For years, the United States has tried to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear and missile development and its export of ballistic missile technology. In 1994, the two countries signed the Agreed Framework, which froze North Korea's nuclear weapons program and served as a springboard for a discussion of missile issues. However, despite conducting negotiations since April 1996, the United States and North Korea have not yet reached an agreement on Pyongyang's missile development or exports. The recent visit to Washington by a senior North Korean official and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's reciprocal visit to Pyongyang signal a warming of bilateral relations that could have far-reaching implications for this and other topics.
The following is a chronology included in the November 2000 issue of Arms Control Today of U.S.-North Korean negotiations on nuclear and missile issues and major events that impacted those discussions from 1985 through November 2000. For more recent events, please see our continuously updated North Korea chronology factsheet.
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December 12, 1985: North Korea accedes to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but does not complete a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Under Article III of the NPT, North Korea has 18 months to conclude such an arrangement. In coming years, North Korea links adherence to this provision of the treaty to the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from South Korea.
September 27, 1991: President George Bush announces the unilateral withdrawal of all naval and land-based tactical nuclear weapons deployed abroad. Approximately 100 U.S. nuclear weapons had been based in South Korea. Eight days later, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocates.
November 8, 1991: In response to President Bush's unilateral move, President Roh Tae Woo of South Korea announces the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, under which South Korea promises not to produce, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons. In addition, the declaration unilaterally prohibits South Korea from possessing nuclear reprocessing or uranium enrichment facilities. These promises, if enacted, would satisfy all of North Korea's conditions for allowing IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities.
December 31, 1991: The two Koreas sign the South-North Joint Declaration on Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Under the declaration, both countries agree not to "test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons" or to "possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities." They also agree to mutual inspections for verification.
January 30, 1992: More than six years after signing the NPT, North Korea concludes a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
March 6, 1992: The United States imposes sanctions on North Korea's Lyongaksan Machineries and Equipment Export Corporation and Changgwang Sinyong Corporation for missile-proliferation activities.*
April 9, 1992: North Korea ratifies the safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
May 4, 1992: North Korea submits its nuclear material declarations to the IAEA, declaring seven sites and some 90 grams of plutonium that could be subject to IAEA inspection. Pyongyang claims that the nuclear material was the result of reprocessing 89 defective fuel rods in 1989. The IAEA conducted inspections to verify the completeness of this declaration from mid-1992 to early 1993.
June 23, 1992: The United States imposes "missile sanctions" on the North Korean entities sanctioned in March.*
September 1992: IAEA inspectors discover discrepancies in North Korea's "initial report" on its nuclear program and ask for clarification on several issues, including the amount of reprocessed plutonium in North Korea.
February 9, 1993: The IAEA demands special inspections of two sites that are believed to store nuclear waste. The request is based on strong evidence that North Korea has been cheating on its commitments under the NPT. North Korea refuses the IAEA's request.
March 12, 1993: Amid demands for special inspections, North Korea announces its intention to withdraw from the NPT in three months, citing Article X provisions that allow withdrawal for supreme national security considerations.
April 1, 1993: The IAEA declares that North Korea is not adhering to its safeguards agreement and that it can not guarantee that North Korean nuclear material is not being diverted for nonpeaceful uses.
June 11, 1993: Following talks with the United States in New York, North Korea suspends its decision to pull out of the NPT just before the withdrawal would have become legally effective. North Korea also agrees to the full and impartial application of IAEA safeguards.
For its part, the United States grants assurances against the threat and use of force, including nuclear weapons. Washington also promises not to interfere with North Korea's internal affairs.
July 19, 1993: After a second round of talks with the United States, North Korea announces in a joint statement that it is "prepared to begin consultations with the IAEA on outstanding safeguards and other issues" and that it is ready to negotiate IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities. The joint statement also indicates that Pyongyang might consider a deal with the United States to replace its graphite nuclear reactors with light-water reactors (LWRs), which are proliferation resistant.
Late 1993: The Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency estimate that North Korea had separated about 12 kilograms of plutonium. This amount is enough for at least one or two nuclear weapons.
January 1994: The director of the Central Intelligence Agency estimates that North Korea may have produced one or two nuclear weapons.
February 15, 1994: North Korea finalizes an agreement with the IAEA to allow inspections of all seven of its declared nuclear facilities, averting sanctions by the United Nations Security Council.
March 1, 1994: IAEA inspectors arrive in North Korea for the first inspections since 1993.
