The 1994 US-DPRK Agreed Framework
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38 North Oral History Archive: The 1994 US-DPRK Agreed Framework
Olly Terry, Peace Network Intern
This October marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Agreed Framework between North Korea and the United States. This agreement managed to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and avoid a crisis, thus opening up a near decade-long era of stability, and improving US-North Korean relations. To mark this anniversary 38 North have complied a number of video interviews which reveal some of the details and hidden stories of the build up to the signing of the Agreed Framework. The videos can be accessed at the link directly below; under which is a transcript of the videos.
Video 1: James Laney: Light Water Reactors and "This Whole Nuclear Thing"
Now the light water reactor situation is one that deserves a bit of talk because it figures so prominently in this whole nuclear thing. Before I was actually sworn in as ambassador, Bob Gallucci and I had lunch, our first time to meet, and he talked about light water reactors and North Korea’s interest in them. It was then that he said the big problem of course is paying for them, because they’re a huge cost. I pointed out that South Korea had gotten a very large settlement from Japan for war reparations from World War II, back in the ‘60s when we were there. And it proved to be a boom to President Park Chung-Hee and his industrialization of the South. And it seemed to me that Japan could use that war reparation money to pay for the light water reactors that we were hoping Japan and South Korea would in fact underwrite. So, the light water reactor promise was one that was already on the table, and of course it had to be implemented and that was another thing that would come up in the negotiations at Geneva.
The situations that precipitate war are a build-up of many many forces and factors, as we well know, and many of those were beginning to be in place. What it would take to ignite that is another matter. But it was my feeling, and I think General Luck’s, that the situation was close to tinderbox capacity, it wouldn’t take much it ignite it - we were that close. Now, how much it would have taken I don’t know, but everybody that I knew and saw; Han Sung-Joo, President Kim-all the people that I worked with-General Luck, all felt the situation was critical. The tension was palpable; you could cut it with a knife. I mean things were really tense. In fact, President Kim was so concerned, that’s the week that Carter was in North Korea, that he said that he single handily stopped the evacuation of the Americans because that would have been a sign that we were ready to go to war, to get our people out of there. Well, President Kim didn’t have anything to do with it, but the fact was that shows how alarmed he was that he thought he did! As I thought about it, those evacuation plans were really naïve; you have an enormous city that’s very congested, you have, presumably evacuation plans…well you’d get them out if there was no war, but if you think about trying to get them out when there was some sort of war; the chaos is just mind boggling. But in any case, we were pretty close to a crisis of monumental proportions.
I think, myself, it took something like a Carter visit to break the impasse. And the reason I say that is, North Korea, as many people have pointed out, is a very proud nation and of course Kim Il-Sung was a very proud man. To save face, to feel like he could make a concession and not just bargain, I think it took someone of celebrity status…a world name…whatever his position in the United States officially, to feel like he was acknowledged and not simply had his nose rubbed in the dirt. Over and over again, I thought about the way we go about foreign policy, its’ so often a zero sum game; “did the other side blink?” You know, that Rusk comment about the Cuban missile crisis, those are really adolescent comments, I’m speaking now as a former college president and a minister, you know it really troubles me to see this chauvinistic stuff by grown men with millions of lives in their hands (as their) responsibility. Now, I’m not for craving surrender and I’m not for ignoble actions and I believe in honor and dignity, but I don’t think you lose your dignity by resolving something short of a catastrophe. There’s no question that a war on the Korean peninsula would have been an incredible catastrophe. I mean of course we would win, there’s no question about that, North Korea had degraded military equipment and its military itself were short on rations - we saw so many defectors from the North, they were little people who were terribly ill-nourished, it was a terrible problem and this was just common. I know enough about the North and the people there to know that it has been a despicable regime and it treats its people as serfs not slaves, but serfs. The whole thing cries out for change, but you’ve got to ask at what price and who pays the price. If you can avoid that and not give in, and also can avoid the proliferation issue, which of course is the one that now confronts us, then I think we’ve got to look for that way.
