October 3-5, 2002: James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, visits North Korea. The highest-ranking administration official to visit Pyongyang, Kelly reiterates U.S. concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, export of missile components, conventional force posture, human rights violations, and humanitarian situation. Kelly informs North Korea that it could improve bilateral relations through a “comprehensive settlement” addressing these issues. No future meetings are announced.
Referring to Kelly’s approach as “high handed and arrogant,” North Korea argues that the U.S. policy “compels the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to take all necessary countermeasures, pursuant to the army-based policy whose validity has been proven.”
October 16, 2002: The United States announces that North Korea admitted to having a clandestine program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons after Kelly confronted representatives from Pyongyang during an October 3-5 visit. Kelly later explained that the North Korean admission came the day after he informed them that the United States was aware of the program. North Korea has denied several times that it admitted to having this program.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher states that “North Korea’s secret nuclear weapons program is a serious violation of North Korea’s commitments under the Agreed Framework as well as under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement, and the Joint North-South Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Boucher also says that the United States wants North Korea to comply with its nonproliferation commitments and seeks “a peaceful resolution of this situation.”
November 5, 2002: North Korea threatens to end its moratorium on ballistic missile tests if North Korea-Japan normalization talks do not achieve progress.
November 14, 2002: The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which is responsible for building the two light-water reactors the United States agreed to supply in the 1994 Agreed Framework, announces that it is suspending heavy-fuel oil deliveries to North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s October 4 acknowledgement that it has a uranium-enrichment program. The last shipment reaches North Korea November 18.
November 29, 2002: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopts a resolution calling upon North Korea to “clarify” its “reported uranium-enrichment program.” North Korea rejects the resolution, saying the IAEA’s position is biased in favor of the United States.
December 9, 2002: Spanish and U.S. forces intercept and search a ship carrying North Korean Scud missiles and related cargo to Yemen. The United States allows the shipment to be delivered because it lacks the necessary legal authority to seize the cargo. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says that Washington had intelligence that the ship was carrying missiles to the Middle East and was concerned that its ultimate destination might have been Iraq.
December 12, 2002: North Korea sends a letter to the IAEA announcing that it is restarting its one functional reactor and is reopening the other nuclear facilities frozen under the Agreed Framework. The letter requests that the IAEA remove the seals and monitoring equipment from its nuclear facilities. A North Korean spokesman blames the United States for violating the Agreed Framework and says that the purpose of restarting the reactor is to generate electricity—an assertion disputed by U.S. officials.
A November 27 Congressional Research Service report states that the reactor could produce enough plutonium annually for one bomb. The CIA states in a 2002 report to Congress that the spent fuel rods “contain enough plutonium for several more [nuclear] weapons.”
U.S. estimates on North Korea’s current nuclear status differ. A State Department official said January 3, 2003, that the U.S. intelligence community believes North Korea already possesses one or two nuclear weapons made from plutonium produced before the negotiation of the Agreed Framework. A January 2003 CIA report to Congress estimates that Pyongyang “has produced enough plutonium” for one or two weapons.
December 14, 2002: North Korea states in a letter to the IAEA that the status of its nuclear facilities is a matter between the United States and North Korea and “not pursuant to any agreement” with the IAEA. The letter further declares that North Korea will take unilateral action to remove seals and monitoring cameras if the IAEA does not act.
December 22-24, 2002: North Korea cuts all seals and disrupts IAEA surveillance equipment on its nuclear facilities and materials. An IAEA spokesman says December 26 that North Korea started moving fresh fuel rods into the reactor, suggesting that it might be restarted soon.
December 27, 2002: North Korea orders IAEA inspectors out of the country. They leave December 31.
January 6, 2003: The IAEA Board of Governors adopts a resolution condemning North Korea’s decision to restart its nuclear reactor and resume operation of its related facilities. The resolution “deplores” North Korea’s action “in the strongest terms” and calls on Pyongyang to meet “immediately, as a first step” with IAEA officials. It also calls on North Korea to re-establish the seals and monitoring equipment it dismantled, to comply fully with agency safeguards, to clarify details about its reported uranium-enrichment program, and to allow the agency to verify that all its nuclear material is “declared and…subject to safeguards.”
January 10, 2003: North Korea announces its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), effective January 11. Although Article X of the NPT requires that a country give three months’ notice in advance of withdrawing, North Korea argues that it has satisfied this requirement because it originally announced its decision to withdraw March 12, 1993, and suspended the decision one day before it was to become legally binding. An IAEA spokesman says the agency considers North Korea to have a safeguards agreement in place for the remainder of the three-month period from Pyongyang’s withdrawal announcement, suggesting the IAEA still considers North Korea to be party to the NPT.
January 12, 2003: Choe Jin Su, North Korea’s ambassador to China, signals that Pyongyang might not adhere to its moratorium on testing long-range missiles, saying that Pyongyang believes it “cannot go along with the self-imposed missile moratorium any longer,” according to a January 12 Los Angeles Times article.
February 12, 2003: Responding to North Korea’s rejection of the November 2002 and January 2003 IAEA resolutions, the IAEA Board of Governors adopts a resolution declaring Pyongyang in “further non-compliance” with its obligations under the NPT. The board decides to report the matter to the UN Security Council, in accordance with agency mandates.
February 27, 2003: U.S. officials confirm North Korea has restarted the five-megawatt nuclear reactor that had been frozen by the Agreed Framework.
March 19, 2003: North Korea again signals that it might not adhere to its moratorium on testing long-range missiles, asserting in a March 19 Korean Central News Agency statement that it has the “sovereign right” to have a “peaceful” missile program. North Korea conducted missile tests February 24 and March 10, but both tests involved short-range missiles that did not violate the moratorium.
March 24, 2003: The United States imposes sanctions on the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation of North Korea for transferring missile technology to Khan Research Laboratories in Pakistan. The laboratory was sanctioned for receiving the items. Philip Reeker, deputy State Department spokesman, said April 1 that the sanctions were imposed only for a “missile-related transfer” and not the transfer of nuclear technology from Pakistan to North Korea.
April 23-25, 2003: The United States, North Korea, and China hold trilateral talks in Beijing. North Korea tells the U.S. delegation that it possesses nuclear weapons, according to Boucher on April 28—the first time that Pyongyang has made such an admission.
North Korea also tells the U.S. delegation that it has completed reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel from the five-megawatt reactor frozen under the Agreed Framework, according to Secretary of State Colin Powell during an April 30 hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Boucher adds that the North Korean delegation told the U.S. officials that Pyongyang “might get rid of all their nuclear programs…[and] stop their missile exports.” Powell states April 28 that North Korea expects “something considerable in return” for this effort.