March 21, 1994: Responding to North Korea's refusal to allow the inspection team to inspect a plutonium reprocessing plant at Yongbyon, the IAEA Board of Governors approves a resolution calling on North Korea to "immediately allow the IAEA to complete all requested inspection activities and to comply fully with its safeguards agreements."
May 19, 1994: The IAEA confirms that North Korea has begun removing spent fuel from its 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor even though international monitors were not present. The United States and the IAEA had insisted that inspectors be present for any such action because spent fuel can potentially be reprocessed for use in nuclear weapons.
June 13, 1994: North Korea announces its withdrawal from the IAEA. This is distinct from pulling out of the NPT—North Korea is still required to undergo IAEA inspections as part of its NPT obligations. The IAEA contends that North Korea's safeguards agreement remains in force. However, North Korea no longer participates in IAEA functions as a member state.
June 15, 1994: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter negotiates a deal with North Korea in which Pyongyang confirms its willingness to "freeze" its nuclear weapons program and resume high-level talks with the United States. Bilateral talks are expected to begin provided that North Korea allows the IAEA safeguards to remain in place, does not refuel its 5-megawatt nuclear reactor, and does not reprocess any spent nuclear fuel.
July 9, 1994: North Korean President Kim Il Sung dies and is succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-Il.
August 12, 1994: An "agreed statement" is signed that establishes a three-stage process for the elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. In return, the United States promises to move toward normalized economic and diplomatic relations and assures North Korea that it will provide assistance with the construction of proliferation-resistant light-water reactors to replace North Korea's graphite-moderated reactors.
October 21, 1994: The United States and North Korea conclude four months of negotiations by adopting the "Agreed Framework" in Geneva. To resolve U.S. concerns about Pyongyang's plutonium-producing reactors and the Yongbyon reprocessing facility, the agreement calls for North Korea to freeze and eventually eliminate its nuclear facilities, a process that will require dismantling three nuclear reactors, two of which are still under construction. North Korea also allows the IAEA to verify compliance through "special inspections," and it agrees to allow 8,000 spent nuclear reactor fuel elements to be removed to a third country.
In exchange, Pyongyang will receive two light-water reactors and annual shipments of heavy fuel oil during construction of the LWRs. The LWRs will be financed and constructed through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), a multinational consortium.
Calling for movement toward full normalization of political and economic relations, the accord also serves as a jumping-off point for U.S.-North Korean dialogue on Pyongyang's development and export of ballistic missiles, as well as other issues of bilateral concern.
November 28, 1994: The IAEA announces that it had confirmed that construction has been halted at North Korea's Nyongbyon and Taochon nuclear facilities and that these facilities are not operational.
March 9, 1995: KEDO is formed in New York with the United States, South Korea, and Japan as the organization's original members.
January 1996: North Korea agrees in principle to a meeting on missile proliferation issues, which had been requested in a letter by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Thomas Hubbard. However, Pyongyang contends that the United States would have to ease economic sanctions before it could agree on a date and venue for the talks.
In testimony before a House International Relations Committee subcommittee on March 19, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Winston Lord says that Washington is willing to ease economic sanctions if progress is made on the missile export issue.
April 21-22, 1996: The United States and North Korea meet in Berlin for their first round of bilateral missile talks. The United States reportedly suggests that North Korea should adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a voluntary international agreement aimed at controlling sales of ballistic missile systems, components, and technology. North Korea allegedly demands that the United States provide compensation for lost missile-related revenue.
May 24, 1996: The United States imposes sanctions on North Korea and Iran for missile technology-related transfers. The sanctions prohibit any imports or exports to sanctioned firms and to those sectors of the North Korean economy that are considered missile-related. The pre-existing general ban on trade with both countries makes the sanctions largely symbolic. *
October 16, 1996: After detecting North Korean preparations for a test of its medium-range Nodong missile, the United States deploys a reconnaissance ship and aircraft to Japan. Following several meetings in New York between U.S. and North Korean diplomats, the State Department confirms on November 8 that the missile test has been canceled.
June 11-13, 1997: The second round of U.S.-North Korean missile talks takes place in New York, with U.S. negotiators pressing North Korea not to deploy the Nodong missile and to end sales of Scud missiles and their components. The parties reach no agreement but reportedly lay the foundation for future talks.
