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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

North Korea: Back on the Terrorism List?

Mark E. Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Whether North Korea should be included on the U.S. list of terrorism-supporting countries has been a major issue in U.S.-North Korean diplomacy since 2000, particularly in connection with negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea demanded that the Clinton and Bush Administrations remove it from the terrorism support list. On October 11, 2008, the Administration removed North Korea from the terrorism list. 

This move was part of the measures the Bush Administration took to implement a nuclear agreement that it negotiated with North Korea in September 2007 and finalized details of in April 2008. The agreement was reached under the format of the six party talks, which involve the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia. The President also announced that he was immediately lifting sanctions on North Korea under the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act. North Korea's obligations under this nuclear agreement were to allow the disabling of its plutonium facility at Yongbyon and present to the United States and other government in the six party talks a declaration of its nuclear programs. North Korea submitted its declaration in June 2008. 

The removal of North Korea from the terrorism list, however, did not result in an early conclusion of the February 2007 six party nuclear agreement. The North Korean government and the Bush Administration disagreed over the content of an October 2008 agreement on verification, particularly over whether it allowed inspectors to take samples of nuclear materials from the Yongbyon installations. The other parties to the talks also had not completed the delivery of 1 million tons of heavy oil that they had promised in the February 2007 agreement. Against this backdrop, along with an apparent stroke suffered by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the six party process broke down. 

In the months since the breakdown of the talks, North Korea has taken a series of actions that have led to calls for its reinstatement on the terrorism list. In April 2009, North Korea launched devices suspected of being long-range missiles. In May 2009, North Korea tested a nuclear device. In March 2010, a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, sank in waters disputed by the two Koreas. Nearly 50 South Korean sailors died in the incident. A multinational investigation team led by South Korea determined that the ship was sunk by a North Korean submarine. Meanwhile, reports from French, Japanese, South Korean, and Israeli sources described recent North Korean programs to provide arms and training to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, two groups on the U.S. list of international terrorist organizations. Large quantities of North Korean arms bound for Iran, intercepted in 2009, contained weapons that Iran supplies heavily to Hezbollah and Hamas. Moreover, a large body of reports describe a longstanding, collaborative relationship between North Korea and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that has continued throughout 2009. 

This report describes the rationales for including North Korea on the terrorism list from 1988- 2008, for North Korea's delisting in 2008, and the debate in 2010 over whether to re-list North Korea. This report was originally written by Larry Niksch, who left CRS at the end of January 2010.

Date of Report: May 24, 2010
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: RL30613
Price: $29.95

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