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World > Asia > Korea, North > Foreign Relations (Notes)

Korea, North - Foreign Relations (Notes)


FOREIGN RELATIONS
North Korea's relationship with the South has determined much of its post-World War II history and still undergirds much of its foreign policy. North and South Korea have had a difficult and acrimonious relationship from the Korean War. In recent years, North Korea has pursued a mixed policy--seeking to develop economic relations with South Korea and to win the support of the South Korean public for greater North-South engagement while at the same time continuing to denounce the R.O.K.'s security relationship with the United States and maintaining a threatening conventional force posture on the DMZ and in adjacent waters.

The military demarcation line (MDL) of separation between the belligerent sides at the close of the Korean War divides North Korea from South Korea. A demilitarized zone (DMZ) extends for 2,000 meters (just over 1 mile) on either side of the MDL. Both the North and South Korean governments hold that the MDL is only a temporary administrative line, not a permanent border.

During the postwar period, both Korean governments have repeatedly affirmed their desire to reunify the Korean Peninsula, but until 1971 the two governments had no direct, official communications or other contact.

Reunification Efforts Since 1971
In August 1971, North and South Korea held talks through their respective Red Cross societies with the aim of reuniting the many Korean families separated following the division of Korea and the Korean War. In July 1972, the two sides agreed to work toward peaceful reunification and an end to the hostile atmosphere prevailing on the peninsula. Officials exchanged visits, and regular communications were established through a North-South coordinating committee and the Red Cross. These initial contacts broke down in 1973 following South Korean President Park Chung-hee's announcement that the South would seek separate entry into the United Nations, and after the kidnapping of South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae-jung--perceived as friendly to unified entry into the UN--by South Korean intelligence services. There was no other significant contact between North and South Korea until 1984.

Dialogue was renewed in September 1984, when South Korea accepted the North's offer to provide relief goods to victims of severe flooding in South Korea. Red Cross talks to address the plight of separated families resumed, as did talks on economic and trade issues and parliamentary-level discussions. However, the North then unilaterally suspended all talks in January 1986, arguing that the annual U.S.-ROK 'Team Spirit' military exercise was inconsistent with dialogue. There was a brief flurry of negotiations that year on co-hosting the upcoming 1988 Seoul Olympics, which ended in failure and was followed by the 1987 bombing of a South Korean commercial aircraft (KAL 858) by North Korean agents.

In July 1988, South Korean President Roh Tae-woo called for new efforts to promote North-South exchanges, family reunification, inter-Korean trade, and contact in international forums. Roh followed up this initiative in a UN General Assembly speech in which South Korea offered for the first time to discuss security matters with the North. Initial meetings that grew out of Roh's proposals started in September 1989. In September 1990, the first of eight prime minister-level meetings between North Korean and South Korean officials took place in Seoul. The prime ministerial talks resulted in two major agreements: the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation (the 'Basic Agreement') and the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (the 'Joint Declaration').

The Basic Agreement, signed on December 13, 1991, called for reconciliation and nonaggression and established four joint commissions. These commissions--on South-North reconciliation, South-North military affairs, South-North economic exchanges and cooperation, and South-North social and cultural exchange--were to work out the specifics for implementing the basic agreement. Subcommittees to examine specific issues were created, and liaison offices were established in Panmunjom, but in the fall of 1992 the process came to a halt because of rising tension over North Korea's nuclear program.

The Joint Declaration on denuclearization was initialed on December 31, 1991. It forbade both sides from testing, manufacturing, producing, receiving, possessing, storing, deploying, or using nuclear weapons and forbade the possession of nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities. A procedure for inter-Korean inspection was to be organized and a North-South Joint Nuclear Control Commission (JNCC) was mandated to verify the denuclearization of the peninsula.

On January 30, 1992, the D.P.R.K. finally signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as it had pledged to do in 1985 when it acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This safeguards agreement allowed IAEA inspections to begin in June 1992. In March 1992, the JNCC was established in accordance with the Joint Declaration, but subsequent meetings failed to reach agreement on the main issue of establishing a bilateral inspection regime.

As the 1990s progressed, concern over the North's nuclear program became a major issue in North-South relations and between North Korea and the United States. The lack of progress on implementation of the Joint Declaration's provision for an inter-Korean nuclear inspection regime led to reinstatement of the U.S.-R.O.K. Team Spirit military exercise for 1993. The situation worsened rapidly when North Korea, in January 1993, refused IAEA access to two suspected nuclear waste sites and then announced in March 1993 its intent to withdraw from the NPT. During the next two years, the United States held direct talks with the D.P.R.K. that resulted in a series of agreements on nuclear matters, including the 1994 Agreed Framework (which broke down in 2002 when North Korea was discovered to be pursuing a uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons--see below, Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula).

At his inauguration in February 1998, R.O.K. President Kim Dae-jung enunciated a new policy of engagement with the D.P.R.K., dubbed 'the Sunshine Policy.' The policy had three fundamental principles: no tolerance of provocations from the North, no intention to absorb the North, and the separation of political cooperation from economic cooperation. Private sector overtures would be based on commercial and humanitarian considerations. The use of government resources would entail reciprocity. This policy set the stage for the first (and only) inter-Korean summit, held in Pyongyang June 13-15, 2000.

