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Context of 'Late July 2005: Iran Resumes Converting Uranium into Plutonium'

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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 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

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage tells Congress that the Bush administration will engage in diplomatic negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear ambitions (see Mid-January 2003). “Of course we’re going to have direct talks with the North Koreans,” he says, the only question is when and how. President Bush repudiates Armitage’s statement, reportedly becoming so furious that he bans his staff from discussing the entire subject of bilateral talks in public. The administration’s policy continues to be a direct refusal to talk to North Korea. Its explanation: the Clinton administration had negotiated the Agreed Framework with the North Koreans (see October 21, 1994), and that agreement had failed. The Framework had actually been negotiated through the efforts of South Korea and Japan along with the US, and for almost nine years has succeeded in stopping North Korea’s plutonium weapons program from developing, the entire point of the agreement (see December 12, 2002). However, a North Korean uranium bomb project is progressing (see June 2002). In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write: “[T]he administration’s disinclination to engage in bilateral talks seemed more morally than tactically motivated. Conservatives within the administration had realized that, while they could not stop any and all talks with the North, they could prevent bilateral talks and, just as important, they could restrict the latitude given to American negotiators—again, much as [neoconservative defense official Richard] Perle had done during the Reagan administration (see September 1981 through November 1983 and October 11-12, 1986)—so that little or no progress would be made.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 240]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), Richard Armitage, Richard Perle, Reagan administration, J. Peter Scoblic

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

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

North Korea announces that it will build an arsenal of nuclear weapons “unless the US gives up its hostile policy” (see May 4, 2003). [BBC, 12/2007]

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The US takes part in another round of multilateral negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see April 2003). The US has failed to destabilize the North Korean government, and the North Koreans have been unsuccessful in luring the US into bilateral talks. Instead, both sides agree to “six-way” talks that include Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea.
Heavy Restrictions on US Negotiators - US chief negotiator Jim Kelly is finally permitted to meet one-on-one with his North Korean counterpart Li Gun—for only 20 minutes, and only in the presence of the other delegates. This time, Kelly is allowed to chat briefly with Li in a corner. Kelly is also forbidden from making any offers or even suggesting the possibility of direct negotiations. Kelly’s fellow negotiator, Charles Pritchard, will later recall that Kelly was told to start the chat with Li by saying: “This is not a negotiating session. This is not an official meeting.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write: “For the previous year-and-a-half, the State Department had favored a diplomatic solution to the Korea crisis while the Pentagon and key players in the [National Security Council] opposed it. The August meeting in Beijing was Bush’s idea of a compromise—a middle path that constituted no path at all. He let Kelly talk, but didn’t let him say anything meaningful; he went to the table but put nothing on it.” But even this level of negotiation is too much for some administration hawks. During the meetings in Beijing, Undersecretary of State John Bolton gives a speech in Washington where he calls North Korea “a hellish nightmare” and Kim Jong Il “a tyrannical dictator.” Kaplan will observe, “True enough, but not the sort of invective that senior officials generally issue on the eve of a diplomatic session.” An exasperated Pritchard resigns in protest from the administration. He will later say: “My position was the State Department’s envoy for North Korean negotiations, yet we were prohibited from having negotiations. I asked myself, ‘What am I doing in government?’” Pritchard had also learned that White House and Pentagon officials did not want him involved in the talks, dismissing him as “the Clinton guy.” (Pritchard had helped successfully negotiate earlier agreements with the North Koreans during the Clinton administration.) [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] A Chinese diplomat says, “The American policy towards DRPK [North Korea]—this is the main problem we are facing.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
Cheney Source of Restrictions - According to Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the restrictions on Kelly come directly from Vice President Cheney. “A script would be drafted for Jim, what he could say and what he could not say, with points elucidated in the margins,” Wilkerson will later explain. The process involves President Bush, Cheney, Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. On at least two occasions, Cheney rewrites the script for Kelly without consulting with the other principals, even Bush. According to Wilkerson, Cheney “put handcuffs on our negotiator, so he could say little more than ‘welcome and good-bye.’” In the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Cheney’s “negotiating position was that there would be no negotiations.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 185-186]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Lou Dubose, Fred Kaplan, George W. Bush, Jake Bernstein, Jim Kelly, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Pritchard, Clinton administration, National Security Council, John R. Bolton, Li Gun, Lawrence Wilkerson, Kim Jong Il