Video 2: James Laney: On Leaving Emory University for Korea
It’s interesting that when I was first broached about going to Korea, my initial response was one of genuine interest and enthusiasm. Although, leaving Emory was hard because we had done a lot of things and we were in the midst of a lot more. As I often said to my friends, this is the only job I would have left Emory for. I had been approached by other universities to be president and I turned those down, but with Korea it was different. I think I felt at first that I could work towards, and this was the idealist in me, toward unification or towards reconciliation of the two Koreas. Dean Rusk originally drew the line at the 38th parallel when he was in the plans division of the war department at the end of World War II. I knew Dean Rusk and I sort of felt that we had an obligation to try to put it back together. But the fact was that as soon as I began getting my briefings and talking to people more deeply, like Sam Nunn and others, as well as other senators while making my rounds, I realized that the situation, particularly the impending nuclear problem was making it far more serious and more intractable than I had realized. I was prepared to work for that, but then my feelings were well at least we can try to keep the show on the road and not let it run off into a ditch – which it looked like it could so easily do. So, my feeling about the job became well let’s see if we can’t reconcile the two Koreas, let’s at least keep them from killing each other.
Video 3: James Laney: On the Brink of War '94
The spring of ’94 saw a cascade of events that seriously worsened the crisis and threatened to spin out of control, despite the deft handling in Washington by Bob Gallucci of the inter-agency process. On the one hand you had the United States who was threatening to pursue sanctions and did in fact pursue them in the United Nations; sanctions which Kim Il-Sung himself had said would be a declaration of war. You had North Korean acting up by threatening to expel the IAEA inspectors who were on site at that time and withdrawing from the NPT, leaving the whole question of reprocessing and spent fuel rods in limbo, where they could presumably be reprocessed and made into nuclear weapons. So that was the situation there. Furthermore, you had a lot of heated rhetoric on both sides, the North threatened to turn Seoul into a sea of fire, at that point the response in Seoul was one short of panic, many American mothers took their children out of school – they called it an early summer vacation, they were leaving in April rather than in late May. Many of the Korean stores ran out of ramen and other things they might want if there was some sort of crisis or confrontation or war. With that situation I felt we were, without any direct contact – despite the talks in New York, we were not talking to the only person who could make a decision to stop all this stuff, and that of course was Kim Il-Sung ‘The Great Leader’.
The thought was that the United States needed to somehow break the impasse, the inexorability of this process; the North wouldn’t change because of the loss of face and so forth, the United States was sort of hostage to Clinton’s need to prove he had war making capacity-that if he did anything that looked like appeasement or rapprochement with North Korea, he would be dubbed, again, a wimp, and this of course was an intolerable thought. And in Seoul the frustrations of Kim Young-Sam, who was insistent because he thought that North Korea would collapse and if we squeezed it tight enough they couldn’t survive. He saw things going his way. On the other hand, when we begun talking seriously about the consequences that might have lead to the collapse-maybe a confrontation or a war or worse…all those refugees…he said well we better work out something. So he was of two minds, I had to deal with two minds on the part of Kim Young-Sam. It was in that general atmosphere that I approached Sam Nunn about going to North Korea himself, and he thought well I’ll go with Dick Lugar. So they were willing to go and they got clearance from Gallucci and Christopher and I guess Tony Lake and others. They were all prepared to go and they were going to, hopefully, see and talk with Kim Il-Sung. Well as it turns out, with their bags packed and their car ready to take them to the airport, word came that they didn’t get their visas and that North Korea would receive them sometime later but not then. So that scotched that trip. So here we were at the beginning of May, running out of options and with the situation deteriorating rapidly, and the threat, the constant drumbeat of the build-up of forces from Washington to Korea to augment what we had there, not only as a show of strength and as a bargaining point, but also, and probably more importantly, in case something really did happen-if war broke out. We weren’t just talking about an intentional invasion, although the United States had occasionally entertained the thought that they might have a surgical strike on Yongbyon in North Korea. I remember Gary Luck the commanding general and I would laugh at this over breakfast. He said “hell have you ever heard of a surgical strike of an atomic thing?” The radio activity blows in all the prevailing winds which blow south, so South Korea would be covered with radioactive dust.
