Back to the Framework
by Jimmy Carter*, January 14, 2003
There is an eerie case of deja vu in Korea. Nearly
nine years ago, President Kim Il Sung expelled international inspectors
and threatened to process plutonium from spent fuel at an old
graphite-moderated nuclear reactor in Yongbyon. The Clinton administration
had rejected negotiations with North Korea, was contemplating
a military strike to destroy the nuclear facility and was seeking
U.N. Security Council economic sanctions. The North Koreans announced
that such sanctions would be considered an act of war. It was
clear the United States and South Korean militaries could prevail,
but there would be massive casualties from the formidable ground
forces of North Korea.
As now, the isolated and economically troubled
nation was focused on resolving basic differences with the United
States. Deeply suspicious and perhaps paranoid, the North Koreans
were demanding assurances against a nuclear attack and opportunities
for normal bilateral relations.
At the invitation of Kim Il Sung, and with the
approval of the White House, I went to Pyongyang and negotiated
directly with the man known as the "Great Leader." He
agreed to freeze the nuclear situation at Yongbyon and permit
international inspectors to monitor the agreement. In return,
the United States was to pledge that nuclear weapons would not
be used against North Korea and that two modern light-water reactors
would be built to replace the Yongbyon facility. In the meantime,
a monthly supply of fuel oil would help provide electrical power.
The subsequent death of Kim Il Sung, who was replaced by his son,
Kim Jong Il, interfered with the more rapid timetable that we
envisioned, but these nuclear proposals were accepted officially
in the Agreed Framework, also involving South Korea and Japan.
Kim Il Sung wanted to discuss long-term issues,
with the goal of achieving normal relations between the Koreas
and with America. He agreed to an immediate summit meeting with
South Korea's president to discuss cross-border visitation among
Korean families and the implementation of general principles adopted
in 1992 regarding reunification. His suggestions for future talks
with the United States included cooperation in recovering the
remains of U.S. soldiers, a step-by-step reduction of Korean armed
forces to 100,000 men on each side, with U.S. troops to be reduced
in the same proportion, withdrawal of long-range artillery and
other aggressive military forces from near the demilitarized zone,
and mutual inspections to ensure the de-nuclearization of the
Although the promised light-water reactors were
not built, substantial progress was made between North Korea and
the United States, illustrated by Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright's successful discussions in Pyongyang.
The Bush administration brought a change in relationship
with both Koreas.
Rejection of the "sunshine policy," which
had earned the Nobel Peace Prize for South Korean President Kim
Dae Jung; announcements that North Korea, like Iraq and Iran,
was part of an "axis of evil"; public statements that
the new "Great Leader" was loathed as a "pygmy"
who deliberately starved his own people, that America was prepared
to fight two wars at the same time, and that our missile defense
system was a shield against North Korea -- all this helped cause
many in that country to assume that they were next on America's
hit list after Iraq.
With evidence that Pyongyang was acquiring enriched
uranium, in direct violation of the Agreed Framework, President
Bush announced that there would be no discussions with North Korea
until after its complete rejection of a nuclear explosives program,
and the monthly shipments of fuel oil were terminated.
Now, once again, international inspectors have
been expelled, and the North Koreans have announced they will
no longer be bound by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or
an agreement to forgo testing of ballistic missiles. This is a
serious threat to regional and world peace. North Korea has offered
inspectors from the United States access to its nuclear sites
to confirm that they are not developing weapons, but only complete
international monitoring can determine whether they have decided
to develop a nuclear arsenal or are using threats as a ploy to
promote bilateral agreements with the United States.
It is clear that the world community cannot permit
the North Koreans to develop a nuclear arsenal. They must be convinced
that they will be more secure without nuclear weapons, and that
normal diplomatic and economic relations with the United States
The announced nuclear policies of North Korea and
the American rejection of direct talks are both contrary to regional
and global interests. Unfortunately, both sides must save face,
even as the situation deteriorates dangerously.
To resolve this impasse, some forum -- perhaps
convened by Russia or China -- must be found within which these
troubling differences can be resolved. The principles of the Agreed
Framework of 1994 can be reconfirmed, combined with North Korea's
full and verifiable compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty and a firm U.S. declaration of nonaggression against North
Korea, so long as all agreements are honored.
Then perhaps the more far-reaching proposals discussed
with Kim Il Sung can be implemented and a permanent peace can
come to the reconciled Koreas.
*Former president Carter is chairman of the Carter Center in Atlanta.