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Since August 2003, negotiations over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs have involved six governments: the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. Since the talks began, North Korea has operated nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and apparently has produced weapons-grade plutonium estimated as sufficient for five to eight atomic weapons. North Korea tested a plutonium nuclear device in October 2006 and apparently a second device in May 2009. North Korea admitted in June 2009 that it has a program to enrich uranium; the United States had cited evidence of such a program since 2002. There also is substantial information that North Korea has engaged in collaborative programs with Iran and Syria aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
On May 25, 2009, North Korea announced that it had conducted a second nuclear test. On April 14, 2009, North Korea terminated its participation in six party talks and said it would not be bound by agreements between it and the Bush Administration, ratified by the six parties, which would have disabled the Yongbyon facilities. North Korea also announced that it would reverse the ongoing disablement process under these agreements and restart the Yongbyon nuclear facilities. Three developments since August 2008 appear to have influenced the situation leading to North Korea's announcement: the failure to complete implementation of the Bush Administration-North Korean agreement, including the Yongbyon disablement, because of a dispute over whether inspectors could take samples of nuclear materials at Yongbyon; the stroke suffered by North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, in August 2008; and the issuance by North Korea after January 1, 2009, of a tough set of negotiating positions, including an assertion that the United States must extend normal diplomatic relations prior to any final denuclearization agreement rather than in such an agreement; and that U.S. reciprocity for North Korean denuclearization must be an end of the "U.S. nuclear threat," meaning major reductions of and restrictions on U.S. military forces in and around the Korean peninsula.
The Obama Administration reacted to the missile and nuclear tests by seeking United Nations sanctions against North Korea. It secured U.N. Security Council approval of Resolution 1874 in June 2009. The resolution calls on U.N. members to restrict financial transactions in their territories related to North Korean sales of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to other countries. It also calls on U.N. members to prevent the use of their territories by North Korea for the shipment of WMD to other countries. In December 2009, the Administration sent a special envoy to North Korea in an attempt to secure North Korean agreement to return to the six party talks. North Korea gave a general positive statement regarding six party talks; but it raised other issues, including its proposal for negotiation of a U.S.-North Korean peace treaty, and appeared to seek a continuation of bilateral meetings with the United States.
North Korea seemed to moderate its provocative policies in August 2009. It invited former President Bill Clinton to North Korea, where he secured the release of two female American reporters who were taken prisoner by the North Koreans along the China-North Korea border. It also released a South Korean worker at the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea, whom the North Koreans had arrested in March 2009. A North Korean delegation came to Seoul for the funeral of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and met with President Lee Myung-bak. This raised the prospect of renewed U.S.-North Korean negotiations over the nuclear issue, but any future negotiations appear to face daunting obstacles.
This report will be updated periodically.
Contents Recent Developments: The Bosworth Mission to North Korea The Clinton Mission, North Korea's Nuclear Test, and Withdrawal from the Six Party Talks Bush Administration-North Korean Agreements and Failure of Implementation Implementation Process Verification Issue Kim Jong-il's Stroke and Political Changes Inside North Korea Issues Facing the Obama Administration North Korea's Nuclear Programs Plutonium Program Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Program International Assistance Nuclear Collaboration with Iran and Syria North Korea's Delivery Systems State of Nuclear Weapons Development Select Chronology For Additional Reading Contacts Author Contact Information
Recent Developments: The Bosworth Mission to North Korea
The Obama Administration sent its special envoy on North Korea, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, to Pyongyang on December 8-10, 2009. The Administration set two objectives for the mission: (1) to secure a North Korean commitment to resume participation in the six party nuclear negotiations, which North Korea had boycotted since April 2009; and (2) to secure a North Korean commitment to implement a September 2005 six party statement in which North Korea had pledged to work toward "denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." Bosworth failed to get specific commitments on either during his two days of negotiations. According to Bosworth, he and his North Korean counterparts reached "some common understandings on the need for and the role of the six party talks and the importance of implementation of the 2005 joint statement." (1) A North Korean Foreign Ministry statement of December 11, 2009, also referred to "common understandings" regarding the six party talks and implementing the September 2005 statement.