Video 4: Robert Gallucci: Tabasco Sauce Meets French Cuisine
This was a pretty important negotiation, this was the first meeting and the first time really, at my level, that we’d had a conversation with the North Koreans ever…so, we took them to a nice restaurant in New York City and when Kang Sok-Ju ordered his meal and it came, it was an extremely delicate French entrée, he covered it in Tabasco sauce….which I couldn’t help noticing. So this was odd to me, and the lunch was ok but not great. That lead to the point where we were exchanging gifts; he gave me a wooden box of ginseng tea…which naturally I had x-rayed when I got back. I gave him a very very extra large bottle of Tabasco sauce….it was good, it was good.
Video 5: Robert Gallucci: The Science of Negotiating
There are times when you want, in human interactions, someone to believe you, particularly when you’re telling the truth. You look into their eyes and you’re trying to make a connection, and it may be I cannot make a deal that says this, I just can’t, it will not work. I’m not now negotiating with you, I’m telling you this is a hard point, or I need this form you, I can’t make a deal if I don’t get this from you. So negotiators must have discount factors they apply to other people but you also look at the person as a human being, you’re trying to understanding how honest they’re being with you at various times. So if that relationship improves, and it did from the very rough first day, we did better. One of the nicest things Kang Sok-Ju said to me over a year and a half of negotiating, was, again through his interpreters obviously, was I appreciate your sense of humor, which you may not think is an awesome compliment or inter-personal connection, but it was different to any of the other exchanges we had.
I don’t know whether you consider this as an example or not, but it struck me as close to hilarious but it was one of those circumstances where I couldn’t laugh. One of the things I told him by looking into his eyes, was I absolutely need in this agreement; I need a phrase that commits you to a North-South dialogue. I can’t take this back, and you understand I take this back not only to Washington but to Seoul, if I don’t have you committed to North-South dialogue-it’s essential. Kang Sok-Ju looked at me and I could see he got red and angry, so I thought this was sincere on his part-he yelled at me and pounded the table, saying something in Korean and then the translator, who was diminutive in stature, emulated him as he was translating this into English, and the words were to the effect that you will never ever say North-South dialogue again, I’m tired of hearing this phrase, we’re not having that in the agreement…I don’t want you ever, ever, ever to say that phrase again! He said it very sternly, very hard and for some reason the image of him saying it and then it being repeated, with the pounding of the table, struck me as funny but I knew this was not a time for humor. So I said to my interpreter, “so okay I want you to translate this exactly”, my interpreter was Jay Kim from the department, and I said “Vice Foreign Minister, the phrase North-South dialogue is actually extremely important to us. North-South dialogue is a phrase that we embrace and indicates that the South Koreans are in fact with us in this negotiation. So the phrase North-South dialogue, which you never want to hear again…” So I’m doing all this, and Jay is saying “I can’t say that”, and I’m saying “you will say this!” So he repeats everything, North-South dialogue was in my little oration about 20 times after being told never to say it again. After my interpreter finished, Kang Sok-Ju slams his briefing book closed and looks around at everybody, the other 12 people close their briefing books…he’s staring and so I could see he’s trying to figure out what to do, and I noticed that some people on my side were closing their briefing books and I say “leave your briefing books open” and I uncorked a bottle of soda and poured a bottle of soda and waited, and then he stood up and then they all stood up on that side. This was my exquisite moment for not laughing; he was going to walk out. The problem with walking out at that moment was that we were in his mission, he couldn’t walk out, it was clear he looked up…we were in a North Korean mission…so he sat down again. Then amid a lot of sighs, he opened his briefing book and we went on. Now that to me was funny, may not be funny to you or to anyone else, but it was funny to me. Trust me, I wasn’t laughing, I didn’t smile but there are moments like that that are, to me, precious, absolutely precious.
