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