R.O.K. President Roh Moo-hyun, following his inauguration in February 2003, has continued his predecessor's policy of engagement with the North, though he abandoned the name 'Sunshine Policy.' The United States supports President Roh's engagement policy and North-South dialogue and cooperation. Major economic reunification projects have included a tourism development in Mt. Geumgang, the re-establishment of road and rail links across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and a joint North-South industrial park near the North Korean city of Kaesong (see further information below in the section on the Economy).

Relations Outside the Peninsula
Throughout the Cold War, North Korea balanced its relations with China and the Soviet Union to extract the maximum benefit from the relationships at minimum political cost. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, the Soviet-backed Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan created strains between China and the Soviet Union and, in turn, in North Korea's relations with its two major communist allies. North Korea tried to avoid becoming embroiled in the Sino-Soviet split, obtaining aid from both the Soviet Union and China and trying to avoid dependence on either. Following Kim Il-sung's 1984 visit to Moscow, there was an improvement in Soviet-D.P.R.K. relations, resulting in renewed deliveries of Soviet weaponry to North Korea and increases in economic aid.

The establishment of diplomatic relations by South Korea with the Soviet Union in 1990 and with China in 1992 seriously strained relations between North Korea and its traditional allies. Moreover, the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in a significant drop in communist aid to North Korea. Despite these changes and its past reliance on this military and economic assistance, North Korea continued to proclaim a militantly independent stance in its foreign policy in accordance with its official ideology of 'juche,' or self-reliance.

Both North and South Korea became parties to the Biological Weapons Convention in 1987. (North Korea is not a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention, nor is it a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime, or MTCR.)

North Korea has maintained membership in some multilateral organizations. It became a member of the UN in September 1991. North Korea also belongs to the Food and Agriculture Organization; the International Civil Aviation Organization; the International Postal Union; the UN Conference on Trade and Development; the International Telecommunications Union; the UN Development Program; the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; the World Health Organization; the World Intellectual Property Organization; the World Meteorological Organization; the International Maritime Organization; the International Committee of the Red Cross; and the Nonaligned Movement.

In the mid-1990s, when the economic situation worsened dramatically and following the death of D.P.R.K. founder Kim Il-sung, the North abandoned some of the more extreme manifestations of its 'self reliance' ideology to accept foreign humanitarian relief and create the possibility, as noted below, for foreign investment in the North. In subsequent years, the D.P.R.K. has continued to pursue a tightly restricted policy of opening to the world in search of economic aid and development assistance. However, this has been matched by an increased determination to counter perceived external and internal threats by a self-proclaimed 'military first' ('Songun') policy.

During the present period of limited, extremely cautious opening, North Korea has sought to broaden its formal diplomatic relationships. In July 2000, North Korea began participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), with Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun attending the ARF ministerial meeting in Bangkok. The D.P.R.K. also expanded its bilateral diplomatic ties in that year, establishing diplomatic relations with Italy, Australia, the Philippines, Australia, Canada, the U.K., Germany, and many other European countries.

In the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement issued at the end of the fourth round of Six-Party Talks, the United States and the D.P.R.K. committed to undertake steps to normalize relations (see below, Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula). The D.P.R.K. and Japan also agreed to take steps to normalize relations and to discuss outstanding issues of concern, such as abductions. The U.S.-D.P.R.K. and Japan-D.P.R.K. bilateral working groups on normalization of relations met in March 2007.

Terrorism
The D.P.R.K. is not known to have sponsored terrorist acts since the 1987 bombing of KAL flight 858. Pyongyang continues to provide sanctuary to members of the Japanese Communist League-Red Army Faction (JRA) who participated in the hijacking of a Japan Airlines flight to North Korea in 1970.

The D.P.R.K. has made several statements condemning terrorism. In October 2000, the United States and the D.P.R.K. issued a joint statement on terrorism in which 'the two sides agreed that international terrorism poses an unacceptable threat to global security and peace, and that terrorism should be opposed in all its forms.' The United States and the D.P.R.K. agreed to support the international legal regime combating international terrorism and to cooperate with each other to fight terrorism. The D.P.R.K. became a signatory to the Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism and a party to the Convention Against the Taking of Hostages in November 2001. In the February 13, 2007 Initial Actions agreement, the United States agreed to begin the process of removing the designation of the D.P.R.K. as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Abductions
In the past, the D.P.R.K. has also been involved in the abduction of foreign citizens. In 2002, Kim Jong-il acknowledged to Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi the involvement of D.P.R.K. 'special institutions' in the kidnapping of Japanese citizens between 1977 and 1983 and said that those responsible had been punished. While five surviving victims and their families were allowed to leave the D.P.R.K. and resettle in Japan in October 2002, 12 other cases remain unresolved and continue to be a major issue in D.P.R.K.-Japanese relations. In October 2005, the D.P.R.K. acknowledged for the first time having kidnapped R.O.K. citizens in previous decades, claiming that several abductees, as well as several POWs from the Korean War, were still alive. In June 2006, North Korea allowed Kim Young-nam, a South Korean abducted by the North in 1978, to participate in a family reunion.


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Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



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