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

France, Germany, and Britain succeed in persuading Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and permit intrusive inspections by United Nations monitors. The US refuses to join this effort, and continues to attempt to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council for violating its safeguard agreements. Unable to affect the negotiations between Iran and the Europeans, Bush officials are reduced to mocking the negotiations, with the State Department’s John Bolton asking, “How many IAEA meetings does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” Bolton is later asked what he thinks about the Europeans’ “carrot-and-stick” methodology of negotiating with the Iranians, and he replies, “I don’t do carrots.” Author J. Peter Scoblic later writes: “The problem was that the administration didn’t really do sticks, either. Although the Bush administration repeatedly made it clear that ‘all options were on the table,’ it never explicitly threatened military action or established red lines beyond which it would force Iran to pay some explicit price. Absent coercion or diplomacy, the Bush administration’s strategy was essentially one of hope—hope that the Iranian regime would collapse, yielding morally pure victory. Unfortunately, just as with North Korea (see May 4, 2003), dramatic change was unlikely; not only was the regime relatively stable, but Iranian reformers appeared committed to the nuclear program as well.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 249-250]

Entity Tags: John R. Bolton, Bush administration (43), J. Peter Scoblic, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Mohamed ElBaradei, the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell to ask a second time for the US’s participation in European-led negotiations with Iran over that nation’s nuclear program (see Fall 2003). Powell refuses. The IAEA and the Europeans—France, Germany, and Britain—believe that the US’s participation in the negotiations is essential to convince Iran to make real concessions. Iran wants assurances that the US will not attack it. Moreover, Iran knows that the Europeans will wait for US approval for any incentives they offer, such as membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). During the negotiations, an Iranian diplomat tells British negotiator John Sawers not to keep pressing the Iranian delegation to give up its nuclear weapons development program: “Look, John, that’s what we are saving up for the Americans. We can’t spend all our possible concessions in negotiating with you. We’ll have nothing left.” As the Europeans continue to jockey with the balky Iranians, the US continues to stand apart—“leaving the driving to the EU,” as State Department neoconservative John Bolton will later comment. Only in 2005 will the Bush administration begin giving its grudging support to the negotiations, but it will continue to refuse to actually participate in them. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 249-250]

Entity Tags: World Trade Organization, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, International Atomic Energy Agency, John R. Bolton, Mohamed ElBaradei, John Sawers

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Iran marks the imminent ascension of hardline conservative Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to the presidency (see August 3, 2005) by announcing that it is resuming its previously-suspended conversion of uranium into plutonium. [BBC, 8/3/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmedinejad

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

After winning a contentious election in July, former Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described by the BBC as an “ultra-conservative,” is confirmed as president of Iran. Ahmadinejad replaces moderate reformer Mohammad Khatami, who served as president for eight years. Ahmadinejad won the election in July, but only now becomes president after being formally endorsed by Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, hardline conservatives now control all the institutions of power in Iran. He is expected to lead a move to break off negotiations with European Union diplomats over constraining Iran’s nuclear development program (see January 2004), a move already heralded by Iran’s decision to resume converting uranium into plutonium (see Late July 2005). [BBC, 8/3/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251] Ahmadinejad tells the Iranian Parliament that while the nation will respect international norms regarding nuclear programs, it will never surrender to what he calls “illegal requests.” [Voice of America, 8/6/2005] Many believe that Khamenei is the driving force behind Ahmadinejad’s rise to power and the new sense of recalcitrant opposition to European diplomacy. [New York Times, 9/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

As part of a panel discussion at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Aaron Friedberg, the deputy national security adviser for Vice President Cheney, says that the most dire ramification of the ongoing six-party talks over North Korea’s nuclear program (see August 2003) is that North Korea’s Kim Jong Il would remain in power (see May 4, 2003). Author J. Peter Scoblic will write in 2008 that Friedberg does not seem to realize “that the six-party process was not designed to oust Kim—and could in fact only succeed in stopping the North’s nuclear program if the regime was assured of its survival.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]

Entity Tags: American Enterprise Institute, Aaron Friedberg, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, J. Peter Scoblic, Kim Jong Il

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

The US abruptly reverses course on its North Korean policy (see Mid-January 2003 and October 9, 2006) and reopens negotiations with the North Koreans. It offers to release $25 million in North Korean funds impounded by Banco Delta Asia and to allow chief negotiator Christopher Hill to finalize a deal on the North’s denuclearization. The US will provide heavy fuel oil as North Korea shuts down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows international inspectors into the country. The deal is quite similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration (see October 21, 1994). The long-term goal is full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear program, and normalized relations with the US. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The North Korean regime seems no weaker for the years of antagonistic treatment by Bush conservatives” (see May 4, 2003). [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 261]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Banco Delta Asia, J. Peter Scoblic, Clinton administration, Christopher Hill

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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