After the collapse of its
long-time patron the Soviet Union, North Korea began to explore new economic and
diplomatic alliances and to improve relations with the United States. After a
tentative start, the U.S. and North Korea began to communicate on an almost monthly
In September 1991, the United States supported the admission of both
North and South Korea into the United Nations. That same month, President George
Bush announced the withdrawal of some 100 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons based
in South Korea.
This move cleared the way for the two Koreas to sign the
South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula
in December 1991. Under the terms of the pact, the two countries pledged not to
test, produce, or house nuclear weapons.
improved significantly in January 1992 when the North committed to the International
Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear safeguards agreement, permitting IAEA inspections
of its primary nuclear facility in Yongbyon. Responding to this move by the North,
the U.S. and South cancelled their 1992 joint annual military exercise, Team Spirit.
In February 1992, State Department officials and North Korean diplomats
began to discuss how to normalize relations. Specifically, the U.S. wanted North
Korea to end its exports of missile and weapons technology and to work on North-South
relations, including mutual nuclear inspections. The U.S. explicitly hinged any
future talks with North Korea on regular nuclear weapons inspections.
normalization process came to a halt in March 1993, after the North refused to
grant IAEA inspectors access to two alleged nuclear waste sites banned under the
Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Pyongyang government then threatened to withdraw
from the treaty within three months.
As international concern mounted, the
U.S. and the North held talks in June 1993 in New York, prompting the North to
suspend its decision to withdraw from the NPT. In exchange, the U.S. gave the
North new assurances against the threat of nuclear force and agreed not to interfere
with the North's internal affairs.
But the resumption of IAEA monitoring
of the North's nuclear facilities was a difficult affair. After a series of disagreements
between monitors and North Korean officials, the North announced its withdrawal
from the IAEA deal in June 1994 and threatened to expel inspectors. In response,
the U.S. urged the United Nations to levy sanctions on the communist nation.
same month, former President Jimmy Carter visited the North to meet with officials
in hopes of defusing international tensions and to lay the groundwork for a nuclear
agreement. After two days of talks, North Korea's leader Kim Il Sung agreed to
freeze nuclear programs in exchange for resumed dialogue with the United States.
renewed talks briefly stalled after the sudden death of the North's President
Kim Il Sung in July 1994. His son, Kim Jong Il, succeeded him as the North's leader,
but the U.S. had little confidence in the new premier. The U.S. believed North
Korea's regime would crumble without Kim Il Sung -- especially as the nation was
suffering through a grave economic crisis and severe famine.
1994, North Korea and members of the Clinton administration finally struck an
agreement to freeze North Korean nuclear development in exchange for shipments
of an estimated $5 billion worth of heavy oil and the construction of two light
water reactor plants to produce urgently needed energy for the small country.
the "Agreed Framework," the deal arranged for the creation of a multinational
organization, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), to
oversee the implementation of the promised energy sources.
The pact also
called for the improvement of both diplomatic and economic relations between Washington
and Pyongyang as well as between the two Koreas, although U.S. economic sanctions
remained in place. In addition, over 30,000 U.S. troops remained on and around
the Korean peninsula to help protect the South.
U.S. relations with the
North again soured when the North Koreans tested a "Taepondong-1" ballistic
missile in August of 1998. Additionally, the U.S demanded that Pyongyang cease
exporting similar missiles to "rogue" nations of the Middle East.