- North Korea–United States relations
North Korea–United States relations
North Korea–United States relations developed primarily during the Korean War, but in recent years have been largely defined by the United States' suspicions regarding North Korea's nuclear programs and North Korea's desire to normalize relations with the U.S., tempered by a stated perception of an imminent U.S. attack.
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Although hostility between the two countries remains largely a product of Cold War politics, there were earlier conflicts and animosity between the U.S. and Korea. In the mid-19th century Korea closed its borders to Western trade. In the General Sherman incident, Korean forces attacked a U.S. gunboat sent to negotiate a trade treaty and killed its crew, after fire from both sides because it defied instructions from Korean officials. A U.S. retribution attack, the Shinmiyangyo, followed.
Korea and the U.S. ultimately established trade relations in 1882. Relations soured again when the U.S. negotiated peace in the Russo-Japanese War. Japan persuaded the U.S. to accept Korea as part of Japan's sphere of influence, and the US did not protest when Japan annexed Korea five years later. Korean nationalists unsuccessfully petitioned the US to support their cause at the Versailles Treaty conference under Woodrow Wilson's principle of national self-determination.
Relations during the U.S. occupation of South Korea, 1945–1948
The United Nations divided Korea after World War II along the 38th parallel, intending it as a temporary measure. However, the breakdown of relations between the U.S. and USSR prevented a reunification. During the U.S. occupation of South Korea, relations between the U.S. and North Korea were conducted through the Soviet military government in the North. Because of North Korea's submission to Soviet pressures, and because of mass opposition to the lenient U.S. occupation of the mortal enemy Japan, North Koreans in this period denounced the United States and began to form a negative view of the U.S. However, several American ministers and missionaries remained active in this period, reminding Koreans, before they were uprooted by the communist regime, that American individuals could be very helpful to the cause of Korean independence.
Relations from formation of the DPRK to the Korean War, 1948–1950
On September 9, 1948, Kim Il-sung declared the Democratic People's Republic of Korea; he promptly received diplomatic recognition from the Soviet Union, but not the United States. The U.S. did not extend, and has never extended, diplomatic recognition to the DPRK. After 1948, the withdrawal of most American troops from the peninsula actually intensified Kim Il Sung's anti-American rhetoric, often asserting that the U.S. was an imperialist successor to Japan, a view it still holds today. In December 1950, the United States initiated economic sanctions against the DPRK under the Trading with the Enemy Act which lasted until 2008.
Rollback: the U.S. occupation of North Korea, October–December 1950
North Koreans had their closest encounter with the United States during the US/UN occupation of North Korea in the two months after the Inchon landing. With help from the ROK Army, the United States' military, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, moved to set up a civil administration for North Korea in the wake of the presumed destruction of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. MacArthur planned to find North Korean generals, especially Kim Il-Sung, and try them as war criminals.
Relations from the end of the Korean War to the end of the Cold War
North Korea and the United States had little to no relations during this time.
Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula
From January 1958 through 1991, the United States had nuclear weapons aimed at North Korea, peaking in number at some 950 warheads in 1967. Reports are that these have since been removed. The U.S. still maintains "the continuation of the extended deterrent offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella".
North Korea joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state in 1985, and North and South Korean talks begun in 1990 resulted in a 1992 Denuclearization Statement. However, US intelligence photos in early 1993 led the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to demand special inspection of the North's nuclear facilities, which prompted Kim Il Sung's March 1993 announcement of North Korea's withdrawal from the NPT. UN Security Council resolution 825 from 11 May 1993 urged North Korea to cooperate with the IAEA and to implement the 1992 North-South Denuclearization Statement. It also urged all member states to encourage North Korea to respond positively to this resolution and to facilitate a solution of the nuclear issue.
