U.S.-ROK Allied Coordination in Negotiating 1994 AGREED FRAMEWORK
The 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework was signed between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on October 21, 1994.
The objective of the agreement was to freeze and eventually dismantle North Korea’s nascent nuclear weapons program. Although not a signatory to the bilateral agreement, the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) participation was integral to the Agreement’s negotiation and implementation. In this oral history, Professor Han Sung-Joo, the ROK foreign minister from 1993-1994, discusses the consultations between the U.S. and ROK during the entire process of negotiating the Geneva Agreed Framework; the crisis in 1994 that led the United States to consider military actions; and his personal reflections on this critical period in Korean history and in U.S.-Korea relations.
South Korean President Kim Young-sam was at times skeptical of the Agreed Framework negotiations and the sidelining of ROK interests. Can you tell us how you managed to balance between South Korean interests and U.S. interests during this period?
At the height of the nuclear crisis in June 1994, South Koreans were particularly worried that the U.S. would carry out a military “preemptive strike” to destroy North Korean nuclear facilities. While Seoul and Washington had worked together on a diplomatic strategy for UN Security Council sanctions, what was the degree of consultation on the military option between the two allies?
One of the major reasons that President Kim Young-sam reportedly changed his mind about the Agreed Framework was because Kim Il-sung proposed (to Jimmy Carter) that the two Koreas hold a summit in 1994. North Koreans had previously opposed such an idea. Why do you think Kim Il-sung proposed this inter-Korean summit? The summit was also unfortunately cancelled suddenly after the death of Kim Il-sung in July 1994. How did this series of events impact the state of US-DPRK negotiations and inter-Korean relations?
Two major sticking points during the AF negotiations were: 1) the provision of South Korean light water reactors (LWRs) to North Korea instead of German, U.S., or Russian reactors; and 2) necessity of including inter-Korean dialogue as part of the Agreed Framework. The North Koreans objected to both of these conditions. Can you tell us how you and your American counterparts got North Korea to agree to these conditions?
The ROK was in a delicate position during the Agreed Framework negotiations given its equity in the negotiations and the supporting role it played. What was the mechanism for allied coordination? Do you feel that it worked? How would you compare the experience with the Six-Party format, when you were ambassador in Washington?
In any negotiation, there are the darkest moments and the point at which you see the light at the end of the tunnel. At what point in the Agreed Framework negotiations were you most discouraged about coming to a negotiated settlement with North Korea? At what point were you most optimistic about a negotiated solution? Why?<
Negotiations can sometimes hinge on personal relationships and personal dynamics between the parties. Can you relate any personal anecdotes or describe any moments when you saw beyond the typical rhetorical façade and negotiation tactics of the North Koreans? Did this affect how you conducted the AF negotiations?
You were aware that the Agreed Framework, when finally concluded, would be difficult to “sell” to the South Korean public. Especially, in light of the fact that IAEA special inspections would be postponed for five years (until after the construction of LWRs was nearly complete). When Bob Gallucci called you to tell you that the U.S. had reached a final deal with the North Koreans how did you react? What was your plan for breaking the news to the South Korean public?
Both Professor Han and Ambassador Gallucci reveal that the negotiations were punctuated by periods of hope and discouragement, as the U.S. and South Korea struggled to keep the serious crisis with North Korea from escalating. Close to the brink of war in early June 1994, a visit by former President Jimmy Carter to Pyongyang marked a significant turning point in the nuclear crisis. The intervention eventually led Washington and Pyongyang back to the negotiating table where they hammered out a deal to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for the provision of much needed energy assistance to the North. President Carter’s historic interview with CNN in the aftermath of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Il-sung sheds more light on this historic period of time.
This oral history shows that the 1994 Agreed Framework would not have been possible without close cooperation between ROK and U.S. officials. The collaboration and coordination between U.S. and ROK officials helped to diffuse the crisis and dissipate feelings of distrust that might have formed the basis for greater friction in the U.S.-ROK alliance.