August 6, 1997: The United States imposes new sanctions on two additional North Korean entities for unspecified missile-proliferation activities.*
February 25, 1998: At his inaugural speech, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung announces his "sunshine policy," which strives to improve inter-Korean relations through peace, reconciliation, and cooperation.
April 17, 1998: The United States imposes sanctions on North Korea and Pakistan in response to Pyongyang's transfer of missile technology and components to Pakistan's Khan Research Laboratory.*
June 16, 1998: The official Korean Central News Agency reports that Pyongyang will only end its missile technology exports if it is suitably compensated for financial losses.
July 15, 1998: The bipartisan Rumsfeld Commission concludes that the United States may have "little or no warning" before facing a long-range ballistic missile threat from "rogue states," such as North Korea and Iran.
August 31, 1998: North Korea launches a three-stage Taepo Dong-1 rocket with a range of 1,500-2,000 kilometers that flies over Japan. Pyongyang announces that the rocket successfully placed a small satellite into orbit, a claim contested by U.S. Space Command. Japan suspends signature of a cost-sharing agreement for the Agreed Framework's LWR project until November 1998. The U.S. intelligence community admits to being surprised by North Korea's advances in missile-staging technology and its use of a solid-rocket motor for the missile's third stage.
October 1, 1998: The third round of U.S.-North Korean missile talks begins in New York but makes little progress. The United States repeats its request for Pyongyang to terminate its missile programs in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. North Korea rejects the U.S. proposal on the grounds that the lifting of sanctions is implicit in the 1994 Agreed Framework.
November 12, 1998: President Bill Clinton appoints former Secretary of Defense William Perry to serve as North Korea policy coordinator—a post established by the 1999 Defense Authorization Act. Perry immediately undertakes an interagency review of U.S. policy toward North Korea and begins consultations with South Korea and Japan aimed at forming a unified approach to dealing with Pyongyang.
December 4-11, 1998: The United States and North Korea hold talks to address U.S. concerns about a suspected underground nuclear facility at Kumchang-ni. Pyongyang reportedly accepts in principle the idea of a U.S. inspection of the site but is unable to agree with U.S. proposals for "appropriate compensation."
February 2, 1999: CIA Director George Tenet testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee that with some technical improvements, North Korea would be able to use the Taepo Dong-1 to deliver small payloads to parts of Alaska and Hawaii. Tenet also says that Pyongyang's Taepo Dong-2, if it had a third stage like the Taepo Dong-1, would be able to deliver large payloads to the continental United States, albeit with poor accuracy.
March 29-31, 1999: U.S. and North Korean officials hold a fourth round of missile talks in Pyongyang. The United States again expresses concern over North Korea's missile development and proliferation activities and proposes a deal exchanging North Korean restraint for U.S. sanctions relief. U.S. officials describe the talks as "serious and intensive" but succeed only in reaching agreement to meet again at an unspecified date.
April 25, 1999: The United States, South Korea, and Japan establish the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group to institutionalize close consultation and policy coordination in dealing with North Korea.
May 20-24, 1999: A U.S. inspection team visits the North Korean suspected nuclear site in Kumchang-ni. According to the State Department, the team finds no evidence of nuclear activity or violation of the Agreed Framework.
May 25-28, 1999: Traveling to Pyongyang as a presidential envoy, William Perry meets with senior North Korean political, diplomatic, and military officials to discuss a major expansion in bilateral relations if Pyongyang is willing to address U.S. security concerns. Perry delivers a letter from President Clinton to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, but the two do not meet. Perry reportedly calls on North Korea to satisfy U.S. concerns about ongoing nuclear weapons-related activities that are beyond the scope of the Agreed Framework and ballistic missile development and proliferation in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions, normalization of diplomatic relations, and potentially some form of security guarantee.
September 7-12, 1999: During talks in Berlin, North Korea agrees to a moratorium on testing any long-range missiles for the duration of talks with the United States. The United States agrees to a partial lifting of economic sanctions on North Korea. The two parties agree to continue high-level discussions. (Sanctions are not actually lifted until June 2000.)
September 9, 1999: A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate reports that North Korea will "most likely" develop an ICBM capable of delivering a 200-kilogram warhead to the U.S. mainland by 2015.
September 15, 1999: North Korean policy coordinator William Perry submits his review of U.S. policy toward North Korea to Congress and releases an unclassified version of the report on October 12. The report recommends "a new, comprehensive and integrated approach to…negotiations with the DPRK," which would involve a coordinated reduction in isolation by the United States and its allies in a "step-by-step and reciprocal fashion." Potential engagement mechanisms could include the normalization of diplomatic relations and the relaxation of trade sanctions.