U.S.–North Korea talks began in June 1993 but with lack of progress in developing and implementing an agreement, North Koreans unloaded the core of a major nuclear reactor, which could have provided enough raw material for several nuclear weapons. With tensions high, Kim Il Sung invited former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to act as an intermediary. Carter accepted the invitation, but could only act as a private citizen not a government representative. Carter managed to bring the two states to the negotiating table, with Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Robert Gallucci representing the United States and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju representing his country.
The negotiators successfully reached the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework in October 1994:
- North Korea agreed to freeze its existing plutonium enrichment program, to be monitored by the IAEA;
- Both sides agreed to cooperate to replace North Korea's graphite-moderated reactors with light water reactor (LWR) power plants, to be financed and supplied by an international consortium (later identified as the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization or KEDO) by a target date of 2003;
- The United States and North Korea agreed to work together to store safely the spent fuel from the five-megawatt reactor and dispose of it in a safe manner that does not involve reprocessing in North Korea;
- The United States agreed to provide shipments of heavy fuel oil to provide energy in the mean time;
- The two sides agreed to move toward full normalization of political and economic relations;
- Both sides agreed to work together for peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula; and
- Both sides agreed to work together to strengthen the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Historians Paul Lauren, Gordon Craig, and Alexander George point out that the agreement suffered from a number of weaknesses. There was no specific schedule made for reciprocal moves, and the United States was granted a very long time to fulfill its obligations to replace the dangerous graphite-moderated reactors with LWRs. Furthermore, no organization was chosen "to monitor compliance, to supervise implementation...or to make mid-course adjustments that might become necessary." Finally, other interested nations, like South Korea, China, and Japan, were not included in the negotiations.
Soon after the agreement was signed, U.S. Congress control changed to the Republican Party, who did not support the agreement. Some Republican Senators were strongly against the agreement, regarding it as appeasement.
In accordance with the terms of the Agreed Framework, North Korea decided to freeze its nuclear program and cooperate with United States and IAEA verification efforts, and in January 1995 the U.S. eased economic sanctions against North Korea. Initially U.S. Department of Defense emergency funds not under Congress control were used to fund the transitional oil supplies under the agreement, together with international funding. From 1996 Congress provided funding, though not always sufficient amounts. Consequently some of the agreed transitional oil supplies were delivered late. KEDO's first director, Stephen W. Bosworth, later commented "The Agreed Framework was a political orphan within two weeks after its signature".
In January 1995, as called for in the Agreed Framework, the United States and North Korea negotiated a method to safely store the spent fuel from the five-megawatt reactor. According to this method, U.S. and North Korean operators would work together to can the spent fuel and store the canisters in the spent fuel pond. Actual canning began in 1995. In April 2000, canning of all accessible spent fuel rods and rod fragments was declared complete.
North Korea agreed to accept the decisions of KEDO, the financier and supplier of the LWRs, with respect to provision of the reactors. International funding for the LWR replacement power plants had to be sought. Formal invitations to bid were not issued until 1998, by which time the delays were infuriating North Korea.  In May 1998, North Korea warned it would restart nuclear research if the U.S. could not install the LWR. KEDO subsequently identified Sinpo as the LWR project site, and a formal ground breaking was held on the site on August 21, 1997. In December 1999, KEDO and the (South) Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) signed the Turnkey Contract (TKC), permitting full scale construction of the LWRs, but significant spending on the LWR project did not commence until 2000.
In 1998, the United States identified an underground site in Kumchang-ni, which it suspected of being nuclear-related. In March 1999, North Korea agreed to grant the U.S. "satisfactory access" to the site. In October 2000, during Special Envoy Jo Myong Rok's visit to Washington, and after two visits to the site by teams of U.S. experts, the U.S. announced in a Joint Communiqué with North Korea that U.S. concerns about the site had been resolved.
As called for in Dr. William Perry's official review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, the United States and North Korea launched new negotiations in May 2000 called the Agreed Framework Implementation Talks.
