As U.S. and North Korean envoys began talks in Geneva on Monday to resume the six-party talks in Beijing, many Koreans recalled the bilateral accord signed by the two countries 17 years ago in the same Swiss city to halt North Korea’s then-nascent nuclear program.
The 1994 “Agreed Framework,” which had a title chosen to evade the Senate ratification procedure in the U.S. and was thus legally non-binding, was a product of extraordinary circumstances on the Korean Peninsula ― the death of DPRK founder Kim Il-sung and rising U.S. fear of nuclear proliferation that brought the U.S. military to the brink of bombing the Yongbyon nuclear complex in the North.
The rather hurriedly signed document cost South Korea and the United States billions of dollars in building two light-water reactors on the northeastern coast of North Korea and supplying fuel oil to the North while Pyongyang was stealthily preparing a second line of nuclear armament with uranium enrichment beside the plutonium-based one that it promised to give up. By 2002, the Agreed Framework was abandoned by both sides and the six-party talks began in the summer of the following year.
The multilateral denuclearization process itself became a longest-running, most unproductive disarmament forum in history. It has remained stalled for nearly three years from the beginning of 2009. Until then it had produced two fruitless agreements in 2005 and 2007 and North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
The U.S. side is represented by Stephen Bosworth, who had headed the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which was responsible for the management of the LWR and fuel supply projects under the 1994 Agreed Framework. Bosworth is accompanied by Glyn Davies, who will replace him as the U.S. special envoy on North Korea.
Whoever has watched the entire course of denuclearization business must by now have developed great patience and quite a bit of understanding on the futility of diplomacy. No one can tell how much more will be needed for the preliminary steps for the resumption of the six-party talks and how many more years it will take to reach any new agreement in Beijing. But it will help if those at the Geneva conference table and others monitoring the talks humbly review why the Agreed Framework failed or was destined to fail from the time of its inception.