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Context of 'Late March, 2001: US Issues ‘Impossible’ Demands to North Korea'

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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

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il invites Clinton administration officials to Pyongyang, offering to sign a treaty banning the production of long-range missiles and the export of all missiles (see October 21, 1994). Secretary of State Madeleine Albright represents the US. Clinton administration officials at the negotiations between Albright and Kim acknowledge that the North Korean is, in reporter Fred Kaplan’s words, “clearly one of the world’s battier leaders,” yet they will recall his negotiations as quite sound. Clinton’s chief negotiator Robert Einhorn will later recall, “He struck me as a very serious, rational guy who knew his issues pretty well.” Albright’s policy coordinator, Wendy Sherman, will agree. “There were 14 unresolved issues, and he sat with the secretary, answering all her questions.” Einhorn will add: “When Albright presented him with the questions, at first he looked a little puzzled, as if he hadn’t known about them. Albright offered to give him time to look them over, but he said, ‘No, no, I can do this.’ He went down the list, one by one, and gave specific explanations. For example, on the question of missile exports, ‘Yes, I mean no exports of missiles of any range.’ And ‘Yes, I mean to ban the export of missile technology, not just the missiles.’ On issues where it was clear he didn’t want to be drawn out yet, he skipped over them. He understood where he wanted to be clear and where he wasn’t going to be.” The negotiations bear no fruit; Clinton chooses to spend the final weeks of his presidency working towards a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, but, as Kaplan will write, “the stage was set for diplomatic progress—and, in the meantime, the [nuclear] fuel rods remained under lock and key.” [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] Those negotiations will be abandoned by the Bush administration (see Mid-January 2001 and March 7, 2001).

Entity Tags: Kim Jong Il, Clinton administration, Fred Kaplan, Wendy Sherman, Madeleine Albright, Robert Einhorn

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

A few days before President Bush assumes the presidency, several Clinton administration officials provide incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell and incoming National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice with a briefing about the unresolved negotiations between the US and North Korea concerning North Korean missiles (see October 2000). Powell is clearly interested; Rice is just as clearly not interested. One Clinton official will later recall, “The body language was striking.” He will add: “Powell was leaning forward. Rice was very much leaning backward. Powell thought that what we had been doing formed an interesting basis for progress. He was disabused very quickly.” When Bush publicly announces his intention to abandon any negotiations with North Korea, and in the process publicly insults the leaders of both North and South Korea (see March 7, 2001), it becomes very clear that the US has changed its tone towards North Korea. Powell is another victim of public rebuke; he is forced to retract statements he has made saying the US will continue its negotiations (see March 7, 2001). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Clinton administration, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung.Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung. [Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica]President Bush meets with South Korean president Kim Dae Jung (known in the administration as KDJ), and pointedly snubs Kim in an official press conference, announcing that he has no intention of following the Clinton policy of engaging North Korea in any sort of dialogue regarding North Korea’s nuclear buildup. Kim has attempted to implement a “sunshine” policy of open negotiations with the North, including economic trade and nuclear talks, but his efforts are predicated on US support. Secretary of State Colin Powell advocates working with Kim to further implement negotiations with North Korea, but loses out (see March 7, 2001) to pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who believe Clinton had been doing little more than appeasing a tyrant in negotiating with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il. Bush misstates the facts in the conference, saying that “we’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements,” when there has only been a single agreement between the US and North Korea, the 1994 agreement to freeze North Korea’s plutonium processing (see October 21, 1994). Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill believes that the gaffe is due to Bush’s lack of understanding of the complex situation between the US, North Korea, and the US’s allies in Southeast Asia, and Bush’s failure to “do his homework” before Kim’s arrival in Washington. O’Neill attempts to salvage the situation by lauding South Korea’s superb literacy rate among its citizens, earning a look of surprise from Bush. O’Neill privately mulls over the decision-making process in the White House, with Bush damaging ten years of “delicately stitched US policy towards North Korea” in just a few minutes. [Suskind, 2004, pp. 114-115] In 2004, foreign affairs reporter Fred Kaplan will offer an explanation of Bush’s behavior. To negotiate with an “evil regime” such as North Korea’s is, in Bush’s view, “to recognize that regime, legitimize it, and—if the negotiations led to a treaty or a trade—prolong it.” Bush has already told one reporter that he “loathed” Kim Jong Il. He distrusts anyone such as KDJ who has any intention of accomodating or even negotiating with such a regime. Additionally, Bush views the South Korean leader—a democratic activist who had spent years in prison for his beliefs—with what Kaplan calls “startling contempt.” Charles “Jack” Pritchard, who had been director of the National Security Council’s Asia desk under Clinton and is now the State Department’s special North Korean envoy under Bush, will later recall, “Bush’s attitude toward KDJ was, ‘Who is this naive, old guy?’” Bush and his advisers, particularly Rumsfeld and Cheney, hope not only to isolate North Korea, but to undermine Kim Dae Jung’s regime in hopes to shake his administration and drive South Koreans to elect a conservative in the next elections. [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul O’Neill, Fred Kaplan, Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Pritchard, George W. Bush, Kim Dae Jung, Kim Jong Il

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Bush administration conducts what it calls a policy review of US relations with North Korea (see October 2000, Mid-January 2001, and March 7, 2001). The review is led by neoconservative Robert Joseph, the National Security Council’s nonproliferation director and a harsh opponent of any negotiations with North Korea. The session concludes with an impossible hybrid of new policies: a “resolve” to continue negotiations along with a set of non-negotiable demands for North Korea that Joseph and other Bush officials know that nation will refuse to accept. One example is the demand that North Korea adopt “a less threatening conventional military posture,” even though US commanders in South Korea describe the military balance between North and South as stable. The new policy also demands “improved implementation” of the 1994 Agreed Framework accord (see October 21, 1994), in essence a list of further concessions from North Korea without any concessions in return. Another demand is for “100 percent verification” of any missile deal, a practical impossibility. The policy also seems to imply that the US will no longer honor the Framework’s agreement that the US will not military threaten North Korea. President Bush does promise unspecified “reward[s]” if the North Koreans agree to his demands, but, unsurprisingly, the demands are roundly rejected. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 237]

Entity Tags: Robert G. Joseph, Bush administration (43), National Security Council, 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

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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