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Context of 'October 17, 2002: Bush Administration Announces North Korea’s Nuclear Centrifuges; Waited for Iraq War Resolution to Pass'

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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

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 House votes to give President Bush sweeping authorization to use military force against Iraq, on an overwhelming 296-133 vote. One hundred and twenty-six Democrats vote against the bill even though House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) co-authored it. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) issues a veiled warning to the president to use his newly granted powers judiciously: “Mr. President, we are about to give you a great trust.” After the bill passes the House, Bush says, “The days of Iraq acting as an outlaw state are coming to an end… [t]he gathering threat of Iraq must be confronted fully and finally.” One of the opponents of the House bill, John Spratt (D-SC), says that without an international diplomatic approach, “this will be the United States versus Iraq and in some quarters the US versus the Arab and the Muslim world.” Commenting on the passing of the resolution, the Washington Post reports: “Yesterday’s debate often lacked the passion and unpredictability of the 1991 affair, when members sat late into the night listening attentively to a war of words. By contrast, the House chamber was largely empty most of yesterday: the arguments familiar, the outcome certain, the conclusion anticlimactic.” [White House, 10/2/2002; PBS, 10/10/2002; Washington Post, 10/11/2002] Bush calls on the Senate to pass the bill (see October 11, 2002) so it can be signed into law as soon as possible (see October 16, 2002). The Senate overwhelmingly approves the resolution the next day. [PBS, 10/10/2002; US Senate, 10/11/2002] The AUMF contains a caveat in the authorization that conditions Congress’s authorization of military force on a formal determination by Bush that Iraq poses a threat to the US that cannot be contained diplomatically, and that any military action against Iraq must be consistent with the war against those who attacked the US on 9/11 (see March 18, 2003). The US media virtually ignores this condition, and therefore the Bush administration does not feel particularly bound by it. Congress asks for the formal declaration either before launching an attack or within 48 hours of the attack, and insists that the declaration contain solid evidence of the impossibility of further diplomacy, and of Iraq’s connection to the 9/11 terrorists. [Dean, 2004, pp. 143-148]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, John Spratt, Bush administration (43), Dick Armey, George W. Bush, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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

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