"Press Conference of the President on North Korea" eText - Primary Source

Primary Source

President Bill Clinton greets Jo Myong Rok, the first vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. President Bill Clinton greets Jo Myong Rok, the first vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.
Spent nuclear fuel rods rest in a cooling pond at North Korea's nuclear facilities in Yongbyon in 1996. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Spent nuclear fuel rods rest in a cooling pond at North Korea's nuclear facilities in Yongbyon in 1996. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

Press conference

By: Bill Clinton

Date: June 22, 1994

Source: Clinton, Bill. "Press Conference of the President on North Korea, June 22, 1994." Reprinted in the Federation of American Scientists Space Policy Project. Available online at http://www.fas.org/spp/starwars/offdocs/w940622.htm; website home page http://www.fas.org (accessed April 4, 2003).

About the Author: Bill Clinton (1946–) was born in Hope, Arkansas. After earning an international relations degree from Georgetown University, Clinton received a Yale law degree. In 1978, at the age of thirty-two, Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas. After losing his reelection bid, he was elected again and maintained the position until becoming president (served 1993–2001) of the United States. He was the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt (served 1933–1945) to be reelected to a second presidential term.


In June 1950, northern Korea, along with its communist ally the People's Republic of China, launched a full-scale invasion of the southern part of Korea. In order to contain what was perceived as the communist menace, President Harry S. Truman (served 1945–1953), under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), sent Americans into battle. Although the Korean War (1950–1953) was fought under the blue banner of the UN, more than ninety percent of its forces were American. The war ended with both sides signing an armistice, creating a truce, but not a permanent resolution ending hostilities. The Korean nation was divided at the thirty-eighth parallel, creating North Korea, also known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), and South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea. During the war, the United States suffered 33,652 deaths, 103,284 wounded, with 8,177 unaccounted for. In 1954, the United States and South Korea entered into a Mutual Defense Treaty. Early in the twenty-first century, with a renewed threat perceived from North Korea, the United States deployed 37,000 troops along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to support South Korea's army of 650,000. Across the DMZ, North Korea amassed its 1.2 million of its soldiers, resulting in a tense standoff between both sides.

An important emphasis of U.S. foreign policy has been preventing rogue nations–those that operate outside accepted international laws and practices—such as North Korea, from acquiring nuclear weapons. In 1970, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, France, and China agreed not to provide other nations with nuclear weapons or nuclear technology. The non-nuclear states agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect their nuclear facilities to ensure that peaceful nuclear technology was not diverted for military purposes. Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, only India, Pakistan, Israel, and Cuba have refused to sign the NPT.

In 1985, North Korea joined the NPT, but refused to allow the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities. Two years later, two North Korean agents blew up Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in mid-air and the United States subsequently placed North Korea on its list of countries supporting international terrorism. This event was just the first in a number of high profile occurrences that raised U.S. and international concern over the country frequently referred to as "the Hermit Kingdom." In 1992, with its economy collapsing, its factories operating at less than thirty percent of capacity, a famine ravaging the countryside, and a regime nearly completely isolated from world affairs, North Korea turned to nuclear brinkmanship. It threatened to withdraw from the NPT, continue its nuclear activities, and turn Seoul, the capital of South Korea, into a "sea of fire." To avoid these consequences without resorting to the use of force, the United States promised to provide the economic assistance needed to keep the isolated country from total collapse.


In October 1994, the Clinton administration settled the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula when it entered into the Agreed Framework with North Korea. The United States agreed to export 500,000 tons of oil annually to compensate for the electricity-generating capacity lost by North Korea in freezing its nuclear reactors, as well as to facilitate the construction and financing of two light-water reactors costing $5 billion, to move toward full normalization of political and economic relations, and to provide formal assurances that the United States would not threaten or use nuclear weapons against North Korea. In return, North Korea agreed to freeze operation of its plutonium-reprocessing plant and construction of a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. These facilities were to be dismantled prior to the completion of the second light-water reactor. Additionally, IAEA inspections would be resumed, and North Korea would remain in the NTP.

