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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Development and Diplomacy

Larry A. Niksch
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Since August 2003, negotiations over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs have involved six governments: the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. Since the talks began, North Korea has operated nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and apparently has produced weapons-grade plutonium estimated as sufficient for five to eight atomic weapons. North Korea tested a plutonium nuclear device in October 2006 and apparently a second device in May 2009. North Korea admitted in June 2009 that it has a program to enrich uranium; the United States had cited evidence of such a program since 2002. There also is substantial information that North Korea has engaged in collaborative programs with Iran and Syria aimed at producing nuclear weapons. 

On May 25, 2009, North Korea announced that it had conducted a second nuclear test. On April 14, 2009, North Korea terminated its participation in six party talks and said it would not be bound by agreements between it and the Bush Administration, ratified by the six parties, which would have disabled the Yongbyon facilities. North Korea also announced that it would reverse the ongoing disablement process under these agreements and restart the Yongbyon nuclear facilities. Three developments since August 2008 appear to have influenced the situation leading to North Korea's announcement: the failure to complete implementation of the Bush Administration-North Korean agreement, including the Yongbyon disablement, because of a dispute over whether inspectors could take samples of nuclear materials at Yongbyon; the stroke suffered by North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, in August 2008; and the issuance by North Korea after January 1, 2009, of a tough set of negotiating positions, including an assertion that the United States must extend normal diplomatic relations prior to any final denuclearization agreement rather than in such an agreement; and that U.S. reciprocity for North Korean denuclearization must be an end of the "U.S. nuclear threat," meaning major reductions of and restrictions on U.S. military forces in and around the Korean peninsula. 

The Obama Administration reacted to the missile and nuclear tests by seeking United Nations sanctions against North Korea. It secured U.N. Security Council approval of Resolution 1874 in June 2009. The resolution calls on U.N. members to restrict financial transactions in their territories related to North Korean sales of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to other countries. It also calls on U.N. members to prevent the use of their territories by North Korea for the shipment of WMD to other countries. In December 2009, the Administration sent a special envoy to North Korea in an attempt to secure North Korean agreement to return to the six party talks. North Korea gave a general positive statement regarding six party talks; but it raised other issues, including its proposal for negotiation of a U.S.-North Korean peace treaty, and appeared to seek a continuation of bilateral meetings with the United States. 

North Korea seemed to moderate its provocative policies in August 2009. It invited former President Bill Clinton to North Korea, where he secured the release of two female American reporters who were taken prisoner by the North Koreans along the China-North Korea border. It also released a South Korean worker at the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea, whom the North Koreans had arrested in March 2009. A North Korean delegation came to Seoul for the funeral of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and met with President Lee Myung-bak. This raised the prospect of renewed U.S.-North Korean negotiations over the nuclear issue, but any future negotiations appear to face daunting obstacles. 

This report will be updated periodically.

Date of Report: January 5, 2010
Number of Pages: 33
Order Number: RL33590
Price: $29.99

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