When World War II ended in 1945, Japan's control over the Korean peninsula was replaced with joint US-USSR control, with the USSR controlling the area north of the 38th parallel and with the US controlling the area to its south. In 1948, with the US and USSR deadlocked over implementation of joint trusteeship, separate governments were established in the north and the south, each stating a claim to control of the entire peninsula. Tensions mounted and led to the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. In 1953, a cease-fire was implemented under the aegis of the United Nations. This armistice established a border and a De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) between North Korea and South Korea at the 38th parallel.
On December 12, 1985, North Korea acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, it failed to complete the required safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) until 1992. In 1991, North Korea signed the South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Under this Joint Declaration, both countries pledge not to "test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons" or to "possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities."
By the end of 1992, the IAEA began to discover discrepancies in North Korea's reports on its nuclear program. At the beginning of 1993, based on evidence that North Korea was not adhering to the NPT, the IAEA requested access to inspect two sites suspected to house nuclear waste. North Korea refused the request, and, in March 1993, announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT under Article X provisions that allow for a country's withdrawal when "extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of [that] country."
In May 1993, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 825, calling upon North Korea to reconsider its withdrawal decision. Fortunately, in June 1993, North Korea did suspend its decision to withdraw from the NPT after negotiations with the United States. Through these negotiations, North Korea agreed to the full implementation of IAEA safeguards, and the US granted assurances against the threat and use of force.
In January 1994, however, North Korea's nuclear program became significantly more worrisome, when the CIA estimated that North Korea may have produced one or two nuclear weapons. Under threat of impending UN Security Council sanctions, North Korea allowed IAEA inspectors access to its seven declared nuclear facilities only to deny those inspectors access to a plutonium reprocessing plant at Yongbyon. In May, the IAEA confirmed that North Korea had begun removing spent fuel from a research reactor, a process which can be implemented to make nuclear weapons, without international monitors present. The situation escalating, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the IAEA on June 13, 1994.
Within days, though, former US President Jimmy Carter negotiated a deal in which North Korea in confirmed its willingness to freeze its nuclear weapons program and to resume high-level talks with the US. On October 21, 1994, the US and North Korea conclude negotiations and adopt an "Agreed Framework" in Geneva. The agreement called for North Korea to freeze and eventually eliminate its nuclear facilities and to allow the IAEA to verify compliance through "special inspections." In exchange, North Korea was to receive two light water reactors, financed and constructed by the multinational Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO, whose members are South Korea, Japan, and the US), and annual shipments of heavy fuel oil during construction of the reactors. (For the full text of the Agreed Framework, click here.)
Between 1995 and 1998, cycles of talks and sanctions continued. On August 31, 1998, North Korea surprised the world by launching a three-stage Taepodong-1 rocket with a range of 1,500-2,000 kilometers over Japan. Though North Korea claimed that the rocket was launched to place a satellite into orbit, US Space Command stated otherwise. Tensions were heightened when, in the beginning of 1999, CIA Director George Tenet testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea would be able to use a modified Taepodong-1 rocket to deliver small payloads to Alaska and Hawaii. Moreover, he testified that the Taepodong-2 rocket could strike the continental US.
Bilateral talks continued throughout 1998 and 1999, culminating in two important developments in a September 1999 negotiation in which North Korea agreed to a moratorium on testing any long-range missiles for the duration of talks with the United States. However, North Korean demands for monetary compensation continued.
In October of 2000, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made an historic visit to meet with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il. Kim pledged to halt testing of the Taepodong-1 missile, and preliminary plans for a visit by President Clinton were made. Due to the contested 2000 Presidential election, however, Clinton never made this trip.
After President Bush's inauguration in January 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that he planned to continue where the Clinton administration left off. Bush's insistence on the need for complete verification of any agreement, however, derailed negotiations before they even began, prompting North Korea to revert to its hostile rhetoric. Still, Kim Jong Il twice pledged to extend his missile testing moratorium until 2003, despite the breakdown of negotiations. He even pledged to indefinitely extend the moratorium as part of the North Korea-Japan Pyongyang Declaration in September 2002.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, however, American foreign policy shifted dramatically. Stepping beyond his prior policy, President Bush termed North Korea a member of the now-infamous "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address. Moreover, President Bush refused to certify North Korea's compliance with the Agreed Framework. In October 2002, the US announced that North Korea admitted to having a secret uranium-enrichment program, and, as a result, the IAEA called upon North Korea to "clarify" that program. North Korea, blaming the United States for violating the Agreed Framework, rejected this resolution and, in December 2002, announced that it was restarting its functional reactor, reopening the other nuclear facilities, and ordering the IAEA inspectors out of the country by the end of 2002.
Continuing down this path, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in January 2003 and signaled that it may not adhere to its moratorium on testing long-range missiles. . As a result of this decision, the "Six-Party Talks," high-level negotiations among North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the US, were initiated. These talks have failed to produce much sustainable progress. (All above adapted from http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/dprkchron.asp)
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