North Korea policy under George W. Bush
George W. Bush announced his opposition to the Agreed Framework during his presidential candidacy. Following his inauguration in January 2001, the new administration began a review of its policy toward North Korea. At the conclusion of that review, the administration announced on June 6, 2001, that it had decided to pursue continued dialogue with North Korea on the full range of issues of concern to the administration, including North Korea's conventional force posture, missile development and export programs, human rights practices, and humanitarian issues. As of that time, the Light Water Reactors (LWRs) promised in the Agreed Framework had not been delivered. In 2002, the administration asserted that North Korea was developing a uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons purposes. U.S.-DPRK tensions mounted when Bush categorized North Korea as part of the "Axis of Evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address.
When U.S.-DPRK direct dialogue resumed in October 2002, this uranium-enrichment program was high on the U.S. agenda. North Korean officials acknowledged to a U.S. delegation, headed by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James A. Kelly, the existence of the uranium enrichment program. Such a program violated North Korea's obligations under the NPT and its commitments in the 1992 North-South Denuclearization Declaration and the 1994 Agreed Framework. The U.S. side stated that North Korea would have to terminate the program before any further progress could be made in U.S.-DPRK relations. The U.S. side also claimed that if this program was verifiably eliminated, the U.S. would be prepared to work with DPRK on the development of a fundamentally new relationship. In November 2002, the members of KEDO agreed to suspend heavy fuel oil shipments to North Korea pending a resolution of the nuclear dispute.
In December 2002, Spanish troops boarded and detained a shipment of Scud missiles from North Korea destined for Yemen, at the United States' request. After two days, the United States released the ship to continue its shipment to Yemen. This further strained the relationship between the US and North Korea, with North Korea characterizing the boarding an "act of piracy".
In late 2002 and early 2003, North Korea terminated the freeze on its existing plutonium-based nuclear facilities, expelled IAEA inspectors and removed seals and monitoring equipment, quit the NPT, and resumed reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium for weapons purposes. North Korea subsequently announced that it was taking these steps to provide itself with a deterrent force in the face of U.S. threats and the U.S.'s "hostile policy". Beginning in mid-2003, the North repeatedly claimed to have completed reprocessing of the spent fuel rods previously frozen at Yongbyon and lain cooperation with North Korea's neighbors, who have also expressed concern over the threat to regional stability and security they believe it poses. The Bush Administration's stated goal is the complete, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. North Korea's neighbors have joined the United States in supporting a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula. U.S. actions, however, had been much more hostile to normalized relations with North Korea, and the administration continued to suggest regime change as a primary goal. The Bush Administration had consistently resisted two-party talks with the DPRK. A September 2005 agreement took place only after the Chinese threatened to publicly accuse the U.S. of refusal to engage in negotiations.
In September 2005, immediately following the September 19 agreement, relations between the countries were further strained by US allegations of North Korean counterfeiting of American dollars. The US alleges that North Korea produces $15 million worth of 'supernotes' every year, and has induced banks in Macau and elsewhere to end business with North Korea. Such claims of counterfeiting date back to 1989, so the timing of the U.S. claims is suspect. Some experts[who?] doubt North Korea has the capacity to produce such notes, and U.S. financial auditors have been analyzing records seized from the Macau bank and have yet to make a formal charge. In 2007, it was reported that an audit by Ernst & Young had found no evidence that the bank had facilitated North Korean money-laundering.
In early 2003, multilateral talks were proposed to be held among the six most relevant parties aimed at reaching a settlement through diplomatic means. North Korea initially opposed such a process, maintaining that the nuclear dispute was purely a bilateral matter between themselves and the United States. However, under pressure from its neighbors and with the active involvement of China, North Korea agreed to preliminary three-party talks with China and the United States in Beijing in April 2003.
After this meeting, North Korea then agreed to six-party talks, between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia. The first round of talks were held in August 2003, with subsequent rounds being held at regular intervals. After 13 months of freezing talks between the fifth round's first and second phases, North Korea returned to the talks. This behavior was in retaliation for the US's action of freezing offshore North Korean bank accounts in Macau. In early 2005, the US government told its East Asia allies that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. This backfired when Asian allies discovered that the US government had concealed the involvement of Pakistan; a key U.S. ally was the weapon's middle man. In March 2005, Condoleezza Rice had to travel to East Asia in an effort to repair the damage.
