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Context of 'October 4, 2002: North Korea Admits to Having Nuclear Centrifuges Necessary for Enriching Uranium'

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The US and North Korea sign a formal accord based on the outlined treaty negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter (see Spring and Summer 1994). The accord, called the Agreed Framework, primarily concerns North Korea’s nuclear program. The North Koreans agree to observe the strictures of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968 and December 12, 1985), keep their nuclear fuel rods in storage, and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in to inspect their nuclear facility. In return, the US, along with its allies South Korea and Japan, will provide North Korea with two light-water nuclear reactors specifically for generating electricity, a large supply of fuel oil, and a promise not to attack. The Framework also specifies that once the first light-water reactor is delivered in 2003, intrusive inspections would begin. After the second reactor arrives, North Korea would ship its fuel rods out of the country—essentially ending North Korea’s ability to build nuclear weapons. The Framework also pledges both sides to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations,” including the exchange of ambassadors and the lowering of trade barriers. North Korea will observe the treaty’s restrictions, at least initially, but the US and its allies never do; the economic barriers are not lowered, the light-water reactors are never delivered, and Congress never approves the financial outlays specified in the accord. By 1996, North Korea is secretly exchanging missile centrifuges for Pakistani nuclear technology. [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Jim Kelly.Jim Kelly. [Source: ViewImages.com]Undersecretary of State Jim Kelly, slated to try to revive the US’s attempts to negotiate with North Korea over that nation’s nuclear weapons program, goes to South Korea in preparation for President Bush to visit Seoul. Kelly is fully aware that the Bush administration has gone out of its way to undermine and disrupt the Clinton-era negotiations with North Korea, and a year before had insulted then-President Kim Dae Jung over the issue (see March 7, 2001). Now South Korea has a new president, Roh Moo Hyun, a populist with the same intentions of reopening a dialogue with North Korea as his predecessor. Charles Pritchard, the Bush administration’s special North Korean envoy, accompanies Kelly on the visit, and later recalls: “The conversation in the streets of Seoul was, ‘Is there going to be a war? What will these crazy Americans do?’” When Kelly and Pritchard meet with Roh, the president tells them, “I wake up in a sweat every morning, wondering if Bush has done something unilaterally to affect the [Korean] peninsula.” Bush’s visit to South Korea does little to ease tensions or convince North Korea to consider abandoning its uranium enrichment program (see October 4, 2002). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: Roh Moo Hyun, Bush administration (43), Charles Pritchard, Kim Dae Jung, Jim Kelly, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

After exhaustive discussions, White House negotiator Charles Pritchard is able to convince the North Koreans that the US is serious about wanting to reopen negotiations (see Late March, 2001 and February 2002). Once the North Koreans make their overtures for reopening talks, President Bush once again reverses course, abandoning the 2001 policy changes in favor of what officials call a “bold approach” that will deal with all outstanding issues, including nuclear proliferation and human rights abuses, without protracted negotiations. The opportunity to test Bush’s rhetoric never comes; North Korea will soon admit to having the capability to enrich uranium in violation of the Agreed Framework (see October 4, 2002), a development that radically alters US-North Korean relations for the worse. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 238]

Entity Tags: Charles Pritchard, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

State Department officials, led by Undersecretary of State Jim Kelly, fly to Pyongyang, North Korea, and confront Kim Jong Il’s foreign ministry with evidence that North Korea is working on centrifuges for processing enriched uranium—a necessity for the production of nuclear weapons. The State officials are surprised when the North Koreans admit to owning such centrifuges. The new threat is not particularly imminent, as it takes years to process the amount of uranium needed for even a single atomic bomb, but the US officials are unsettled by the North Koreans’ ready admission. The North Koreans also have a supply of radioactive fuel rods from their nuclear power plant in Yongbyon; these rods could be processed into plutonium and then into atomic bombs in a matter of months. Under the so-called “Agreed Framework” (see October 21, 1994), an agreement brokered by the Clinton administration and negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter, those fuel rods are locked in a storage facility and monitored by international weapons inspectors. Unfortunately, after the US and North Korea match each other in threats and belligerence, North Korea will throw out the weapons inspectors, open the storage facility, and begin reprocessing them into bomb-grade plutonium. Instead of careful negotiations and diplomacy, the US in essence goads the volatile North Koreans into breaking the agreement and restarting their nuclear weapons program (see October 27, 2002). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] One administration official will later call the negotiating tactics “no carrot, no stick, and no talk.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later term the negotiating failure “catastrophic,” noting that by 2006 the North Koreans will not only have produced enough plutonium for 10 nuclear weapons, they will have tested one. Scoblic will write: “Often frustrated by their failures, their inability to rid the world of evil (see December 19, 2003), Bush officials assuaged their moral sensibilities by ‘calling evil by its name.’ Conservatives, who were fond of deriding treaties as mere pieces of paper, had actually opted for an even less forceful alternative: taunting.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 234]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Bush administration (43), Jim Kelly, J. Peter Scoblic, Kim Jong Il

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The US announces that North Korea has admitted to having a secret nuclear arms program during arms negotiations (see October 4, 2002). Initially, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il says he will allow United Nations weapons inspectors to look over his nation’s nuclear facilities, but that offer will not last. [BBC, 12/2007]

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

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Bush administration publicly reveals that North Korea has centrifuges needed to produce weapons-grade uranium (see October 4, 2002). The administration has kept this information secret for two weeks, waiting for Congress to pass its resolution authorizing military action against Iraq (see October 10, 2002) before releasing it to the public. Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write: “The public rationale for war was that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. If it was known that North Korea was also making WMDs—and nuclear weapons, at that—it would have muddied the debate over Iraq. Some would have wondered whether Iraq was the more compelling danger—or asked why Bush saw a need for war against Iraq but not against North Korea.” Three days later, Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the “Agreed Framework” treaty between the US and North Korea that keeps North Korea from producing nuclear weapons (see October 21, 1994 and October 27, 2002). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: Fred Kaplan, Bush administration (43), Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Responding to North Korea’s admission that it has the centrifuges necessary to produce weapons-grade uranium (see October 4, 2002 and October 17, 2002), President Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the 1994 “Agreed Framework” treaty between the US and North Korea that keeps North Korea from producing nuclear weapons (see October 21, 1994). It halts oil supplies to North Korea and urges other countries to cut off all economic relations with that country. In return, the North goes back and forth, at one turn defending its right to develop nuclear weapons, and in another offering to halt its nuclear program in return for US aid and the signing of a US non-aggression pact. North Korea asserts that the US has not met its obligations under the Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994), as the construction of light-water nuclear reactors, scheduled to be completed in 2003, is years behind schedule. [Washington Monthly, 5/2004; BBC, 12/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: 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

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

Vice President Cheney, discussing the administration’s refusal to negotiate with North Korea, sums up its policy quite bluntly. “I have been charged by the president with making sure that none of the tyrannies in the world are negotiated with,” he says. “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.” Cheney is primarily responsible for rejecting a joint statement acknowledging North Korea’s right to exist as an independent nation, a precondition for North Korea to resume negotiations (see December 12, 2003). However, a Bush administration spokesman blames North Korea, not the US, for refusing to engage, and says the administration is willing to negotiate “without any preconditions.” Cheney insisted that North Korea agree to dismantle its nuclear program before any negotiations could begin. According to a senior Bush official, a North Korean negotiator has complained that the US demands are the equivalent of “you… telling me to take off all my clothes and walk out in a snowstorm and you promise you will come running with a coat. I don’t think so. You want me to go naked into the night.” [Knight Ridder, 12/19/2003; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 234]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43)

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

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