However, North Korea made no commitment to attend a six party meeting in the near future. (2) Tony Namkung, an aide to Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico who maintains close contacts with North Korea, believes that North Korea would accept a renewal of six party talks but not as a forum for actual negotiations but "an umbrella kind of organization" under which the United States and North Korea would negotiate bilaterally. (3) Before the Bosworth mission and in its Foreign Ministry statement, North Korea indicated that it seeks a number of bilateral meetings with the United States before it would agree to participate in a six party meeting. (4)
The North Korean Foreign Ministry statement said that Bosworth and North Korean officials had a "long exhaustive and candid discussion" of a Korean peace agreement, normalization of diplomatic relations, economic and energy aid, and "denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." Moreover, the North Korean Foreign Ministry statement and other reports indicated that North Korean negotiators had emphasized the part of the September 2005 statement referring to opening negotiations on a Korean peace treaty to replace the 1953 Korean armistice agreement. The North Koreans reportedly told Bosworth that a peace treaty was more important than the establishment of U.S.-North Korean diplomatic relations and that a peace treaty was necessary to demonstrate that the United States had reversed its "hostile policies" toward North Korea. (5) Jack Pritchard, Director of the Korean Economic Institute, was in Pyongyang a few days earlier than Bosworth; he testified that North Korean Foreign Ministry official, Lee Gun, stated that a peace agreement "is the only way to resolve everything" between North Korea and the United States. (6) According to South Korea's Foreign Minister, North Korean negotiators told Bosworth that U.S. and United Nations sanctions against North Korea should end. (7)
North Korea's position on a Korean peace treaty (an old North Korean proposal going back to 1974) contrasted sharply in three respects with positions of the Obama Administration, which Bosworth reiterated and reportedly were contained in a letter from President Obama to North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, delivered by Bosworth. (8) First, as reportedly stated by Bosworth, the Obama Administration would engage in a negotiation of a peace treaty when North Korea "takes irreversible steps toward denuclearization." (9) North Korea appears to seek the denuclearization issue merged into a U.S.-North Korean peace treaty negotiation. Second, Bosworth repeated the position of the Obama Administration (and the Bush Administration) that U.S. normalization of diplomatic relations with North Korea would be a main element of U.S. reciprocity in return for North Korean denuclearization. North Korea rejects diplomatic relations as a quid pro quo for denuclearization (a position that North Korea set out in January 2009). Third, North Korea's longstanding agenda for a peace treaty and its repeated definition of "denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" have focused on securing a major diminution of the U.S. military presence in South Korea and around the Korean peninsula (which North Korea defines as elimination of "the U.S. nuclear threat"). The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration, never has expressed a willingness to negotiate on U.S. military forces as part of a denuclearization negotiation.
Bosworth stated that he secured a North Korean commitment to discuss North Korea's uranium enrichment program in future nuclear negotiations. After seven years of denials, North Korea admitted in 2009 that it has such a program and boasted of its progress. However, Bosworth gave no indication that he raised the issue of North Korean nuclear proliferation activities with Iran and Syria.
The Clinton Mission, North Korea's Nuclear Test, and Withdrawal from the Six Party Talks
On August 4-5, 2009, former President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, met with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, and secured the release of two American women, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, whom North Korean authorities had arrested in March 2009 on the North Korean-Chinese border. In June, a North Korean court had sentenced the two women to 12 years imprisonment at hard labor. The women, reporters for an online media company, had been developing stories on North Korean refugees who flee the country. An agreement for the release of the women between the Obama Administration and the North Korean government reportedly had been concluded prior to the Clinton trip. The Administration reportedly had used intermediaries and contacts between the State Department and North Korea's United Nations mission to negotiate the agreement. (10)
The North Korean media reported that President Clinton had issued a "sincere apology" for the actions of the women and had requested a pardon for them. The media also claimed that Clinton delivered a "verbal message" from President Obama to Kim Jong-il. Clinton and Kim had a three house meeting (confirmed by U.S. officials) on a "wide-ranging exchange of views on matters of common concern." North Korean Vice Foreign Minister, Kang Sok-ju, who negotiated the 1994 nuclear Agreed Framework with the Clinton Administration, attended the meeting. The White House denied that Clinton had issued an apology and had delivered a message from President Obama. However, most experts surmised that Clinton would have expressed the position of the Obama Administration on the North Korean nuclear issue and other security issues. (11)
President Clinton's mission came amidst deteriorating U.S.-North Korean relations as a result of a number of provocative acts by North Korea since March 2009 and the response of the Obama Administration to them in securing United Nations sanctions against North Korea.
