  • North Korea then conducted its second nuclear test on June 25, 2009 with the underground detonation of a nuclear device estimated to have a yield of 2 to 6 kilotons.
  • On February 12, 2013, the Korean Central News Agency announced that North Korea successfully detonated a nuclear device at its underground test site. The explosive yield was estimated at approximately 15 kilotons. North Korea claimed the device was ‘miniaturized’, a term commonly used to refer to a warhead light enough to fit on the tip of a ballistic missile.
  • On January 6, 2016, Pyongyang announced its fourth nuclear test, declaring that it was a test of the hydrogen bomb design. The explosive yield was estimated at 15-20 kilotons.  Experts doubt that the test was a hydrogen bomb, but contend that the test could have used boosted fission, a process that uses lithium gas to increase the efficiency of the fission reaction for a larger explosion.
  • On September 9, 2016, North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test, with an estimated explosive yield of 20-25 kilotons.
  • On September 3, 2017, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test explosion, of what experts assess could be a hydrogen bomb with an estimated explosive yield of 140-250 kilotons.

2018 Diplomatic Overture

  • Kim Jong Un’s 2018 New Year’s Address
    • In his annual New Year’s Address to the nation, Kim Jong Un declared that North Korea had accomplished the “perfecting” of its nuclear program and met its strategic objectives. Kim also called for improved inter-Korean relations.
  • Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang
    • After negotiations with South Korea, a delegation of North Korean athletes was allowed to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
    • Kim Jong Un continued his so-called “charm offensive” during the Games by sending his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to deliver a letter to South Korean president Moon Jae-in inviting him to visit Pyongyang.
  • Voluntary Moratorium on Testing
    • On April 20, 2018, Kim Jong-Un announced that North Korea would end all testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles and close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site
    • On May 24, 2018, North Korea appeared to blow up at least three tunnels at Punggye-ri, according to international journalists who were invited to witness the demolition.
  • April 2018 Inter-Korean Summit
    • On April 27, 2018, Kim Jong Un and President Moon Jae-in met in Panmunjom for a high level summit, where they discussed issues such as denuclearization and a settlement to end the Korean War.
    • A joint declaration signed by both parties included agreements to facilitate "groundbreaking advancement" in inter-Korean relations, "to make joint efforts to practically eliminate the danger of war on the Korean peninsula," and to cooperate to "establish a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula."
  • June 2018 Trump-Kim Summit
    • On June 12, 2018, Kim Jong Un and President Trump met in Singapore for high level talks that focused on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and improved bilateral relations.
    • The two leaders signed a joint statement agreeing to "establish new US-DPRK relations," "build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula" and recover POW/MIA remains. Kim also committed to "work toward complete denuclearization on the Korean peninsula" and Trump committed to provide security guarantees for North Korea.

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM)

  • North Korea is actively expanding its ballistic missile arsenal and allegedly working toward developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). As of June 2018, North Korea’s operational and developing intercontinental and intermediate-range missiles include:
    • Musudan BM-25 (Hwasong-10): The Musudan BM-25 is an intermediate-range ballistic missile with an expected range of 2500-4000km. It has been flight tested six times, most recently on June 21, 2016.
    • Hwasong-12: On May 14, 2017, North Korea tested another new ballistic missile, the Hwasong-12, which appears to be an intermediate-range, single-stage missile with an estimated range of 4,500 kilometers.
    • KN-08 (Hwasong-13): The KN-08 is an intercontinental ballistic missile under development with an estimated range of 5,500-11,500km. Given that the system has not been tested, however, the range estimates are highly speculative. It was first unveiled in April 2012 and has not yet been tested, although North Korea likely tested the rocket engine for this system.
    • KN-14 (Hwasong-13, KN-08 Mod 2): The KN-14 is an ICBM under development with an estimated range of 8,000-10,000km. Given that the system has not been tested, however, the range estimates are highly speculative. It was first unveiled in October 2015 and is believed to be a variant of the KN-08.
    • Hwasong-14: The Hwasong-14 is an ICBM, first tested July 4, 2017 and tested again on July 28, 2017. It is a two-stage, liquid-fueled missile. The tests were conducted at a lofted trajectory. The first test showed a range of about 6,700km at a standard trajectory. The second test showed a range of 10,400km, not taking into account the rotation of the earth.
    • Hwasong-15: The Hwasong-15 is an ICBM first tested November 29, 2017 at a lofted trajectory. On a standard trajectory, the missile would have an estimated range of 13,000km. It is a two-stage, liquid fueled system. Photos of the missile suggest that it has sufficient thrust and payload space to deliver a 1,000kg payload anywhere in the United States and could be fitted with decoys or penetration aids. The missile also features qualitative updates from the Hwasong-14, including an improved steering mechanism. 
    • Taepodong-2: The inaugural flight test of the Taepodong-2, ended in failure about 40 seconds after launch on July 5, 2006. Subsequent tests of the Taepodong-2 missile in April 2009 and April 2012 were also unsuccessful. The Taepodong-2 is believed to be capable of reaching the United States if developed as an ICBM.