Video 6: Robert Gallucci: The Collapse of the Agreed Framework
My view about how one should deal with North Korea is that, ok the next step is what we want, what’s in the best interest of the national security of the United States of America and her allies, and what is best is not to have the Agreed Framework collapse. So I do not think the Bush administration proceeded in the best way for the national interest. Certainly calling the North Koreans on this, which was the plan by the way of the Clinton folks, they were going to do this right at the very beginning of the Gore administration…which didn’t happen. Alright, but they had a plan for this and I was well aware of that plan. The Bush confrontation, and Jim Kelly went ahead and he was the instrument of this, was to really stick the North Koreans. Afterwards, when the North Koreans were not admitting to the program, I mean they were not admitting there was a violation about anything they’d undertaken in 1984, and then we were stepping away from committing to delivering on the fuel shipments, and then ultimately to the construction of reactors. The North Koreans then did what they did, which is essentially to begin reprocessing separating plutonium and building nuclear weapons, testing nuclear weapons, testing ballistic missiles – this wasn’t good! So if you asked the question “could they have handled it better?” I would say “you bet!”
My view is that one probably needs to think about the North Koreans in a continuing basis, when we try to make agreements with them, as we would with any other government, we hope that they stick or stay in place. When they don’t, or if they don’t, then you access the situation and figure out what’s the best thing to o in terms of your national security interest and those of your allies. If it’s another deal, you do another deal. I don’t think you benefit very much from trying to teach the North Koreans lessons. I think that’s a simple-minded way of approaching relations with nation-states, and North Korea is, for better or worse, a nation-state. So, I think the deal we cut with the North Koreans in ’94, which I think counts for one reactor being shut down for quite a period of time, for a processing plant being shut down and two other reactors not being constructed…I would say, probably, without exaggeration, whenever we’re talking about more than a hundred nuclear weapons that would have been built, had we not made the deal, makes the deal seem like a good one to me. That it collapsed, whether you take my interpretation, which is it didn’t need to collapse, and which is the Bush administration managed that poorly, or if you believe the Bush administration had it perfectly right…either way it served its purpose for a decade nearly. Not so bad! Then you go on from there, and you are still always trying to do what’s in the best interest of the country.
Video 7: Robert Gallucci: "Jimmy Carter's on the Telephone"
A door opens on the side and a gentleman puts his hand in and says “Mr. President, Jimmy Carter’s on the telephone from Pyongyang.” So the President pulls out of his chair, and the guy says “actually he wants to talk to Bob Gallucci.” That was not my best moment in government service! So the president looks at me and says go talk to him, so I got up and I went into a little room which has a phone on a desk, and they put the phone call through…Jimmy Carter tells me that he’s been, amongst other things, meeting with Kim Il-Sung and he talked to him about a deal, he didn’t say he’s made a deal, but he said he’d talked about an arrangement that would work in diffusing the crisis. Under this arrangement the IAEA inspectors would go back in, they could inspect everything and we could resume our discussions…he might have added there would be no reprocessing. So I said thanks, I took notes, he said “what do you think Bob?” We had a good relationship, I thought and he thought, and I said “you know Mr. President, the President is in the other room and I don’t think it really matters what I think.” So he said “call me back when you get a reaction”, I said “I can’t, I think I’ve got this right, I don’t think we’re allowed to call North Korea, and probably not from the White House, so could you call us in 2 or 3 hours?” And then I was about to ring off and he said “oh by the way, I’ve got CNN with me and I’m going on CNN, I’m going to talk about this arrangement that could contain the crisis.” So I went back into the room where everyone was waiting, and said he said this and this, and then somebody said “that’s not a very good deal…this is kind of where we left off”…it wasn’t a matter of inspections, it was a matter of what the inspectors could do….and then I said “oh, and he’s going on CNN to describe all this.” Sitting next to me was the Secretary of State, sitting next to the Secretary of State was Tony Lake, sitting next to Tony Lake was the President of the United States. Tony, who is as close a friend as I have in life, leaned forward and said “you did tell President Carter not to go on CNN, didn’t you?” And I said, “er…well, he certainly wouldn’t have listened to me.” “But you did at least put the marker down, didn’t you?” he replied. Before I could answer, the President of the United States of America said “you did tell him not to do this, right?”…I was still speechless, and then the Secretary of State piled on, and he said” Bob, you did say something to him about that”...and I said “no.” I could see this reaction from the Vice President, the President, all the people in the room – this was inconceivable to them, for some reason it didn’t seem inconceivable to me sitting in the next room on the phone, to tell the former President of the United States not to do something. But all of a sudden it seemed exquisitely stupid…to everybody, including me. There was a long silence and then someone said that we ought to watch it. So everyone got up, there was a TV in the next room, we piled into the next room and there’s a wonderful, or terrible picture taken by one of the White House photographers with everyone around the television, watching CNN and there’s one guy sitting on the floor, with his legs crossed, his head hung – that would be moi! While, all this goes on!
