President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un yielded a reaffirmation of the pledge Mr. Kim made in April to his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in to work towards the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” It is a promise that President Trump sees as a major victory, but to North Korea experts it was nothing new.

North Korea has been committing to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and then reneging on those commitments, for more than three decades. Perhaps this time will be different, but history gives good reason to be skeptical. Here are ten times North Korea has promised denuclearization before.

1985 – North Korea ratifies the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), an agreement between non-nuclear states and the five acknowledged nuclear powers (U.S., Russia, China, France, and U.K.) to forgo development of nuclear weapons in exchange for the sharing of peaceful nuclear technology. North Korea never fully came into compliance with the treaty, tying its adherence to the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. In 2003, Pyongyang withdrew from the NPT after getting caught enriching uranium to build a bomb.

Text of JOINT DECLARATION OF SOUTH AND NORTH KOREA ON THE DENUCLEARIZATION OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA
JOINT DECLARATION OF SOUTH AND
NORTH KOREA ON THE DENUCLEARIZATION
OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA (1992)

1992 – Following President George HW Bush’s 1991 announcement of the unilateral withdrawal of all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed abroad, including the 100 or so weapons based in South Korea, which satisfied all of North Korea’s conditions for compliance with the NPT, North and South Korea signed the South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Under the declaration, North and South Korea agreed not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons.” They also agreed not to possess uranium enrichment on nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities.

1993 – North Korea refuses International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of nuclear materials required under the NPT and announces its intention to withdraw from the treaty. After talks with the US in New York, Pyongyang reverses itself, agreeing to comply with the NPT safeguards agreement and committing to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

1994 – North Korea agrees to IAEA inspections, yet limits their activities. That Spring, North Korea removes spent fuel from its 5 MW research reactor, which can be reprocessed into plutonium for use in a bomb, without inspectors present. This was a violation of the IAEA safeguards Pyongyang had promised to abide by just a few months earlier. North Korea withdraws from the IAEA. Later that year, the U.S. strikes a deal with Pyongyang, known as the “Agreed Framework,” to freeze and eventually dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program. In exchange, the US promised to provide two nuclear reactors that couldn’t be repurposed to produce bomb materials and shipments of heavy oil and other supplies.

2000 – In a joint communique following US-North Korea talks in 2000, North Korea reaffirmed its commitment to denuclearization steps under the 1994 framework agreement and the “importance to achieving peace and security on a nuclear weapons free Korean Peninsula.”

2004 – A statement following the second round of the six-party talks between North and South Korea, the U.S., Russia, Japan and China reiterated the commitment of the parties to a “nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula.”

2005 – At the forth round of six-party talks, North Korea commits to “abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.” North Korea tests its first nuclear weapon a year later.

A North Korean nuclear plant is seen before demolishing a cooling tower (R) in Yongbyon
A cooling tower is demolished at a North Korean nuclear plant June 27, 2008. Yonhap News

2007 – North Korea again affirms its commitment to denuclearization and agrees to steps aimed at dismantling its nuclear infrastructure, including shuttering and eventually abandoning its nuclear facility at Yongbyon. The next year, it made a big show of blowing up the cooling tower at the Yongbyon reactor. However, the plant was later restarted using water from a nearby river for cooling instead.

2008 – The six party talks produces a statement agreeing to “establish a verification mechanism…to verify the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.“ North Korea pulls out of the six party talks and conducts its second nuclear test a year later.

2012 – North Korea agrees to a moratorium on nuclear development and missile tests in exchange for food aid. Within a year, North Korea begins violating the agreement, conducting further missile and nuclear tests.

2018 – North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un commits to work towards “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in summit with President Donald Trump.

See the excellent Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy from the Arms Control Association for additional information. 


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Taylor Griffin is editor of Roughly Explained. He served as a spokesman at the White House and the Treasury Department in George W. Bush's administration and worked on three Republican presidential campaigns. You can follow him on Twitter at @tgriffinNC