Space-Launched Vehicles (SLV)

  • Unha-3: North Korea's SLV is a three-stage liquid fueled system, likely based on the Taepodong-2.
  • In February 2012, North Korea agreed to cease long-range missile tests in exchange for food aid from the United States. North Korea stated that the agreement did not cover space launch vehicles and proceeded to launch the Unha in April 2012. The SLV exploded shortly after launch. The United States contended that the agreement did cover SLVs, causing the agreement, known as the Leap Day Deal, to fall apart.
  • On December 12, 2012, North Korea claimed that it successfully launched a satellite into space using its Unha rocket. It placed a second satellite into orbit in February 2016.

Short and Medium Range Missiles 

  • North Korea’s short-range and medium-range missiles include:

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

  • North Korea is developing a submarine-launched ballistic missile, the KN-11, also known as the Pukkuksong-1 or Polaris-1. It has an estimated range of 1,200km. 
  • The KN-11 was first tested in December 2014, and images from the missile first emerged after a May 2015 test at the Sinpo site. Photos released by the KNCA portrayed the test as a submarine launch, but the missile was likely fired from a submerged barge.
  • The KN-11 was most recently tested on August 24, 2016. It is estimated to become operational by 2020
  • Since October 2014, activity at the Sinpo South Shipyard indicates that North Korea may be using an experimental SINPO-class submarine as a test bed for submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Fissile Material


  • Experts assess that North Korea’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests likely used plutonium, which North Korea was known to have produced at weapons-grade levels.
  • North Korea announced its intention to restart its Yongbyon 5MWe Reactor for plutonium production in April 2013, after disabling it as a part of the six-party talks in 2007. North Korea declared the site to be “fully operational” by late August 2015. 
  • The reactor is capable of producing six kg of weapons-grade plutonium each year. 
  • Satellite imagery from April 2016, January 2017, and April 2018 confirmed increased activity at the reprocessing site.
  • As of January 2018, North Korea is estimated to possess 20-40 kg of plutonium.

Highly Enriched Uranium

  • While Pyongyang has constructed a gas centrifuge facility, it is unknown if the facility is producing uranium enriched to weapons-grade.
  • In November 2010, North Korea unveiled a large uranium-enrichment plant to former officials and academics from the United States. The Yongbyon plant contained approximately 2,000 gas centrifuges that were claimed to be operating and producing low-enriched uranium (LEU) for a light-water reactor (LWR) that North Korea is constructing. This plant is estimated to be capable of producing two metric tons of LEU each year, enough to fuel the LWR reactor under construction, or to produce 40 kg of highly-enriched uranium (HEU), enough for one to two nuclear weapons.
  • As of January 2018, North Korea is estimated to possess 250-500 kg of uranium.

