Introduction:Identified as part of the “Axis of Evil” in 2002 by US President George W. Bush, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, remains a source of proliferation concern today. In January 2003, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found it in non-compliance with its safeguards agreements in 2000. In February 2005, the DPRK government publicly claimed for the first time that it possesses nuclear weapons. In 2006 and 2009, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests.
Due to the extremely closed nature of the North Korean state, exact information on its nuclear capabilities is not available. As of 2012, it is believed that North Korea possesses six to eight nuclear weapons.
Numerous multilateral and bilateral efforts to engage North Korea diplomatically in response to its nuclear weapons program have remained fruitless. North Korea joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985 and concluded its safeguards agreement with the IAEA after much delay in April 1992. In May 1992, the first IAEA inspections of declared sites and facilities took place. In early 1993, the DPRK denied IAEA access to two suspect nuclear waste sites. In March 1993, North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT and further obstructed the work of IAEA inspectors. Bilateral negotiations initiated by the United States diffused the crisis and resulted in the Agreed Framework of 1994. Under this agreement, North Korea froze its plutonium program for almost a decade and allowed for IAEA verification of the freeze. However, neither the US nor North Korea was fully satisfied with the agreement reached and the Agreed Framework subsequently collapsed after President Bush came into office in 2001.
North Korea’s ballistic missile program is based on short and medium-range missiles. A long-range missile test conducted in 1998 failed, but if further developed, the Taepo Dong may be able to deliver a small payload. North Korea’s role as a leading exporter of ballistic missiles poses another reason for concern. It has sold missile technologies based on the Taepo Dong system to Egypt, Iran, Libya, Pakistan and Syria.
Renewed efforts to diplomatically resolve the crisis surrounding the North Korean nuclear program have been made through the Six-Party talks that started in August 2003, which include China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the United States. Negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program have become a cyclical pattern in which an agreement between the US and North Korea is reached in crisis, but with one country waiting for the other to act before fulfilling their own promises. An agreement had been reached at the end of 2005, but then North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. After improvements in the relations between the DPRK and the US in 2007-2008, North Korea another nuclear test in 2009. In 2011, the country claimed it was ready to resume Six-Party talks without preconditions. After the death of the former Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il in December 2011 the DPRK announced a moratorium on nuclear tests and uranium enrichment in exchange of food aid from the US on February 29, 2012.
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