April 23-25, 2003
The United States, North Korea, and China hold trilateral talks in Beijing. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly goes to Pyongyang with strict instructions not to have any bilateral contact with the North Koreans.
The North Korean delegation, however, still manages to tell the U.S. delegation that it possesses nuclear weapons—the first time that Pyongyang makes such an admission. In addition, North Korea threatens to transfer the weapons to other countries or “display them,” Secretary of State Colin Powell tells the Senate Appropriations Committee April 30. The North Koreans also tell the U.S. delegation that they have completed reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel from the five-megawatt reactor frozen under the 1994 Agreed Framework, Powell adds.
Furthermore, the North Korean delegation tells their U.S. counterparts that Pyongyang “might get rid of all their nuclear programs…[and] stop their missile exports,” State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher states April 28. Sun Joun-yung, South Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, states May 15 that, in return, North Korea has a number of demands. These include the “normalization of relations” between the two countries and an “assurance of non-aggression,” as well as the resumption of heavy-fuel oil deliveries, and completion of the nuclear reactors promised under the Agreed Framework.
May 12, 2003
North Korea accuses the United States of violating the spirit of the 1992 Joint North-South Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, calling the agreement a “dead document” in a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) statement. Yet, Pyongyang does not explicitly repudiate the agreement.
May 24, 2003
Pyongyang indicates in a KCNA statement that it will accept multilateral talks, but adds that it first wants to hold bilateral talks with Washington “for a candid discussion of each other’s policies.”
July 15, 2003
Boucher tells reporters that North Korean officials at the UN have told the United States that North Korea has completed reprocessing the spent fuel rods from its Yongbyon reactor.
August 27-29, 2003
The first round of six-party talks is held in Beijing. The talks achieve no significant breakthroughs.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi states Aug. 29 that the participants “share a consensus” on several items: a “peaceful settlement” of the crisis through dialogue, the need to address North Korea’s security concerns, the continuation of dialogue and the six-party talks, the need to avoid actions that would escalate the situation, and a plan to solve the nuclear issue “through synchronous and parallel implementation.” The same day, North Korea issues an explicit denial for the first time that it has a uranium-enrichment program.
A U.S. official tells reporters that the U.S. delegation “made clear that we are not seeking to strangle North Korea…we can sincerely discuss security concerns in the context of nuclear dismantlement, and...we are willing to discuss a sequence of denuclearization measures with corresponding measures on both sides.”
North Korea proposes a step-by-step solution, calling for the United States to conclude a “non-aggression treaty,” normalize bilateral diplomatic relations, refrain from hindering North Korea’s “economic cooperation” with other countries, complete the reactors promised under the Agreed Framework, resume suspended fuel oil shipments, and increase food aid. Pyongyang states that, in return, it will dismantle its “nuclear facility,” as well as end missile testing and export of missiles and related components.
The North Korean delegation also threatens to test nuclear weapons or “demonstrate the means that they would have to deliver” them, according to a senior State Department official. Additionally, North Korea issues a statement Sept. 1 that it does not intend to sell its nuclear weapons or provide them to terrorists.
Wang tells reporters the same day that Washington’s policy is the “main problem” preventing diplomatic progress.
October 2-3, 2003
North Korea repeats a statement that it has completed reprocessing the spent fuel rods in June and “made a switchover in the use” of the spent fuel “in the direction increasing [sic] its nuclear deterrent force.” North Korea also states that it will continue to produce and reprocess additional spent fuel when deemed necessary.
October 16, 2003
North Korea suggests that it may test nuclear weapons, stating that it will “take a measure to open its nuclear deterrent to the public as a physical force” if the United States refuses to change its negotiating stance.
October 19, 2003
President George W. Bush states during a trip to Asia that the United States is willing to provide a written, multilateral guarantee that the United States will not attack North Korea, but makes it clear that a formal nonaggression pact is “off the table.” Powell had made a similar statement Aug. 1.
November 21, 2003
The Executive Board of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) announces that it will suspend construction of two light-water nuclear reactors for one year beginning Dec. 1.
KEDO says the project’s future “will be assessed and decided by the Executive Board before the expiration of the suspension period,” but the Bush administration believes there is “no future for the project,” Department of State spokesperson Adam Ereli says Nov. 5.
January 8, 2004
North Korea allows an unofficial U.S. delegation to visit its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and displays what it calls its “nuclear deterrent.” North Korean officials allow delegation member Siegfried Hecker—a senior fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory—to handle a jar containing what appears to be plutonium metal. North Korean officials claim that it came from reprocessing the spent fuel rods from its five-megawatt reactor.
The delegation also visits the pond that had contained the spent fuel rods that had been monitored under the Agreed Framework, and observes that the rods are no longer there. The North Korean officials tell the delegation that Pyongyang reprocessed all of the spent fuel rods between January and June 2003.
Hecker later tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he does not know for certain that the substance was plutonium and that he could not determine when it was produced.
February 25-28, 2004
A second round of six-party talks takes place in Beijing. Little progress is made, although both sides agree to hold another round of talks before the end of June 2004, as well as a working group meeting to be held beforehand.
According to Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang, North Korea reiterates that it is willing to give up its nuclear programs if the U.S. abandons its “hostile policies toward the country” and offers to “freeze its nuclear activities as the first step” if other participants take “corresponding actions.”
Additionally, South Korea’s deputy foreign minister, Lee Soo-Hyuck, issues a proposal—which China and Russia both support—to provide energy assistance to the North in return for a freeze of its nuclear program, along with a promise to dismantle it.
Wang, however, states afterwards that “sharp” differences remain between Washington and Pyongyang. According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, two specific issues divide North Korea and other participants. The first is that the United States, Japan, and South Korea want all of North Korea’s nuclear programs to be dismantled, but North Korea wishes to be allowed to retain one for “peaceful purposes.” The second is that Washington and the other two governments want Pyongyang to acknowledge that it has a uranium-enrichment program.
May 12-15, 2004
A working group of midlevel officials from South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Russia, China, and the United States meets in Beijing. No breakthroughs are reported and Chinese officials say “major differences” persist. But officials agree to hold another working group meeting before the next round of six-party talks, scheduled for later this month.