Proliferation Record


  • North Korea has been a key supplier of missiles and missile technology to countries in the Middle East and South Asia including Egypt, Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen.
  • Such transfers are believed to be one of Pyongyang’s primary sources of hard currency.
  • Although clientele for North Korea's missile exports appear to have dwindled in recent years due to U.S. pressure and UN sanctions, Iran and Syria remain customers of North Korean missile assistance. A February 2016 Congressional report confirmed that both Syria and Iran have received missile technology from North Korea. While Syria has also engaged in nuclear technology cooperation with North Korea, the report found no evidence that Iran has done so.
  • Pyongyang is widely believed to have provided missile cooperation to Burma.


  • North Korea has a history of circumventing sanctions to import and export dual-use materials relevant to nuclear and ballistic missile activities and to sell conventional arms and military equipment. A UN panel of exports reports annually on adherence to UN Security Council sanctions and illicit trafficking. A few examples include:
    • North Korea helped Syria to build an undeclared nuclear reactor in al-Kibar based on its own Yongbyon reactor. In 2007, the reactor, which was under construction, was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike.
    • In November 2012, North Korea allegedly attempted to sell graphite rods to Syria.

Nuclear Doctrine

North Korea declared in January 2016 it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty is under threat and stated North Korea will “faithfully fulfill its obligation for non-proliferation and strive for the global denuclearization.” Kim Jong Un reiterated this policy in May 2016 when he said that North Korea will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is “encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces” with nuclear weapons. This sentiment was again repeated by Kim Jong Un during his 2018 New Year's Address

North Korea’s constitution was amended in 2013 to describe itself as a “nuclear state and an unchallengeable military power.”

Given that North Korea typically does not describe its nuclear activities accurately, it is unclear to what extent Pyongyang would abide by this declared doctrine.

Biological Weapons

  • Pyongyang is believed to maintain a biological weapons capability.
  • The United States intelligence community continues to judge that North Korea has a biotechnology infrastructure to support such a capability, and has a munitions production capacity that could be used to weaponize biological agents.
  • North Korea maintains the modern Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute, purportedly a pesticide factory, equipped with dual-use equipment that can be used to maintain a biological weapons capability and, as of 2017, is likely intended to produce “military-size” batches of anthrax.

Chemical Weapons

Additional Resources on North Korea

  1. Factsheet: Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy 
  2. Factsheet: UN Security Council Resolutions on North Korea 
  3. Factsheet: The Six-Party Talks at a Glance 
  4. Factsheet: The U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework at a Glance 
  5. Issue Brief, February 2017: Recalibrating U.S. Policy Toward North Korea
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The Six-Party Talks at a Glance

June 2018

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

Updated: June 2018

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

Leading up to the Six-Party Talks

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

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

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

First Round

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

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

Second Round

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

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

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

Third Round

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

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

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

Fourth Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth Round

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

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

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

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

Sixth Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agreements and Declarations from the Six-Party Talks

Research by Xiaodon Liang

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Lessons from Iran for Trump’s Negotiations with North Korea

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

An End to Nuclear Testing in North Korea? The Role for Technology and Cooperation



Thursday, June 14, 2018
2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Choate Conference Room
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036

The recent negotiations between the United States and North Korea on nuclear disarmament have placed renewed focus on the challenges of verification of nuclear test sites and denuclearization. Organizations like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization employ science-based techniques and technologies to detect nuclear testing[1] that some have suggested could have applications to verify the dismantlement of a nuclear test site.

In the face of current threats to global security, national and international organizations have their own roles to play to address these global challenges through cooperation and science and technology can help pave the way for greater security in the future.

Opening Remarks

  • Dr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization


  • Mr. Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association (Moderator)
  • Ambassador Laura Kennedy, Former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament and Former Charge of the US Mission to International Organizations in Vienna
  • Mr. Jon Wolfsthal, Nonresident Scholar, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; former senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council
  • Ms. Alexandra Bell, Senior Policy Director, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Including Welcome Remarks

  • Dr. Mahlet N. Mesfin, Deputy Director, Center for Science Diplomacy, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)


[1] National Research Council. (2012) The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Technical Issues for the United States. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.


Dr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive-Secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, opening remarks. Transcribed by Rowan Humphries. 

