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Context of 'January 10, 2003 and After: North Korea Withdraws from Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty'

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North Korea ratifies the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is aimed at stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. The treaty binds North Korea, which builds another nuclear reactor in the mid-1980s, to put stronger safeguards in place, installing cameras and allowing permanent access to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors at all its facilities. However, the North Koreans will drag their feet and not meet deadlines for implementing safeguards until the early 1990s, citing the presence of US nuclear missiles in South Korea. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 246]

Entity Tags: Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. [US President, 2/4/2002] Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004] When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Jeffrey St. Clair, Michael Gerson

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations

The North Korean Central News Agency, a government-run media outlet, announces that if the US is ready to conclude a peace treaty with North Korea, then it “will be ready to clear the US of its security concerns.” North Korea is implying that it will cease developing nuclear weapons. But the Bush administration has no interest in establishing peaceful relations with North Korea (see November 2002). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239] The US chief arms negotiator for North Korea, Jim Kelly, is asked if the administration might ask the United Nations Security Council to intervene. According to a diplomat present for the exchange, Kelly replies, “The Security Council is for Iraq.” Kelly will later claim not to recall making the statement. [Washington Post, 10/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Jim Kelly, Bush administration (43), North Korean Central News Agency

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sends a letter to President Bush saying, “If the United States recognizes our sovreignty and assures non-aggression, it is our view that we should be able to find a way to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demands of a new century.” The Bush administration has already ignored one recent proffer from North Korea (see October 27, 2002); it responds to this one by cutting off the monthly shipments of heavy fuel oil as mandated by the Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). In turn, North Korea declares the Agreed Framework dead. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239]

Entity Tags: Kim Jong Il, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

North Korea, stung by repeated rebuffs towards its attempts to reopen diplomatic negotiations with the US (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002), announces that it will restart its nuclear facilities. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239] It blames the US for ignoring its responsibilities under the 1994 Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). In the next few days and weeks, North Korea will ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to remove its seals and surveillance equipment from the Yongbyon nuclear facility, will itself begin removing monitoring equipment, and will begin shipping fuel rods to the Yongbyon plant to begin creating plutonium (see January 10, 2003 and After). [BBC, 12/2007]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

North Korea expels the two international nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from its country (see December 12, 2002). IAEA officials have been monitoring North Korea’s nuclear program since 1985. [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

North Korea announces that it is withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see December 12, 1985). Since its attempts to reopen diplomatic talks with the US were rejected (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002), it has announced its restarting of its nuclear energy program (see December 12, 2002) and expelled international inspectors (see December 31, 2002). Around this same time, it begins removing some 8,000 spent fuel rods from storage, a direct indication that it intends to restart its nuclear weapons program. This is a burgeoning crisis for the world, as North Korea is, in many experts’ view, the definition of a “rogue nation,” but the Bush administration refuses to recognize it as a crisis. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “President Bush, focused on Iraq, refused to label it as such.” North Korea has enough nuclear material to make six to eight nuclear weapons; some experts believe it already has one or two. With the inspectors gone, the world has no way to know what North Korea is doing with its spent fuel rods, or where they are being stored—removing the possibility that the US could destroy them with a targeted air strike. Bush’s response to the North Korean crisis is contradictory. While labeling it a member of the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), and sometimes acting belligerently towards that nation (see March 2003-May 2003), he also insists that the US will not use military force to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Diplomacy is the answer to the crisis, Bush says, but his administration refuses to talk to the North Koreans (see November 2002) until later in the month (see Mid-January 2003). [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239-240, 242]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), J. Peter Scoblic, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Bush administration responds to the North Korean nuclear crisis (see January 10, 2003 and After) by saying that it will talk—but not negotiate—with the North Koreans. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The Bush administration would, in other words, be willing to tell North Korea that it had transgressed, but it would not bargain.” North Korea insists on bilateral talks with the US, but Bush officials refuse (see February 4, 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 240]

