Prepared for Members of Congress
A Dangerous Misimpression
Our major nuclear deal with North Korea, known as the 1994 Agreed Framework (AF), is
mistakenly seen as a failure. That erroneous belief creates a major barrier to reining in North
Korea’s nuclear program and increases the risk that the Iran nuclear deal will be scuttled. If
nuclear diplomacy with North Korea failed, the reasoning goes, why should Iran be any
different? But, as this summary shows, we got far more from the AF than North Korea.
What we got from the AF
North Korea shut down its research reactor and put its fuel rods under international control so
their plutonium could not be extracted. It did not do its first nuclear test until 2006, four years
after the Bush administration killed the AF and it regained access to those fuel rods.
North Korea stopped construction of a larger nuclear reactor that would have made enough
plutonium for approximately 10 bombs per year and that was a few years from completion. It
also stopped construction of another reactor that was about five years from completion and that
would have made enough plutonium for 40 bombs per year.
What North Korea was supposed to get from the AF
We agreed to replace the two partially completed reactors with more proliferation resistant
reactors. The replacement reactors never were completed and, when the AF was killed in 2002,
both of the partially completed reactors were so badly damaged from eight years of exposure to
the elements that they had to be abandoned.
Until the replacement reactors were completed, we agreed to send North Korea heavy fuel oil to
make up for the energy that its larger reactors would have produced. Our fuel oil shipments
stopped after less than 10 years, whereas the reactors North Korea had been building would
have produced energy for roughly 50 years—along with large amounts of plutonium.
North Korea wanted better relations with the US as a hedge against China and we agreed to
“move toward full normalization of political and economic relations.” That never occurred.
Why we killed the AF
The Bush administration accused the North Koreans of cheating by doing uranium enrichment.
While that violated the spirit of the AF, it was not a technical violation since neither the word
uranium nor the word enrichment appears in the text of the AF.
What We Can Do Now
We need to stop insisting that new talks be about denuclearization of the Korean peninsula
since that is code for unilateral nuclear disarmament by North Korea—not a realistic first step.
We need to give North Korea positive incentives to freeze its nuclear and missile programs,
build trust over time, and then focus on those programs’ elimination.
North Korea has repeatedly (January 2015, January 2016, and June 2017) suggested that it
would stop nuclear testing if we would stop our annual war games with South Korea. We need
to explore how serious these overtures might be instead of ignoring or rejecting them.
The Conyers-Markey bill would prohibit the president from executing a first strike against North
Korea without Congressional approval. It was introduced on 26 OCT 2017 with 60 cosponsors
and needs more support to become law. Study the bill and, if you agree, sign on and encourage
your colleagues to do the same.
Prof. Martin Hellman, Stanford University, firstname.lastname@example.org