Updated January 3, 2007
North Korea's first test of a nuclear weapon on October 9, 2006, and its multiple missile tests of July 4, 2006, escalate the issue of North Korea in U.S. foreign policy. These acts show a North Korean intent to stage a "nuclear breakout" of its nuclear program and openly produce nuclear weapons. 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 6-8 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 have expressed support for key North Korean negotiating proposals in six-party talks. The talks have made little progress. North Korea's two long boycotts of the talks (the latest one from November 2005 to November 2006) appears aimed at creating a long-term diplomatic stalemate on the nuclear issue. North Korea has widened progressively the gap between its core negotiating position and the U.S. core position, for example 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 North Korea's Nuclear Test U.N. Sanctions Responses of Key Governments to U.N. Sanctions Japan China South Korea (R.O.K.) Europe Resumption of Six Party Talks, December 2006 Congressional Actions 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 North Korea's Response to the U.S. Core Proposal Six Party Statement and Second North Korean Boycott Background to the Six Party Talks Bush Administration Approach to the Talks Roles of the Other Six Party Governments North Korea's Approach to the Talks North Korea's Nuclear Program Plutonium Facilities Highly Enriched Uranium Program International Assistance North Korea's Delivery Systems State of Nuclear Weapons Development The 1994 Agreed Framework Benefits to North Korea Light Water Nuclear Reactors Oil at No Cost Diplomatic Representation Lifting the U.S. Economic Embargo U.S. Nuclear Security Guarantee North Korean Obligations Beyond the Freeze of the Nuclear Program Inspections and Broader Nuclear Obligations Disposition of Fuel Rods from the Five Megawatt Reactor Dismantlement of Nuclear Installations Role of Congress For Additional Reading
North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Development and Diplomacy
Most Recent Developments
North Korea's Nuclear Test
North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on October 9, 2006. The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement on October 16, 2006, that the explosion was very small, less than one kiloton (3-4 percent of the explosion power of the Nagasaki plutonium atomic bomb). U.S. officials also stated that the bomb tested was a plutonium bomb. Some experts consequently postulated that the test was not totally successful and that only a portion of the plutonium in the bomb had been detonated. Some experts speculated that North Korea may have tried to test a small scale atomic bomb. Most believed that North Korea had not reached the technology level to test the prototype of a small nuclear warhead. (1) The test 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.
Most experts also were in agreement that North Korea has 40 to 50 kilograms of nuclear weapons-grade plutonium that it has extracted from its operating five megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. Using six kilograms per weapon, this would be enough for six to eight atomic bombs. (2)
The international reaction to the nuclear test was uniformly harsh. Even China openly criticized North Korea, a break from Beijing's past policy of not criticizing North Korea in public. President Bush warned North Korea of "consequences" if North Korea transferred nuclear weapons or nuclear materials to other governments or terrorist groups. Some observers, however, noted that his statement seemed to be a retreat from the past Administration position that North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons was unacceptable. (3) The Bush Administration's diplomacy focused on securing a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea. The Security Council adopted Resolution 1718 on October 14, 2006, calling on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programs. It imposed several sanctions:
Cargo inspections: It requests (but not orders) countries to inspect cargo to and from North Korea to prevent trafficking in nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and related materials.
Arms embargo: It bans trade with North Korea on battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles.
Trade restrictions: It bans trade in materials related to ballistic missiles or weapons of mass destruction. It also bans the sale of luxury goods to North Korea. (North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was estimated by the U.S. military in 2003 to spend $100 million annually in importing luxury goods.)
Asset freezes: It calls on countries to freeze funds and other financial assets and economic resources that are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by people connected with North Korea's unconventional weapons program.
Travel ban: It imposes a travel ban on people connected to North Korea's weapons program.
Responses of Key Governments to U.N. Sanctions
Japan. Japan acted strongly to enforce the U.S. sanctions. It banned North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports. It banned imports from North Korea. The government published a list of 24 luxury products banned from export to North Korea. Japanese officials also said that Japan would assist the United States in stopping North Korean ships for searches.
China. China has a wide range of relationships with North Korea that could be cut off or reduced in a broad Chinese enforcement of U.N. sanctions. Chinese economic-financial aid is large; China promised $2 billion in October 2005. China supplies North Korea with an estimated 90 percent of its oil (one millions tons annually (4)) and 40 percent of its food. Investment deals between Chinese firms and North Korea concluded in 2005 and 2006 for investments in North Korean natural resources and infrastructure include "royalties" paid by the Chinese companies to North Korea of $2 billion. (5) Since 2002, there has been a major influx of Chinese consumer goods into North Korea, which provide important consumer needs of North Korea's elite. According to 2006 reports of the International Crisis Group and the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, 80-90 percent of North Korea's consumer imports are from China. The Chinese government also allows high-ranking members of the North Korean elite to visit Chinese cities on the border and perhaps elsewhere where the North Koreans shop for luxury goods. (6) North Korea exports products across its northern border into China. Many North Korean ships dock at Chinese ports. Chinese airports serve as refueling stops for aircraft traveling between Pyongyang and Tehran, Iran--apparently a major route for the transfer of North Korean missiles and possibly other weapons technology to Iran.
There are known divisions within the Chinese government and Communist Party over the issue of support for North Korea. There are critics of China's supportive policies among officials of government-supported "think tanks" and reportedly the Foreign Ministry. They argue that China should cut these links to North Korea. However, advocates of maintaining support are within the ranks of the Chinese military leadership and senior, sometimes retired, Communist Party officials.
China has taken limited steps in response to U.N. sanctions. Four major mainland Chinese banks cut off financial transfers to North Korea, and smaller Chinese banks adopted similar measures. However, by late November 2006, most of these banks reportedly lifted the restrictions. (7) The U.N. World Food Program reported that China previously had reduced its food aid to North Korea by two-thirds in 2006. China, however, seems unwilling to cut off or limit the bulk of its relationships with North Korea. Chinese officials have said that China will not search North Korean cargoes on ships and apparently on aircraft too. Reports from the China-North Korea border indicate that trade continues as before the nuclear test with no stepped-up Chinese inspections. (8) Reports that China suspended oil shipments in September 2006 have been contradicted by subsequent reports. (Bush Administration officials reportedly have urged China to cut off oil on several occasions at least since early 2005.) (9) Chinese officials have stated that China probably will have a different definition of "luxury goods" in relation to North Korea than the U.S. definition, and large-scale shopping by members of Kim Jong-il's elite in Dandong, a Chinese city on the North Korea border, reportedly has continued. At the end of November 2006, the large Chinese Luanhe Industrial Group signed an agreement with the North Korea government for an investment in North Korea's largest copper mine.
South Korea (R.O.K.). The South Korean government has taken limited measures to enforce U.N. sanctions. In response to North Korea's missile tests in July 2006, the government suspended rice and fertilizer shipments to North Korea. (Rice aid had totaled 400,000 tons in 2004 and 2005.) The government banned travel to South Korea of North Korean officials connected to the nuclear program. It suspended government subsidies paid to South Korean tourists who visit Mount Kumgang in North Korea. However, the government stated that it would continue two major projects with North Korea that provide direct foreign exchange payments to the North Korean government of over $22 million annually--a figure that could grow substantially over the next five years. One is the …