November 19, 1999: The United States and North Korea meet in Berlin for talks on bilateral relations and preparations for a North Korean high-level visit to the United States.
December 15, 1999: Five years after the Agreed Framework was signed, KEDO officials sign a turn-key contract with the Korea Electric Power Corporation to begin construction on the two light-water reactors in Kumho, North Korea. KEDO officials attribute the delay in signing the contract to complex legal and financial challenges and the tense political climate generated by the North Korean Taepo Dong-1 test in August 1998.
April 6, 2000: The United States imposes sanctions on a North Korean firm, Changgwang Sinyong Corporation, for proliferating MTCR Category I items, possibly to Iran. Category I items include complete missile systems with ranges exceeding 300 kilometers and payloads over 500 kilograms, major subsystems, rocket stages or guidance systems, production facilities for MTCR-class missiles, or technology associated with such missiles.*
May 25-27, 2000: The United States conducts its second inspection of the Kumchang-ni site. The inspection team found that conditions had not changed since the first inspection in May 1999.
June 15, 2000: Following a historic summit, North and South Korea sign a joint declaration stating they have "agreed to resolve" the question of reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The agreement includes promises to reunite families divided by the Korean War and to pursue other economic and cultural exchanges. No commitments are made regarding nuclear weapons or missile programs or military deployments in the Demilitarized Zone.
June 19, 2000: Apparently encouraged by the North-South summit, the United States relaxes sanctions on North Korea, allowing a "wide range" of trade in commercial and consumer goods, easing restrictions on investment, and eliminating prohibitions on direct personal and commercial financial transactions. Sanctions related to terrorism and missile proliferation remain in place. The next day, North Korea reaffirms its moratorium on missile tests.
July 12, 2000: The fifth round of U.S.-North Korean missile talks in Kuala Lumpur end without resolution. During the meeting, North Korea repeats its demand for compensation, stated as $1 billion per year, in return for halting missile exports. The United States rejects this proposal but says that it is willing to move toward "economic normalization" in return for addressing U.S. concerns.
July 19, 2000: During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Il reportedly promises to end his country's missile program in exchange for assistance with satellite launches from countries that have expressed concern about North Korea's missile program.
July 28, 2000: At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Bangkok, Thailand, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright engages in a "substantively modest" meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun, the highest level of exchange to date. Paek gives no additional details about North Korea's purported offer to end its missile program in return for space-launch assistance.
August 13, 2000: Kim Jong-Il tells a meeting of 46 South Korean media executives in Pyongyang that his missile proposal was meant "in humor, while talking about science and state-of-the-art technologies," according to the Korea Times. The report of the event is widely interpreted as undercutting the seriousness of Kim's offer; however, English-language excerpts of Kim's speech seem to confirm the offer: "I told…Putin that we would stop developing rockets when the United States comes forward and launches our satellites."
August 28, 2000: U.S. Ambassador Wendy Sherman travels to Moscow to confirm the details of Kim Jong-Il's apparent missile proposal with her Russian counterparts. At a September 8 briefing, a senior State Department official says the United States is taking the North Korean offer "very seriously."
September 27, 2000: U.S.-North Korean talks resume in New York on nuclear issues, missiles, and terrorism. The two countries issue a joint statement on terrorism, a move that indicates progress toward removing North Korea from the State Department's terrorism list.
October 9-12, 2000: Kim Jong-Il's second-in-command, Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, visits Washington as a special envoy. He delivers a letter to President Clinton and meets with the secretaries of state and defense. The move is seen as an affirmation of Kim's commitment to improving U.S.-North Korean ties.
October 12, 2000: The United States and North Korea issue a joint statement noting that resolution of the missile issue would "make an essential contribution to fundamentally improved relations" and reiterating the two countries' commitment to implementation of the Agreed Framework. The statement also says that Secretary Albright will visit North Korea in the near future to prepare for a possible visit by President Clinton.
October 24, 2000: Secretary Albright concludes a two-day visit to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-Il. During the visit, Kim says that North Korea would not further test the Taepo Dong-1 missile. In addition to discussing Pyongyang's indigenous missile program, the talks cover North Korean missile technology exports, nuclear transparency, the normalization of relations, and a possible trip by President Clinton to Pyongyang.
*Entry dates for the imposition of sanctions indicate the dates the sanctions took effect.