Once the Agreed Framework unraveled North Korea proceeded to equip itself with a “nuclear deterrent.” In December 2002 the North Koreans turned off the monitoring cameras and expelled the UN observers. By October 2003 North Korea claimed to have enough nuclear fuel to make up to six bombs.
North Korean officials claimed they had kept their part of the agree-ment from 1992 to 2000 and deserved compensation for these efforts. The North Korean position was that the country would willingly give up its nuclear warheads and two-stage missiles in exchange for a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War, recognition as a sovereign state, removal of all embargoes, and financial compensation for actual and potential losses to their electric generating capacity.
What emerged as the best way to deal with the crisis were the so-called six-party talks, in which representatives from North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia met to seek a solution. The talks took place irregularly between August 2003 and September 2005 in Beijing.
Japan was of two minds about the negotiations. On one hand, Japan felt threatened by North Korea from the moment North Korea had fired a missile over Japan into the North Pacific Ocean in February 2003. On the other hand a far worse impediment to Japanese–North Korean relations had surfaced in September 2002: Kim Jong Il admitted that North Korea had kidnapped Japanese citizens from coastal cities in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s to serve as Japanese language instructors.
Some of the captives had married and had families, and thus only a few were repatriated back to Japan in 2002. The admission and apology, which followed years of denial, sparked a more negative response than North Korea had anticipated. Rather than forgiving North Korea, Japan broke off its limited ties with North Korea. For years afterward the kidnapping scandal damaged relations between the two countries. Nonetheless, Japan continued to take part in the labored six-party talks.
It was China, however, that brought North Korea back to the negotiating table. Long North Korea’s largest trading partner, China continues to be its principal supplier of basic commodities, such as fuel and food. The Chinese at times threatened to withhold supplies of petroleum and other goods if North Korea continued to hold out. Between 2002, when North Korea admitted it had been developing enriched uranium, and 2004 when George W. Bush was elected to a second term as U.S. presi-dent, no progress was made in deterring nuclear proliferation in North Korea. Then the discussions bore fruit.
Although questions of imple-mentation remained, by the end of 2005 the six-party talks brought the North Koreans to an agreement that was much like that negotiated by the Clinton administration in 1994.
But North Korea again provoked concern in the United States and Japan by firing long-range missiles and detonating its second nuclear warhead in early 2009.
In addition, in March two young American journalists were arrested for illegally crossing into North Korea. They were tried and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor but were released by Kim Jong Il when former president Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang in August.
The relaxing of tensions with the release of the journalists gave some hope for improved relations between the United States and North Korea.