Video 8: Robert Gallucci: On the Brink of War
I do not know what President Clinton would have done, but I can tell you what I think he would have done had certain things happened. We had principles meetings and I do recollect being very clear about a sequence of events with the President - that their spent fuel was in a storage pond…I said”Mister President, if we detect movement of the material from the pond, or more precisely when we detect moving the material from the pond to the reprocessing facility, there will be a period of time after they begin to separate plutonium, when we will still have the option of using military force to stop that program.” Once the material is reprocessed, or plutonium is separated, it will go elsewhere in North Korea and the window will close. So the President naturally wanted to know when the window opened - when it was moved - how long we would have to know and all those kinds of things and we did…and it was up to the intelligence community to try and answer those questions. Without going into the details of how we collect that information, all that I would say is that there were some lean and lag times in how we would know, we wouldn’t have a real time knowledge of all this. My sense was that that was the time, we had a period to deal with and if we didn’t deal with this adequately I think the President, rather than allow that plutonium to go off, would have struck the facilities. We had done everything you would have expected in terms of collateral damage, we had thought about radioactivity spread – all those issues. We had not consulted with others, we hadn’t gone to Seoul yet, we haven’t gone to Tokyo, which I’m certain we would have if we were going to go ahead with this. But as you know, the crisis was averted, but the answer I have to your question is I think we would have had a strike, whether there would have been a war on the peninsula that’s another question. And a lot of people wondered how the North Koreans would respond to a relatively restricted, I don’t want to say surgical, but a restricted strike that wasn’t aimed at regime change or fundamentally weakening the regime, but at simply disabling a nuclear program.
Video 9: Robert Gallucci: Briefing President Jimmy Carter
The first thing to understand is that something I actually didn’t know until I became an Assistant Secretary of State, was that the administrations traditionally – and I don’t know going back how long - keep former Presidents briefed. So people go and brief former Presidents. I briefed George Herbert Walker Bush a number of times, so briefing Jimmy Carter was sort of a natural thing to do, although there was something special as we knew Jimmy Carter had been in touch with the North Koreans. And we knew, or I think we knew when I went to Plaines, Georgia that he had an invitation. So I went down to Plaines one day and former President Carter and Rosalynn were in their house and they were very kind; I had lunch, I had pie, I had peanuts and it was all terrific. But I also had three and a half hours or so of briefing. I think you remember that Jimmy Carter not only a nuclear engineer, but was proud of that fact, so there was a lot of detail in what going on. One of the things that struck me was his capacity, and I think he does this instinctively, to see the other side, and he took the North Korean side a lot in the briefings. It’s disconcerting because you’re talking to a former President of the United States and he’s arguing and pushing back on our interpretation of events from a North Korean perspective. But I think that speaks well of him and he’s done that in other situations. One point that stung me a bit was when he asked specifically what we were trying to stop, and I said we certainly want to make sure there’s no reprocessing capability in North Korea…that research reactor is a gas graphite reactor, it’s a production reactor, it’s for plutonium, and it’s not connected…if anything it’s for a weapons program. We have talked about helping them get a light water reactor program more appropriate for energy as opposed to weapons. He said well what right do we have to tell the North Koreans what style reactor they have and what reprocessing plant they have. I was sort of stunned and my best recovery was well when I went into government in 1974 you soon after that were elected President and under your administration the United States of America took the position that we oppose reprocessing plants in countries like North Korea. It has been since then, with some bumps through the Reagan administration, that we’ve taken that position. You framed it for us Mr. President. Ok, he just kind of got that and we rolled right on, but I think that was more of him just pressing, I don’t think he actually forgot that this happened before.
