World News

With Misleading Claims, Trump Dismisses 1994 North Korea Nuclear Deal

Posted June 12, 2018 5:08 p.m. EDT

What Was Said

“In one case, they took billions of dollars — during the Clinton regime — took billions of dollars and nothing happened.”

— President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters in Singapore on Tuesday.

The Facts

This is misleading.

The highly-anticipated meeting in Singapore ended with a joint statement in which Kim committed to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Later, at a news conference, Trump recounted how Kim had contrasted the ongoing negotiations with a 1994 nuclear deal that was struck with North Korea during the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Under the 1994 deal, North Korea was to be provided with $4 billion in energy aid for heavy oil shipments and two light-water nuclear reactors. In exchange, North Korea agreed to freeze and dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

By the time the deal broke down years later, during the presidency of George W. Bush, the aid the United States had provided amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars — not “billions of dollars.”

From 1994 to 2003, the United States contributed over $400 million in financial support to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO, the international consortium tasked with overseeing the project. Most of that money went toward fuel shipments.

The amount provided during the Clinton administration was about $250 million, said Jeffrey Lewis, an analyst at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

In November 2002, the Bush administration announced it would stop financing fuel shipments after U.S. intelligence concluded that North Korea had been conducting a weapons program using highly enriched uranium.

In 2003, KEDO halted construction on the nuclear reactors after spending about $1.6 billion, largely funded by South Korea and Japan. The project was officially terminated in 2005; at the time, only about one-third of it had been completed.

More than two dozen countries, including the United States, contributed about $2 billion toward the construction of the reactors and fuel shipments.

However, according to former government analyst Robert L. Carlin, “almost every penny of those billions went to South Korean and Japanese firms building the reactors.”

“This ‘billions of dollars’ to North Korea is pernicious myth,” said Carlin, a retired CIA and State Department analyst of North Korea and former adviser to KEDO. “There is absolutely no truth to the charge that the North took large sums of money from the U.S. and then proceeded to break agreements once the check had cleared.”

Analysts said it’s also not the case that “nothing happened” as a result of the so-called 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea. While Pyongyang ultimately did not give up its pursuit of weapons, the agreement did produce some results.

Kelsey Davenport, the director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, said the 1994 agreement froze North Korea’s plutonium production and installed inspectors in nuclear facilities for nearly a decade. It also “averted North Korea’s threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” she said.

“Without the agreed framework, North Korea would have a far larger stockpile of nuclear material for weapons,” Davenport said, calling Trump’s comments on Tuesday “a blatant mischaracterization of the agreement’s accomplishments.”

Had the 1994 deal not occurred, according to diplomats who served under Clinton and Bush, North Korea would have amassed a stockpile of 100 nuclear weapons. Its current arsenal is estimated at 20 to 60 weapons.

Source: Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, Congressional Research Service, The New York Times, Kelsey Davenport, Jeffrey Lewis, PBS