The third phase of the fifth round of talks held on February 8, 2007, concluded with a landmark action-for-action agreement. Goodwill by all sides has led to the US unfreezing all of the North Korean assets on March 19, 2007.
As of October 11, 2008, North Korea has agreed to all U.S. nuclear inspection demands and the Bush Administration responded by removing the communist country from a terrorism blacklist.
2006 nuclear test
U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that a test occurred Tony Snow, President George W. Bush’s White House Press Secretary, said that the United States would go to the United Nations to determine “what our next steps should be in response to this very serious step.” On Monday, October 9, 2006, President Bush stated in a televised speech that such a claim of a test is a "provocative act" and the U.S condemns such acts. President Bush stated that the United States is "committed to diplomacy" but will "continue to protect America and America's interests." The Six-Party Talks, below, resulted.
Steps towards normalization
The February 13, 2007, agreement in the Six-Party Talks – among the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, China, and Russia – called for other actions besides a path toward a denuclearized Korean peninsula. It also outlined steps toward the normalization of political relations with Pyongyang, a replacement of the Korean War armistice with a peace treaty, and the building of a regional peace structure for Northeast Asia.
In exchange for substantial fuel aid, North Korea agreed to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility. The United States also agreed to begin discussions on normalization of relations with North Korea, and to begin the process of removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Implementation of this agreement has been successful so far, with US Chief Negotiator Christopher R. Hill saying North Korea has adhered to its commitments. The sixth round of talks commencing on March 19, 2007, discussed the future of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.
In early June 2008, the United States agreed to start lifting restrictions after North Korea began the disarming process. President Bush announced he would remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism after North Korea released a 60 page declaration of its nuclear activities. Shortly thereafter North Korean officials released video of the demolition of the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, considered a symbol of North Korea's nuclear program. The Bush Administration praised the progress, but was criticized by many, including some within the administration, for settling for too little. The document released said nothing about alleged uranium enrichment programs or nuclear proliferation to other countries.
The Mogadishu encounter Part of War on Terror Date November 4, 2007 Location Somalia Result U.S–North Korean victory Belligerents United States
On November 4, 2007, a North Korean merchant vessel was attacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Mogadishu who forced their way aboard, posing as guards. As U.S. Navy ships patrolling the waters moved to respond, the 22 North Korean seamen fought the eight Somali pirates in hand-to-hand combat. With aid from the crew of the USS James E. Williams and a helicopter, the ship was freed, and permission was given to the U.S. crew to treat the medically wounded crew and pirates. This resulted in favorable comments from U.S. envoy in Beijing, Christopher R. Hill, as well as an exceedingly rare pro-U.S. statement in the North Korean press. The favorable result of the incident occurred at an important moment, as the North Koreans moved to implement the February 13 agreement with the acquiescence of the Bush Administration, and the 2007 South Korean presidential election loomed, with the North Koreans taking pains to emphasize a more moderate policy.
Resurgence of hostilities
Starting in late August 2008, North Korea allegedly resumed its nuclear activities at the Yongbyon nuclear facility, apparently moving equipment and nuclear supplies back onto the facility grounds. Since then, North Korean activity at the facility has steadily increased, with North Korea threatening Yongbyon's possible reactivation.
North Korea has argued that the U.S. has failed to fulfill its promises in the disarmament process, having not removed the country from its "State Sponsors of Terrorism" list or sent the promised aid to the country. The U.S. has recently stated that it will not remove the North from its list until it has affirmed that North Korea will push forward with its continued disarmament. North Korea has since barred IAEA inspectors from the Yongbyon site, and the South has claimed that the North is pushing for the manufacture of a nuclear warhead. The North has recently conducted tests on short-range missiles. The U.S. is encouraging the resumption of six-party talks.