On May 25, 2009, North Korea announced that it had conducted a second test of a nuclear bomb. U.S. and foreign officials said afterwards that initial detected soundings indicated that a nuclear test had taken place. Most U.S. and foreign nuclear experts estimated the explosive power of the bomb at between four and five kilotons. By comparison, the first North Korean test of October 2006 had an explosive yield of less than one kiloton. (12) North Korean statements indicated that this second test had achieved technical advances over the first test. A North Korean diplomat in Moscow predicted that there would be further tests.
The nuclear test followed North Korea's announcement on April 14, 2009, that it was withdrawing from the six party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs. It cited as the reason for its decision a statement approved by the United Nations Security Council criticizing North Korea's test launch of a long-range Taepodong II missile on April 5, 2009. The Security Council statement, issued by the President of the Security Council, said that the missile test violated Security Resolution 1718 of October 2006, which banned tests of long-range North Korean missiles. The statement called on members of the United Nations to enforce sanctions against North Korea adopted in Resolution 1718. (13) North Korea claimed that the missile test was a legitimate launching of a satellite into space. North Korea warned prior to the April 5 test that it would withdraw from the six party talks if the Security Council took any action against it over the missile test.
North Korea staged boycotts of the six party talks on two previous occasions, in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, each for nearly one year. North Korea's announcement of April 13, 2009, and subsequent statements, however, contained a more absolute rejection of the six party talks than was the case in the prior boycotts. The announcement said that North Korea "will never again take part in such talks." It also said that North Korea "will take steps to restore disabled nuclear facilities" and "revive nuclear facilities and reprocess used nuclear fuel rods." North Korea thus threatened to restore operation of its plutonium nuclear installations at Yongbyon that have been shut down since mid-2007 under agreements between North Korea and the Bush Administration for the disablement of the Yongbyon facilities. (14) By early 2009, the disablement process was about 80% completed. Following the announcement, North Korea expelled from Yongbyon technicians and monitors from the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency who had been there since 2007.
The earliest revival of the Yongbyon facilities that North Korea could implement would be a restarting of the plutonium reprocessing plant, which takes nuclear fuel rods from North Korea's nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and converts them into nuclear weapons-grade plutonium. It was reported at the end of May 2009 that there were signs that the reprocessing plant was operating. Experts believe that North Korea could reprocess 8,000 fuel rods available from the reactor within four to six months--enough plutonium for one atomic bomb. (15) (See CRS Report RL34256, North Korea's Nuclear Weapons: Technical Issues, for more information on North Korea's ability to restart the plutonium reprocessing plant.) U.S. officials and non-government nuclear experts have said that North Korea previously had reprocessed enough plutonium for five to eight atomic bombs. Reassembling the nuclear reactor and a nuclear fuel fabrication plant and restarting them would be a more difficult, time-consuming process, taking possibly up to a year, according to U.S. officials and nuclear experts. Once these facilities were operating, North Korea would be able to produce about six kilograms of plutonium per year, enough for one atomic bomb. (16) In late May 2009, too, North Korea issued a threat to undertake the enriching of uranium, another process that can be used to produce atomic bombs.
U.N. Resolution 1874
The Obama Administration responded to North Korea's nuclear test by seeking another U.N. Security Council resolution penalizing Pyongyang. On June 12, 2009, the U.N. Security Council approved Resolution 1874. It calls on U.N. member states to apply several sets of sanctions against North Korea. The major sanctions are:
--A ban on financial transactions related to North Korea's trade in weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and WMD technology. North Korea's state trading companies are key vehicles for transferring WMD and WMD technology to other countries and for transmitting the foreign exchange earnings back to Pyongyang. The trading companies conduct these transactions through accounts maintained in banks in numerous countries around the world. In order to shut down these financial transactions, governments and banks in a number of countries will have to freeze these bank accounts.
U.S. officials have said that the Obama Administration is emphasizing the ban on financial transactions in its discussions with other governments regarding Resolution 1874. In July 2009, Ambassador Philip Goldberg and Undersecretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey visited China, Malaysia, and Russia. Goldberg was appointed as a special envoy to coordinate sanctions against North Korea. They emphasized to Chinese, Malaysian, and Russian officials the need to restrict activities of North Korean trading companies. (17)
In line with the April 2009 Security Council statement and Resolution 1874, the Security Council designated for sanctions five North Korean trading companies, an Iran-based company, a North Korean bank, and North Korea's General Bureau of Atomic Energy. It also designated five North Korean officials, including the director of another North Korean trading company. The U.S. Treasury Department announced in late June 2009 sanctions on one of these North Korean trading companies, the Namchongang Trading Corporation, and the Iran-based Hong Kong Electronics. Treasury Department …