Declassified Documents from Reagan to Clinton on North Korea Put Online

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Today, in anticipation of the planned resumption of the Six-Power talks between the two Koreas the National Security Archive is posting on its website a collection of recently declassified documents that shed new light on the ups and downs of U.S. efforts to deal with the security threat posed by North Korea's nuclear program.

Compiled by Dr. Robert A. Wampler, director of the Archive's Korea Project, these documents, dating from the first Bush and Clinton administrations, underscore the cycles of optimism and pessimism that have marked U.S.-North Korean relations since the end of the first Bush administration. They trace the trajectory of relations between 1992 and 2000,

* The cautious optimism expressed in the State Department in mid-July 1992 over the future prospects for productive talks with North Korea to

* The efforts to understand Pyongyang's reversion to a hard-line stance with the IAEA over its nuclear program by early 1993, and

* The subsequent decline of relations to crisis proportions until the 1994 Framework Agreement established a new basis for constraining North Korea's nuclear weapons aspirations.

* The efforts to determine the extent of North Korea's dire economic situation, the surprising lack of impact these problems had on the loyalty of the North Korean people to the regime, and the way in which concerns for stability on the peninsula could lead the U.S. and its allies to help Pyongyang avoid total economic collapse, rather than seek regime change.

* The period of renewed optimism, marked by both the Framework Agreement, the start of peace talks in 1996, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's historic trip to Pyongyang in October 2000 to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

The optimism that North Korea could be dealt with diplomatically perhaps found its most remarkable expression in the assessment of Kim Jong Il provided to Albright by Stapleton Roy in mid-2000 on the occasion of the summit meeting between the two Korean leaders. Roy painted a picture of North Korea and its leaders, including the late Kim Il Song, that accented not the ideologically rigid or paranoid, but the ability to respond flexibly and rationally to changes on the Korean peninsula, an ability Roy said was at the root of the remarkable longevity of the North Korean regime, “independent and prickly” though it might be.

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