Zerbo: “Thank you, I think I know everybody, it’s like a family conversation, I would say because we all know each other. So, thank you for inviting me to be here, with friends, and colleagues and former colleagues in arms control and nonproliferation and disarmament.

Let me start by saying a quote that maybe you guys have heard or you remember: “if you don’t get the ball over the goal line, it doesn’t mean enough.” So if you remember where this is coming, we can talk about it later. But the reason why I’m saying this quote is because we are starting the World Cup today.

As you know in the World Cup, often there is a goal and then people wonder, the referees say ‘no, it crossed the line,’ and then people say ‘no’ and then people argue, and for the first time in the history of the World Cup they have the assistance of video, to be able to decide if the ball crossed the line and if it’s a real goal.

So I’ll tell you why I chose this. So these were the parting words of President Trump—I’m sure you guys, those of you who have listened to the press conference, you will remember—following the U.S.-DPRK summit in Singapore two days ago. So the joint statement recognized that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korea peninsula. It also commits the U.S. and the DPRK to join the effort to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula. It reaffirms North Korea’s commitment to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Peninsula. So I hope the panel will be able to enlighten many of us on this issue, on the statement and maybe on a point that came in the press conference that was not in the statement.

In the short time since the summit there were many comments. Some find the statement to be light on detail in how to achieve the denuclearization of the peninsula. From my own perspective, I mean I know you won’t blame me, so whenever people don’t talk about CTBT when they talk about disarmament, nonproliferation, when they don’t mention it, I’m never happy. So of course, I would say it’s a pity that nothing explicit is included relating to ending nuclear testing once and for all. This is what I would have loved to see.

But we are happy that there was a dialogue. A dialogue is much better than digging in with inflexible positions. And that’s a positive take from this meeting, and that’s why we call it a historical summit. And I’ve always maintained that engagement with North Korea should be pursued. And now the press statement came and the press takeout came and them gave a little bit more detail on what was seen or perceived as light from the statement.

For this reason, I wish to set out, especially in the context of permanently ending nuclear testing in the DPRK, how the ball can get over the goal line, which is how I started. Getting the ball over the goal line means for me, and for many, verification. Full stop. In his press conference, President Trump stated that denuclearization would be verifiable. This is important; verifiable measures are the heart of lasting nuclear arms control.

Although the summit experience is described as being like a movie—that’s what many of the journalists were talking about—real verification is not a show. It must be based on the best available technologies, the best expertise or the most rigorous protocols. In featuring the destruction of the Punggye-ri test site in May 24, 2018, North Korea aimed to demonstrate its commitment to ending nuclear tests. A number of outsiders, international journalists, watched from a distance—I say from a distance because they were only 500 meters and, you know, that if you can stay 500 meters from an explosion, it means that it’s not that big, and we can talk about that.

But these people were not technical experts in any in-field or on-site inspection, I tend not to use on-site inspection because it’s the wording that kicks in when the CTBT enters into force when you talk about nuclear testing, so let me avoid this word. But they were not geophysicists who could analyze local seismic data, multispectral imaging, gamma radiation, monitoring, environmental sampling, ground penetrating rubber, or any other techniques listed, for instance in the CTBT, as applicable in the field.

Only the CTBT, when I say “only the CTBT”—I’m not talking about much more technical means, but internationally—only the CTBT can provide adequate verification to monitor an end to nuclear tests. I insist on the word ‘tests’ because when I say ‘only the CTBT’ people take only that part and then they think I’m excluding other international organizations. That’s not what I’m saying.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about the differences between and the complementarity—let’s use the word complementarity—we could have in working on the denuclearization process in the Korean peninsula. Of course, nuclear material, IAEA master of technology, they are the one that can deal with it making sure that nobody crosses the line towards the military aspect of nuclear energy. But when somebody crosses that line and gets to a point where he does tests, there is no other international framework to monitor nuclear testing than the CTBT, and one can argue that we only monitor to verify whether it’s a test or not. It is true that that’s what we do. But if you want to characterize what’s happening on the test, before or after, or during, I mean what best than the technology and the expertise that we have, and we can comment on this.

