Updated October 5, 2006
North Korea's decisions at the end of 2002 to restart nuclear installations at Yongbyon that were shut down under the U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework of 1994 and to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and its multiple missile tests of July 4, 2006, create a foreign policy problem for the United States. Restarting the Yongbyon facilities opens up a possible North Korean intent to stage a "nuclear breakout" of its nuclear program and openly produce nuclear weapons. North Korea has also threatened to test a nuclear weapon. North Korea's actions follow the disclosure in October 2002 that it is operating a secret nuclear program based on uranium enrichment and the decision by the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) in November 2002 to suspend shipments of heavy oil to North Korea. North Korea claims that it has nuclear weapons and that it has completed reprocessing of over 8,000 nuclear fuel rods. U.S. officials and other experts state that North Korea probably had reprocessed most or all of the fuel rods and may have produced enough plutonium for 6-10 atomic bombs.
The main objective of the Bush Administration is to secure the dismantling of North Korea's plutonium and uranium-based nuclear programs. Its strategy has been: (1) terminating the Agreed Framework; (2) withholding U.S. reciprocal measures until North Korea takes steps to dismantle its nuclear programs; (3) assembling an international coalition, through six party negotiations, to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea; and (4) imposing financial sanctions on foreign banks that facilitate North Korea's illegal counterfeiting activities. China, South Korea, and Russia have criticized the Bush Administration for not negotiating directly with North Korea, and they voice opposition to economic sanctions and to the potential use of force against Pyongyang. China, Russia, and South Korea increasingly have expressed support for North Korea's position in six-party talks. The talks have made little progress. North Korea's two long boycotts of the talks (the current one since November 2005 is continuing) appears aimed at creating a long-term diplomatic stalemate on the nuclear issue. In the six party meetings of July-September 2005, North Korea widened the gap between the U.S. and North Korean positions when it asserted that it would not dismantle or even disclose its nuclear programs until light water reactors were physically constructed in North Korea. The widening gap was not narrowed by a statement of the six parties on September 19, 2005, in which North Korea agreed to rejoin the NPT and its 1992 safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency "at an early date" but which also contained a reference to North Korea's right to have a light water reactor.
Critics increasingly have charged that despite its tough rhetoric, the Bush Administration gives North Korea a relatively low priority in U.S. foreign policy and takes a passive diplomatic approach to the nuclear issue and other issues. As a result of growing congressional criticism, the Senate approved an amendment to the Defense Department authorization bill for FY2007 that would require President Bush to name a high level coordinator of U.S. policy toward North Korea and report to Congress on the status of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. This report replaces IB91141, North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program, by Larry A. Niksch. It will be updated periodically.
Contents Most Recent Developments 1 Context of North Korea's Two Boycotts of the Six Party Talks and the September 19, 2005, Six Party Statement 2 Bush Administration's June 2004 Proposal and the "Hill Amendments" of July-August 2005 2 North Korea's Response to the U.S. Core Proposal 3 Six Party Statement and Second North Korean Boycott 5 Background to the Six Party Talks 6 Bush Administration Approach to the Talks 6 Roles of the Other Six Party Governments 8 North Korea's Approach to the Talks 8 North Korea's Nuclear Program 10 Plutonium Facilities 10 Highly Enriched Uranium Program 11 International Assistance 12 North Korea's Delivery Systems 12 State of Nuclear Weapons Development 13 The 1994 Agreed Framework 15 Benefits to North Korea 16 Light Water Nuclear Reactors 16 Oil at No Cost 17 Diplomatic Representation 17 Lifting the U.S. Economic Embargo 17 U.S. Nuclear Security Guarantee 17 North Korean Obligations Beyond the Freeze of the Nuclear Program 17 Inspections and Broader Nuclear Obligations 17 Disposition of Fuel Rods from the Five Megawatt Reactor 18 Dismantlement of Nuclear Installations 18 Role of Congress 18 For Additional Reading 19
Most Recent Developments
North Korea's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on October 3, 2006, declaring that North Korea "will in the future conduct a nuclear test." The statement comes after North Korea conducted multiple tests of missiles on July 4, 2006, in which the test of a long-range Taepodong missile failed but the tests of short range Scud and medium-range Nodong missiles were successful. It also comes amidst North Korea's second boycott of the six party nuclear talks. North Korea has justified its boycott since November 2005 by demanding that the United States end financial measures and pressure against foreign banks that accept North Korean money and allow North Korea to have accounts. North Korea also calls for bilateral talks with the United States. The Bush Administration calls on North Korea to return to six party talks unconditionally and says that its financial measures are legitimate measures against North Korean counterfeiting of U.S. currency and products and trafficking in drugs. The Administration also holds that it will negotiate bilaterally with North Korea only within six party talks. South Korea and China have criticized North Korea's threat of a nuclear test, but they have called for the Bush Administration to relax its prohibition on bilateral discussions with North Korea. South Korean officials also have called for a relaxation of U.S. financial sanctions against North Korea.
Experts on North Korea speculate that North Korea probably would have several motives in threatening and/or conducting a nuclear test. Within the North Korean leadership, the military has asserted its views strongly since at least the spring of 2006 and may have pressed for both missile and nuclear tests. North Korean leaders also may be motivated to restore North Korea's "prestige" after the failure of the Taepodong missile test. Diplomatically, North Korea may seek to pressure the Bush Administration to accept bilateral talks and end its financial measures, which reportedly are restricting the flow of foreign exchange to North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il. North Korea also may be attempting to embarrass the Bush Administration before the November 2006 U.S. congressional elections. North Korea, too, may be asserting greater independence from China's influence; China is the major provider of aid to North Korea.
In late September and early October 2006, Congress enacted two pieces of legislation on North Korea. H.R. 5122, the Defense Authorization bill for FY2007, requires the President to appoint a Policy Coordinator for North Korea within 60 days of enactment and report to the President and Congress within 90 days on recommendations. It also requires the executive branch to report to Congress every 180 days in fiscal years 2007 and 2008 on the status of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. H.R. 5805 and S 3367, the North Korea Nonproliferation Act of 2006, states that the policy of the United States should be to impose sanctions on "persons" who transfer missiles, nuclear weapons, and other weapons of mass destruction or goods or technology related to such weapons to and from North Korea.
Context of North Korea's Two Boycotts of the Six Party Talks and the September 19, 2005, Six Party Statement
Bush Administration's June 2004 Proposal and the "Hill Amendments" of July-August 2005
The context for North Korea's two boycotts of the six party talks (August 2004-July 2005 and December 2005 to the present), the six party meeting of July-August and September 2005, and the Six Party Statement issued on September 19, 2005, appears to be the Bush Administration's proposal at the six party meeting of June 2004 and North Korea's response to it. The Administration's proposal was the first comprehensive proposal the Administration had made at the talks. It called for a short-term dismantlement of North Korea's plutonium and uranium enrichment programs following a three-month "preparatory period." During the preparatory period, North Korea would declare its nuclear facilities and …