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NORTH KOREA - Suspicious Minds, January 2003


Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Suspicious Minds"

FACE-OFF
Short History: U.S.-North Korea Conflict

INTERVIEW WITH BEN ANDERSON
Versions of the Truth

FACTS & STATS
Learn More about North Korea

LINKS & RESOURCES
Nuclear Weapons, Military History, Humanitarian Issues

MAP

REACT TO THIS STORY

   

North Korean and American flags 2002 1994 1991 1976 1968 1948

Diplomacy With Pyongyang

Delegations from North, left, and South Korea shake hands during economic talks in Seoul. AP/Wide World Photos

Delegations from North, left, and South Korea shake hands during economic talks in Seoul. (AP/Wide World Photos)
In Geneva in October 1994, negotiations dragged on until midnight, when U.S. and North Korean representatives finally announced a breakthrough in their talks. The two countries had begun bilateral negotiations over nuclear proliferation concerns, almost a year and a half before, and finally a settlement was at hand.

The U.S. initiated the talks after North Korea threatened in 1993 to withdraw from the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Panic over the country's potential nuclear armament spread worldwide. The United States was already convinced the North Koreans had produced at least one nuclear weapon. In exchange for their cooperation on the nuclear issue, Washington dangled in front of Pyongyang the carrots of improved commercial and diplomatic ties.

But negotiations proved tense. Between sessions, North Korea violated an international treaty when military personnel removed fuel rods from a nuclear reactor without the presence of a United Nations monitor. The United States threatened to lobby the United Nations for sanctions against North Korea, whose population already suffered from widespread famine. Each time talks broke down, top White House officials and military experts spoke publicly about the prospect of war on the Korean peninsula.

After one breakdown in the talks, former President Jimmy Carter traveled to Pyongyang to meet North Korean officials. Tensions between the two countries cooled. But the sudden death of North Korea's leader Kim Il-sung halted progress in the negotiations once again.
A South Korean military soldier stands under a display of North, right, and South Korea's missiles at the Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea. (AP/Wide World Photos)

A South Korean military soldier stands under a display of North, right, and South Korea's missiles at the Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea. (AP/Wide World Photos)

When the third round of talks started up again in the fall of 1994, negotiators on both sides wrangled over every word of a potential accord. After working late into the night of the last day of the scheduled talks, the two sides finally reached agreement.

In the pact, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons development program. In exchange, the United States and its allies promised to provide North Korea with heavy fuel oil and two proliferation-resistant, light-water reactor power plants. The deal also called for gradual improvement of relations between the United States and North Korea and between North and South Korea.

The agreement temporarily diffused tensions. It marked a symbolic step toward resolving historic grievances through diplomacy.

But within a few short months, the rivals' old suspicions of one another crept back. Implementation of the new agreement was stalled.

After a U.S. Army helicopter flying in North Korean airspace crashed, Pyongyang accused the United States of having launched a spy mission. The country held the surviving pilot hostage.

Americans and North Koreans alike had been guilty of espionage for decades, of course. But the United States defended its army officers, claiming they were on a routine training mission and had mistakenly drifted into North Korean airspace.

The North Koreans released the American officer eventually, but the incident re-ignited the same sort of distrust that had plagued relations between the two countries for decades.

2002: Nukes and the "Axis of Evil"
• 1994: Diplomacy With Pyongyang
1991: End of a Superpower
1976: An Axe Fight Nearly Triggers War
1968: Spy Ships and Infiltrators
1948: From Independence to War

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