So that’s why I say that only the CTBT can do that, but the CTBT will do that in the overall process when we bring that little part of contribution that we have in the big field of expertise that could come from the IAEA and any other international organizations or even much more technical means, for that matter. So, especially when we talk about test-site closure, the CTBT can offer key operation verification tasks, such as site characterization, surveying, sampling, documentation as well, let’s not forget that, because we have expertise in documentation of on-site inspection activities, and providing a baseline for the current state of the site. Site-closure verification in line with agreed protocols.

Off-site closures as well, and dismantlement verification, including periodic site visits to compare to the baseline, along with ongoing local video and seismic monitoring. And of course, ongoing what we always do, remote monitoring, that’s our job. This is what the CTBT is capable of doing. As you all know, the treaty is not in force yet, and that’s why I say we don’t talk about on-site inspection. What I’m insisting on is how the expertise and the technology that we have can serve the international community in verifying any agreement related to the closing of a test site. That’s all that we talk about.

I’m not talking about the CTBT carrying out an on-site inspection. What I’m talking about is the CTBT contributing with its expertise and technology and the capability to serve the purpose of verifying the permanent closure of the test site and contributing as well to maybe forensic studies, because some of the things that we do go far beyond just nuclear testing monitoring and then knowing whether it’s a nuclear test or not.

So why don’t we use it? You ask us, you ask all international organizations, to be cost effective. Do you want to go and create another organizational framework where you use this technology, the same technology, to do what we can do and the expertise that we have? And this is what we talk about, nothing else. Of course, when you talk about denuclearization, the first name that comes, it’s the IAEA. Yes, the IAEA does a lot, and the IAEA will always do a lot and they’ll always do a great job. But in that process to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, when you talk about testing, please don’t forget the CTBT, as it is going to do it.

If it doesn’t play the role as the CTBT’s played the role as the organizational framework that has the expertise and the capability to do so and the equipment as well. And this you shouldn’t forget because you are paying for all international organizations to have the capability, please use it.

You may say you have your own national technological means here. Of course not many, but a few countries have the national technical means for doing so. But the national technical means will not give the legitimacy and the credibility that is needed internationally to say ‘this country has done this’ and ‘this country is saying this.’ But when an international body is bringing that expertise, there is trust. And that’s what we need now, in this multilateral diplomacy. Because there is a deficit of trust, and to deal with that deficit of trust, let’s use international bodies who can help do that.

So, science is there, science often has one logical way of addressing issues. Because when you are in science, they say 1+1, it’s often 2. But sometimes people say 3, and then they want to explain why it’s 3. But in diplomacy, 1+1 is never 2. That’s a problem, it’s 3,5, and then they tell you why it’s not 2. And that’s the difference between science that we are dealing with, and diplomacy, as it’s known especially in arms control.

At least that’s what I’ve learned. And I’ve learned it the hard way, and I say the hard way because it hasn’t been easy. And that’s why because it hasn’t been easy, I try to keep that optimism that some, you know, many people that I respect a lot in this field they tell me, ‘we don’t share that optimism that you have Lassina.’ And I say ‘yes, but you won’t change me, because I’ll always remain optimistic on this issue.’

If you’re not, your [inaudible] will stop and say, ‘we forget the CTBT.’ And we might forget the CTBT, but at this particular time, what I’m talking about is not to lose the opportunity about the technology that makes the CTBT. The technology is important, and it’s the technology that could help people be confident and then trust that this treaty is verifiable. Even if they are not ready today, it might create the condition for them to be ready one day, and that’s why we should focus on the technical aspect of the CTBT, the technical contribution that we can bring, to get more ground and more room to convince people that with the technology, we have to get the treaty. We can also make the decision that the treaty is not longer up to date, no longer valid in this 21st century, but that is a question that is beyond my paycheck. My paycheck is to link this treaty with the technical ground, and then see how the technical ground can help move things forward. And that’s what I’m trying to do, and that’s why I’m happy that you guys, experts from arms control, former ambassador Laura Kennedy, Alex Bell and many of you here who that have worked who are here not to help the CTBT, but to help the relevance of the technologies that are needed to deal with the Korean peninsula issue.