Removal from terror list
On October 11, 2008, the U.S. and North Korea secured an agreement in which North Korea agreed to resume disarmament of its nuclear program and once again allowed inspectors to conduct forensic tests of its available nuclear materials. The North also agreed to provide full details on its long-rumored uranium program. These latest developments culminated in North Korea's long-awaited removal from America's "State Sponsors of Terrorism" list on the same day.
2009 nuclear test
On May 25, 2009, American-North Korean relations further deteriorated when North Korea conducted yet another nuclear test, the first since the 2006 test. The test was once again conducted underground and exploded with a yield comparable to the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. The United States was also pleased with China and Russia's move, who condemned North Korea's actions even though they are both strong allies of North Korea. The U.S., along with all other members of the stalled six-party talks, strongly condemned the test and said that North Korea would "pay a price for its actions." The U.S. also strongly condemned the subsequent series of short-range missile tests that have followed the detonation.
North Korean detainment of American journalists
American-North Korean relations have further been strained by the arrest of two American journalists on March 17, 2009. The two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV, were arrested on the North Korean border with China while supposedly filming a documentary on the trafficking of women and allegedly crossing into North Korea in the process. North Korea subsequently tried the two journalists amid international protests and found them guilty of the charges, and sentenced them to twelve years of hard labor. The U.S. criticized the act as a "sham trial" and has since worked towards the release of the two journalists.
The ordeal was finally resolved on August 4, when former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived in Pyongyang in what he described as a "solely private mission" to secure the release of the two American journalists. He reportedly forwarded a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from current U.S. President Barack Obama, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied this claim. Clinton's discussions with Kim were reportedly on various issues regarding American-North Korean relations. On August 5, Kim issued a formal pardon to the two American journalists, who subsequently returned to Los Angeles with Clinton. The unannounced visit by Clinton was the first by a high-profile American official since 2000, and is reported to have drawn praise and understanding by the parties involved.
ROKS Cheonan sinking
On May 24, 2010, the United States set plans to participate in new military exercises with South Korea as a direct military response to the sinking of a South Korean warship by what officials called a North Korean torpedo.
On May 28, 2010, the official (North) Korean Central News Agency stated that "it is the United States that is behind the case of 'Cheonan.' The investigation was steered by the U.S. from its very outset." It also accused the United States of manipulating the investigation and named the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama directly of using the case for "escalating instability in the Asia-Pacific region, containing big powers and emerging unchallenged in the region." The report indicated to the United States to "behave itself, mindful of the grave consequences."
In July 2010, the DPRK government indefinitely postponed a scheduled talk at Panmunjom relating to the sinking. The meeting was intended as preparation for future talks at higher governmental levels.
- 2008 New York Philharmonic visit to North Korea
- Foreign relations of North Korea
- Index of Korea-related articles
- North Korea and weapons of mass destruction
- Proliferation Security Initiative
- South Korea – United States relations
- United States foreign relations
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- Kim's Nuclear Gamble – PBS Frontline Documentary (Video & Transcript)
- Timeline of North Korea talks – BBC
- Diplomacy: Weighing 'Deterrence' vs. 'Aggression' – The New York Times, October 18, 2002
- National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction – December 2002 White House release
- Sanctions and War on the Korean Peninsula – Martin Hart-Landsberg and John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus, January 17, 2007
- Hardliners Target Détente with North Korea – Suzy Kim and John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus, February 11, 2008.
- Far-Reaching U.S. Plan Impaired N. Korea Deal, Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, September 26, 2008.
- “Normalization and Nuclear Issue Are Two Separate Matters” – A spokesman for the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tongil Korea Net, January 17, 2009.
- North Korea Sees Itself Surrounded by Enemies, The Real News - Lawrence Wilkerson comments on recent North Korean actions and the US/South Korean response, December 5, 2010 (video: 13:38)
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