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Context of 'October 27, 2002: North Korea Offers to Terminate Nuclear Program in Return for US Peace Treaty'

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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 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

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 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

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

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