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Iranian political leader Mohammad Khatami reveals that Iran has begun building two nuclear processing plants devoted to enriching uranium. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, later says that one of the Iranian plants is already near completion and a second plant is well underway. Although Iran claims that the nuclear plants are strictly for peaceful energy creation, the Bush administration believes that the Iranians have used the cover of practices not strictly forbidden by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968) to hide a nuclear weapons program. One Bush official says that if the Iranians run the Bushehr reactor (see December 12, 2002) for five or six years, withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty, just as North Korea has done (see January 10, 2003 and After), and reprocess all of their radioactive material, they would have enough weapons-grade uranium and/or plutonium to build as many as a hundred nuclear weapons. Bush officials hope that a combination of pressure from Russia and the US occupation of neighboring Iraq—one senior Bush official says, “I think the presence of 200,000 American troops on their border for X period of time may tend to concentrate their attention”—may keep Iran’s nuclear program under restraint. [New York Times, 5/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Mohamed ElBaradei, Bush administration (43), International Atomic Energy Agency, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

President Bush orders several attack planes, along with a number of B-1 and B-52 bombers, to the US Air Force base in Guam, as an implied threat against North Korea’s restarted nuclear program (see January 10, 2003 and After). Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will call the administration’s response “a feeble threat, a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horses escaped.” The fuel rods of such concern to the US (see October 4, 2002) are long hidden away from US satellites. Bush makes no further preparations for any sort of air strike against North Korea, nor does he make any diplomatic “carrot and stick” overtures to the North Koreans. After two months, Bush orders the aircraft back to their home bases. Why such a feeble response? Many believe that the answer lies in the administration’s focus on Iraq; in the words of one senior administration official, “President Bush does not want to distract international attention from Iraq.” In April, after the invasion of Iraq experiences initial success (see March 25, 2003), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells Bush that North Korea could also profit from an Iraq-style regime change; while Bush agrees, the administration takes no steps in that direction. Instead, Bush officials mount what is little more than a pretense of diplomatic negotiations (see April 2003). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Fred Kaplan, US Department of the Air Force, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Bush administration opens brief, futile negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program (see October 4, 2002 and January 10, 2003 and After). Chief negotiator Jim Kelly goes to Beijing to prepare for multilateral talks with North Korea, Japan, China, and South Korea. However, Kelly is crippled by specific instructions on how to deal with the North Koreans. He is not even allowed to speak with the North Korean delegates unless the other countries’ delegates are also present. During the negotiations, North Korea’s deputy foreign minister Li Gun, an experienced negotiator, says that his country now has nuclear weapons—calling them a “deterrent”—and says the weapons will not be given up unless the US drops its “hostile attitude” (see March 2003-May 2003) towards the regime. Stripping away the rhetoric, the North Koreans are offering to disarm if the US will sign a non-aggression pact. Kelly returns to Washington and announces a “bold, new proposal” from the North Koreans. But President Bush dismisses the proposal, expressing his feelings in his words to a reporter: “They’re back to the old blackmail game.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write, “This was the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line: As long as the North Koreans were pursuing nuclear weapons, even to sit down with them would be ‘appeasement,’ succumbing to ‘blackmail,’ and ‘rewarding bad behavior.’” [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] Bush administration officials refuse to discuss any specifics until North Korea agrees to scrap its nuclear program. They also refuse to talk directly with the North Korean officials, instead insisting that the Chinese delegation pass along their demands. Not surprisingly, the North Koreans walk out of the meeting. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 240-241]