So, speaking about the best possible outcome on the negotiation, President Trump has said, ‘the prize I want is victory for the world.’ That’s great. In addition to preventing nuclear tests and deescalating the political and security situation in East Asia, the DPRK adherence to the CTBT would be an important milestone towards its entry into force. Because if we can’t put the CTBT on the table, for the DPRK to at least be like the U.S.—sign the treaty— how do you want me to run around and then tell India and Pakistan, and Egypt and Iran, and Israel, to ratify. India and Pakistan would tell me, ‘what’s your problem, we have a voluntarily moratorium anyway, we don’t need to ratify.’ And they will say, ‘oh but why didn’t you manage to get the DPRK to ratify?’ Somebody would say ‘Clearly, I am closing my test site.’ You don’t put that on the table, they won’t listen to me anymore.

So we are basically putting the treaty at risk, and that’s what we shouldn’t do. The point that I was making is, the treaty should come on the table of the DPRK. They might say ‘no, it doesn’t matter,’ but if we don’t bring it, we won’t be able to justify to any other person or any other Annex 2 countries that the ratification is important. And this is why bringing the CTBT, and bringing the DPRK to sign, at least, the CTBT is what the victory for the world would be, the same victory that President Trump is talking about. Thank you.”

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



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

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

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

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

The following morning, we invited reactions and perspectives by

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

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


Briefing following the close of negotiations in Singapore

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This Is What Trump Needs to Do to Make North Korea Get Rid of Their Nukes

This op-ed originally appeared in TIME , Jun. 13, 2018. The handshake between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will go down in history. But it’s not yet clear if the summit will produce an equally historic outcome on denuclearization. Despite Trump’s attempts to sell the summit document as a breakthrough , it reiterates a boilerplate commitment to “ complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula ,” a pledge that North Korea has made, and broken , before. This vague, aspirational language is a long way from the “comprehensive document” described by Trump in his...

Young voices on peace with North Korea

This op-ed originally appeared in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Ahead of US President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, we spoke with young people around the world who saw hope in the summit, and a chance to advance their own work—including the reunion of families divided by conflict, the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula, and a negotiated agreement that would lead toward the denuclearization of North Korea. Captivated by North Korea’s nuclear tests and Trump’s reckless Twitter tirades, the media rarely pick up voices of the next generation. Young...

The U.S.-North Korean Summit and Beyond



Toward an Effective Deal on Denuclearization and Peace with North Korea

Volume 10, Issue 7, June 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Same Page?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phased Steps to Reduce Tensions on the Peninsula

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

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

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

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

The Role of Congress

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

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

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

Stay Calm and Carry On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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‘Libya Model’ Upsets Summit Planning

June 2018
By Kelsey Davenport and Terry Atlas

The United States and North Korea engaged in diplomatic brinkmanship over a prospective summit meeting, after provocative remarks by top U.S. officials citing the “Libya model” for disarmament drew a strong pushback from Pyongyang.

For days, it was unclear whether the resulting decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to cancel the historic meeting with North Korean leader King Jong Un would be a serious breakdown, raising the risk of military conflict, or a temporary setback as each side sought advantage ahead of an eventual summit.

North Korean officials watch the demolition May 24 at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where North Korea appeared to destroy at least three tunnels, observation buildings, a metal foundry and living quarters at the remote mountain site. (Photo: News1-Dong-A Ilbo via Getty Images)Less than 24 hours after his cancellation, and following a conciliatory public reaction from Pyongyang, Trump said that the two sides were talking, and summit planning resumed with both leaders signaling they wanted the meeting.

Asked if North Korea had been playing games, Trump said, “Everybody plays games.” And an official North Korean statement, following an emergency meeting May 26 between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said Kim had expressed his “fixed will” to meet with the U.S. president.