When I got back that night, and I missed my plane coming back – it was a long day in Plaines, I called the White House and I think I talked to Tony Lake or Sandy Berger, I can’t remember which right at the moment, who but I talked to one of those two, and I said I guess he’s going to want to take up the invitation and go to North Korea. My recollection is that the very next he day he spoke to Vice President Gore and said “I’m going to North Korea.” Then the question was ‘well what’s our position?’ As someone pointed out he was a private citizen and you know there were certain legalities here…someone else pointed out he was a former President of the United States, he had a peace maker reputation, he was at the Carter Center and all this so it seemed implausible that the administration could say “no, don’t go!” So the question was ‘how do we make lemonade at this point?’ So the idea was that we wanted to make sure he didn’t take a position there that was either inconsistent with our position or boxed in President Clinton. So the way the administration hit upon doing this was, Tony Lake - who had worked for Jimmy Carter, Tony had been Director of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department during the Carter administration…I worked for Tony on that staff – Tony Lake would meet with Jimmy Carter and his small entourage, including Rosalynn, to as we say ‘explain the facts of life’….really Mr. President this is our position, this is why we have this position, we would appreciate it if you supported us on this position, we’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t undertake any independent negotiations – that was the kind of message. There’s no nice way of doing that to a former President, and I would say even though Tony did it as well as it is possible to be done by a human being, it was still a very tough meeting, we had at National Airport. Immediately after that meeting, the arrangement was that Jimmy Carter and his team would come to my office at the State Department, which they did, they sat on a long couch and I brought in all afternoon briefers from the intelligence community, the Defense Department and the State Department, to make sure that President Carter understood the context, the risks, where we’d been, where we want to go and what the deal was.
Video 10: Stephen Bosworth: Establishing KEDO
That was challenging…never boring. The big picture was one in which governments were supposedly doing all of this. But on the ground in New York, where we were, we were saying that people had to do this. With few exceptions, the people who were working at KEDO hadn’t worked in a collaborative team environment with people from other countries, so it was the first experience for all of them. One of the things we did early was I decided that we were having a little trouble crossing cultural barriers – I mean small things, for example everyone would come to work in the morning and the Americans were ebullient and they would say ‘good morning’ to the Japanese and Koreans who were coming in, who couldn’t understand why this greeting process was necessary every time we started a new work day. So the Americans were kind of drawing back saying they’re not very friendly. So I found a couple of cross culture trainers in New York and brought them in, and they began to try and work on these problems. I think everyone had tremendous good will on all sides, everyone wanted to make this happen and make it culturally collaborative and productive. But there were some of these culture difficulties, which in retrospect I think we worked our way through pretty successfully. My objective always was to develop a KEDO spirit; a feeling that the enterprise we were trying to conduct jointly was larger than the individual interests of any of the governments concerned. I think for the most part we pulled that off…we had to content frequently with intrusions from capitols, but we quickly developed an ethos in which we were united against capitols because they were the guys who were trying to screw us up.
Video 11: Stephen Bosworth: Initial Interaction with North Korea
In contrast to other Americans who had been involved in this, I had not been involved in the Agreed Framework negotiations. So my experience with the North Koreans was a kind of baptism, if you will. I met with Ho Jung who was my counterpart as the head of the North Korean negotiating team. We had our first meeting in Kuala Lumpur and we had all trekked out there, and met and discussed what we had to do. We were really making it all up because while the Agreed Framework was handed over to us as a completed diplomatic document, it didn’t say anything about how we were meant to carry it out and implement it. The first task was to agree with the North Koreans over exactly what we were going to do. There was an agreement that the light water reactors would be provided, in very general terms the technology was specified but we had to then negotiate the details of what the technology would look like and how we would deliver thee light water reactors. So, that was actually a fascinating experience as we were feeling each other out on all sides; the South Koreans and the Japanese were feeling us Americans out, not being certain about what the division of responsibilities was going to be like. And of course the North Koreans were feeling us all out. It was a very interesting beginning for what turned out to be, I think, a very unique and to some extent remarkable exercise.
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