Entity Tags: Jim Kelly, Fred Kaplan, Li Gun, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Senior Bush administration officials say that their private hope for curtailing North Korea’s “rogue” nuclear weapons program (see January 10, 2003 and After, February 4, 2003, and August 2003) is for regime change—for the dictatorship of Kim Jong Il to fall. One official says the best way to deal with North Korea is to, in essence, use economic and diplomatic embargoes to “starve” the Kim regime. Providing Kim’s government with food and oil, even in return for nuclear concessions, is “morally repugnant,” the official says, and he does not believe North Korea will willingly give up its nuclear weapons anyway (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002). “If we could have containment that’s tailored to the conditions of North Korea, and not continue to throw it lifelines like we have in the past, I think it goes away,” the official says. “It’s a bankrupt economy. I can’t imagine that the regime has any popular support. How long it takes, I don’t know. It could take two years.” (Numerous Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and State Department official John Bolton have all said publicly that North Korea’s regime is bound to collapse sooner or later.) When asked what the North Koreans will do during that transition period, the Bush official replies: “I think it’ll crank out, you know, half a dozen weapons a year or more. We lived with a Soviet Union that had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, including thousands of them pointed at us. We just have to cope.” Asian and American nuclear experts are horrified by the Bush administration view. As New York Times columnist Bill Keller notes, the argument “has some rather serious holes. First, North Korea, unlike the Soviet Union, will sell anything to anybody for the right price. Second, a collapsing North Korea with nukes may not be as pretty a picture as my official informant anticipates. Third, if this collapse means a merger of the peninsula into a single, unified Korea—that is, if South Korea becomes a de facto nuclear power—that will bring little joy to Japan or China.” Another Bush official says that if North Korea shows signs of expanding its nuclear arsenal, a military strike to eliminate that threat would be considered. “The only acceptable end state [is] everything out,” he says. To tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea would send a message to Iran (see February 9, 2003) and other nations: “Get your nuclear weapons quickly, before the Americans do to you what they’ve done to Iraq, because North Korea shows once you get the weapons, you’re immune.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Keller, Bush administration (43), Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Kim Jong Il, John R. Bolton

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

A private delegation of US negotiators and arms experts flies to Pyongyang for a demonstration of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see October 4, 2002 and January 10, 2003 and After). They tour the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, and see actual plutonium. Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos nuclear lab and one of the delegates, comes back to Washington convinced that North Korea has indeed processed all of its fuel rods. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he tells the senators that while he saw no sign of actual weapons, that does not mean they do not have weapons, just that he was shown no evidence of such weapons. [Washington Monthly, 5/2004; BBC, 12/2007]

Entity Tags: Siegfried Hecker, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

William Perry, the former secretary of defense under President Clinton, and Ashton Carter, his deputy at the time, write an op-ed for the Washington Post calling for the Bush administration to launch a military attack on North Korea. Perry and Carter note that North Korea is in the final stages of testing a long-range ballistic missile that, they write, “some experts estimate can deliver a deadly payload to the United States.” They note that the last such test of a North Korean missile (see August 31, 1998) “sent a shock wave around the world, but especially to the United States and Japan, both of which North Korea regards as archenemies. They recognized immediately that a missile of this type makes no sense as a weapon unless it is intended for delivery of a nuclear warhead.” Now, North Korea has broken what they call the agreed-upon moratorium on such testing, but fail to note that no such agreement was ever finalized during the Clinton years (see October 2000), and skim over the fact that the Bush administration has repeatedly refused to engage in meaningful nuclear talks with the North Korean regime (see March 7, 2001, Late March, 2001, April 2002, November 2002, January 10, 2003 and After, Mid-January 2003, February 4, 2003, March 2003-May 2003, April 2003, May 4, 2003, August 2003, December 12, 2003, December 19, 2003, June 23-August 23, 2004, April 28, 2005, September 19-20, 2005, and June 2006). Perry and Carter are critical of the Bush administration’s doctrine of “pre-emption,” which necessarily precludes meaningful dialogue, but go on to observe that “intervening before mortal threats to US security can develop is surely a prudent policy.” Therefore, they write, “if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched.” [Washington Post, 6/22/2006; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010] Shortly after the op-ed appears, North Korea threatens “nuclear retaliation” if the US mounts any such military offensive (see July 3-5, 2006).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Ashton Carter, William Perry, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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