Trump abruptly called off the summit May 24, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” shown in North Korean statements. Just hours earlier, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui had said Kim might reconsider the June 12 summit due to “ignorant and stupid” remarks by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

It appeared that Trump wanted to look strong by aborting summit plans rather than risk being dumped, after preparations were upset following remarks from Pence and Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, both hard-liners on North Korea.

In a Fox News interview May 21, Pence warned that North Korea’s government could end like that of Moammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader who was killed during a U.S.-backed uprising in 2011, if Kim does not agree to rapid elimination of its nuclear weapons and related infrastructure. Asked if he was threatening Kim, Pence said, “I think it’s more of a fact.”

In her statement, Choe said, “Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States.”

Trump, in his cancellation letter to Kim made public, said, “I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.” He thanked Kim for the “beautiful gesture” of releasing of three American prisoners and left open the possibility of meeting at a later time.

Trump also included a less-than-subtle threat: “You talk about nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.”

North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Ky Gwan, responding to Trump’s announcement, said North Korea was ready to talk with the United States “at any time.” He said that North Korea’s earlier comments were “just a reaction to the unbridled remarks made by the U.S. side” and that Trump’s unexpected cancellation may be a sign that he lacked the will or confidence to attend the summit.

The cancellation appeared to catch South Korea off guard despite Moon’s White House meeting with Trump just 48 hours earlier. Moon called the cancellation “regretful and disconcerting,” and he subsequently met with Kim May 26 in an effort to get the summit back on track.

A summit has the potential to be a major diplomatic achievement for Trump, who has advocated a Nobel Peace Prize for himself. But it also holds peril given his shortcoming in dealing with the complexities of nuclear negotiations and his need to produce an agreement more demanding than the rigorous Iran nuclear deal he repudiated and abandoned.

The cancellation by Trump came just hours after North Korea, acting on one of its unilateral promises, blew up tunnels at its Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site. The government did not bring in inspectors from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to assess the extent to which the site is no longer usable.

The Trump administration stumbled in its policy coordination, with Pence and Bolton citing the provocative “Libya model” while the president himself publicly indicated flexibility for the timing of disarmament steps. Bolton told CBS on April 28 that the Trump administration is “looking at the Libya model,” which would require Kim to give up his nuclear weapons program quickly before any concessions are granted.

Libya never possessed nuclear warheads, but pursued an illicit nuclear weapons development program, which it gave up in 2003 and dismantled under the presence of inspectors. (See ACT, January/February 2004.) When that process was completed, the United States lifted sanctions in 2004.

That case, however, is freighted with symbolism for North Korea’s leadership since Gaddafi was toppled and killed seven years later by U.S.-aided rebel forces. For North Korea, the nuclear weapons program is seen as a powerful deterrent against U.S. attack, as well as an assertion of its concept of radical self-reliance known as juche.

Kim Ky Gwan said on May 16 that it is “absolutely absurd to dare compare” North Korea with Libya. The U.S. remarks are an “awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq, which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers,” he said.

If Washington insists on forcing “unilateral nuclear abandonment,” Pyongyang will no longer be interested in dialogue, he said.

Trump muddied the waters about the U.S. approach to negotiations the following day, when he downplayed the Libya model. His comments, however, made clear he did not understand that Bolton was referring to the 2003 nuclear dismantlement agreement.

Trump said that, “in Libya, we decimated that country,” likely referring to the NATO intervention in 2011 and the death of Gaddafi. He said that if an agreement is reached, Kim will remain in North Korea “running that country.” But Trump warned that North Korea would face the same fate as Libya “if we don’t make a deal.” North Korea did not respond publicly Trump’s comments, instead focusing on Pence and Bolton.

During the surprise U.S.-North Korean diplomacy this year, one challenge has been the differing interpretations of “denuclearization,” which the United States regards as the complete, verifiable elimination of North Korea’s entire nuclear weapons infrastructure. For its part, Pyongyang views denuclearization as a two-sided process that includes U.S. nuclear weapons that are part of Washington’s core defense commitment to allies South Korea and Japan. (See ACT, May 2016.)

