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Larry A. Niksch, Congressional Research Service
Updated July 18, 2003

US Policy in North Korea


North Korea's decision in December 2002 to restart nuclear installations at Yongbyon that were shut down under the U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework of 1994 and its announced withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty creates an acute foreign policy problem for the United States. North Korea's major motive appears to be to escalate pressure on the Bush Administration to negotiate a nuclear agreement that would provide new U.S. political and economic benefits to North Korea, starting with Pyongyang's proposed non-aggression pact. However, restarting the Yongbyon facilities opens up a possible North Korean intent to stage a "nuclear breakout" of its nuclear program and openly produce nuclear weapons within six months. North Korea claimed in April 2003 that it had nuclear weapons and that it had nearly completed reprocessing nuclear weapons-grade plutonium that could produce five or six atomic bombs. North Korea's actions follow the disclosure in October 2002 that North Korea is operating a secret nuclear program based on uranium enrichment and the decision by the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) in November 2002 to suspend shipments of heavy oil to North Korea -- a key U.S. obligation under the Agreed Framework.  

The main elements of Bush Administration policy are (1) terminating the Agreed Framework; (2) no negotiations with North Korea until it dismantles its nuclear program; (3) assembling an international coalition to apply economic pressure on North Korea; (4) planning for future economic sanctions and military interdiction against North Korea; and (5) warning North Korea not to reprocess nuclear weapons-grade plutonium, asserting that "all options are open," including military options. China, South Korea, and Russia have criticized the Bush Administration for not negotiating with North Korea, and they voice opposition to economic sanctions and the use of force against Pyongyang. However, Ad- ministration diplomacy has made progress in persuading Japan and South Korea to support economic sanctions if North Korea escalates provocations.

In 2003, the Pentagon announced plans to relocate the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division from the demilitarized zone to positions further south. Controversy over the 37,000 U.S. troops had grown in South Korea and reflected both disagreement over policy toward North Korea but also mounting South Korean public discontent over U.S. troops in South Korea. Incidents involving U.S. troops and South Korean civilians led to mass demonstrations in late 2002 in response to the killing of two South Korean schoolgirls by a U.S. military vehicle in June 2002. This also contributed to the election of Roh Moohyun as President in December 2002. His campaign stressed criticism of the United States. Since the election, Roh has stressed cooperation with the United States, and he opposed removing the 2nd Division until the North Korean nuclear issue is resolved.

This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved  in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.

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