A comprehensive agreement that addresses North Korea’s entire program in one step may sound appealing, in that it would address the legitimate concern that Pyongyang is just buying time and is not serious about denuclearization. Yet, the size of North Korea’s nuclear program and the role its warheads play in the state’s security make the approach less feasible.

Unlike Libya, North Korea possesses a stockpile of weapons-usable material, 10 to 20 nuclear warheads, plutonium- and uranium-production facilities, a nuclear testing site, and a variety of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads against targets in the region and in the United States. North Korea also has a history of cheating on its nuclear declarations to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even in the Libya case, when Tripoli was cooperating with dismantlement efforts, some materials were missed during the dismantlement process.

Beyond North Korea’s explicit rejection of an approach that requires “abandoning nuclear weapons first, compensating afterward,” Pyongyang’s characterizes its nuclear weapons as a deterrent against U.S. policy. Putting that deterrent on the table ahead of U.S. action to reduce the “hostile policy” toward North Korea is highly unlikely.

An alternative to the Libya model is a step-by-step approach with reciprocal actions. Under this approach, the United States and North Korea would agree on overarching goals at the onset, then pursue a phased action-for-action strategy that exchanges steps toward dismantlement for security assurances and economic relief.

North Korea appears to favor that model. In his May 25 statement, Kim Ky Gwan said “the first meeting will not solve all, but solving even one at a time in a phased way” would improve the relationship.


Why U.S. talk of the “Libya model” drew a strong pushback from North Korea.

Trump Team Undermines Climate for Summit and Negotiated Solution



(Washington, D.C.)—Even before Thursday’s announcement by President Donald Trump to cancel the planned Singapore Summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, there was ample reason to believe that the two sides were not on the same page about the pace, scope, and sequencing of steps to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and create a peace regime in the region.

It was also clear that the Trump administration itself was not on the same page about the goals of the meeting, nevertheless, the summit would have been a critical opportunity to test the waters, de-escalate tensions, and launch a sustained, serious diplomatic process on denuclearization.

Whether by accident or by design, Trump’s top advisors contributed to creating a hostile environment around the summit. It is unsurprising that loose talk from National Security Advisor John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence about “the Libya model” for denuclearization and recent comments from Pence threatening war if North Korea does not agree to a deal triggered a strong reaction from Pyongyang.

The tone of North Korea’s reaction was clearly unhelpful, but it is not surprising.

Unfortunately, Trump got spooked when he should have stayed calm and carried on.

His strongly worded letter to Kim canceling the summit was irresponsible and risks the opportunity for future negotiations with North Korea. His language comparing nuclear weapon sizes only increases the likelihood that the United States and North Korea will return to a tit-for-tat escalation that characterized 2017 and increase the risk of war.

North Korea has long maintained that its nuclear weapons are a deterrent against U.S. "hostile policy." Threatening “total decimation" if Pyongyang does not give up its arsenal only reinforces that belief.

Comprehensive, verifiable denuclearization of North Korea and establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula remains the proper long-term goal. But achieving genuine progress requires a negotiating framework and agreement on the details of phased, reciprocal steps rather than U.S. economic rewards only after full denuclearization is achieved. Such a process requires time and patience and persistence.

Successful diplomatic nonproliferation outcomes do not come easily or quickly.

In the coming days, Trump must resist the urge to abandon diplomacy and make irresponsible threats, which will only reinforce North Korea's incentive to further improve its nuclear and missile activities and greatly increase the likelihood of a catastrophic confrontation. There is no viable military solution to the North Korean challenge.

We urge Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in coordination with our allies and partners in the region, to continue engaging with his North Korean counterparts to advance efforts to halt and reverse the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs and to reduce tensions with Pyongyang, including by supporting the inter-Korean dialogue.


Successful diplomatic nonproliferation outcomes do not come easily or quickly. But Trump’s top advisors contributed to creating a hostile environment around the summit. North Korea’s reaction was not surprising. Unfortunately, the president got spooked when he should have stayed calm and carried on.

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