In October 2002, North Korea announced that it had violated the 1994 agreement by operating a secret, uranium-enriched nuclear weapons program. In response, President George W. Bush (served 2001–) stated that North Korea must suspend its nuclear program before the United States would resume direct negotiations with it. North Korea, however, did not comply. In 2003, it withdrew from the NPT, expelled IAEA inspectors, restarted a plutonium reactor, and threatened to export missile technology to other terrorist nations if the Bush administration did not enter into a new agreement. As of July 2003, the situation remained at an impasse, with the United States unwilling to compromise and North Korea unwilling to back down. The Agreed Framework developed by the Clinton administration lay in shambles.

Primary Source: "Press Conference of the President on North Korea"

SYNOPSIS: In 1994, President Bill Clinton held a press conference thanking former President Jimmy Carter (served 1977–1981) for brokering an initial agreement with North Korean dictator Kim II Song. Kim promised to freeze its nuclear program while the two nations negotiated a new long-term agreement. In rejecting his critics' claims that North Korea would secretly pursue its nuclear ambitions, Clinton stated he was convinced that confirmation could be made.

The President: Good afternoon. Today I want to announce an important step forward in the situation in North Korea. This afternoon we have received formal confirmation from Noth Korea that it will freeze the major elements of its nuclear program while a new round of talks between our nations proceeds.

In response, we are informing the North Koreans that we are ready to go forward with a new round of talks in Geneva early next month. North Korea has assured us that while we go forward with these talks it will not reload its five-megawatt reactor with new fuel, or reprocess spent fuel. We have also been assured that the Iaea will be allowed to keep its inspectors and monitoring equipment in place at the Yongbyon nuclear facilty, thus allowing verification of North Korea's agreement.

We welcome this very positive development which restores the basis for talks between North Korea and the United States.

In addition to addressing the nuclear issue, we are prepared to discuss the full range of security, political and economic issues, that affects North Korea's relationship with the international community. During these discussions we will suspend our efforts to pursue a sanctions resolution in the United Nations Security Council. We also welcome the agreement between South Korea and North Korea to pursue a meeting between their Presidents.

I would like to thank President Carter for the important role he played in helping to achieve this step. These developments mark not a solution to the problem, but they do mark a new opportunity to find a solution. It is the beginning of a new stage in our efforts to pursue a nonnuclear Korean Peninsula. We hope this will lead to the resolution of all the issues that divide Korea from the international community.

In close consultation with our allies, we will continue as we have over the past year and more to pursue our interests and our goals with steadiness, realism and resolve. This approach is paying off, and we will continue it. This is good news. Our task now is to transform this news into a lasting agreement.

Mr. President, are you going to try to insist on finding out whether or not they have already built a bomb and getting the facts on any past violations as part of these talks?

Well, let me say that, first of all, we have been in touch with the North Koreans in New York almost at this moment. We will set up these talks and we will have ample opportunity to discuss the range of issues that will be discussed in the talks. And we expect to discuss, obviously, all the issues that have divided us.

Mr. President, what concessions did we make to bring this about? And why is it that you did not meet with President Carter face to face? Here's a man who actually met Kim Il Sung, one of the few—our profiles may not jive and so forth. You would have had a great chance to debrief him, and instead, you talked to him on the telephone.

We talked to him for a long time on the telephone. The only reason we didn't is because I didn't want to ask him to come all the way up to Camp David, and we had planned to go up there for the weekend. And he decided and I decided that—we know each other very well, we've known each other for 20 years—we decided we didn't need to do it; we could just have a long talk on the phone, and that's what we did.

Did we make any concessions—


—to the North Koreans to bring this about?

No. The only thing that we said was that we would suspend our efforts to pursue sanctions if there was a verifiable freeze on the nuclear program while the talks continued, which included no refueling of the reactor and no reprocessing.

When President Carter came back he said—this was the cautionary note I raised in Chicago last Friday when I was asked to comment on this statement—he said that he believed that Kim Il Sung had made that statement to him. We said that we would wait for official confirmation. We received it today. That confirmation gives us the basis for resuming the talks.

President Clinton, some of your aides are saying, we got everything we want here. Is this one of those cases where the other guy blinked?

I don't think it's useful for me to characterize it in that way. We know what the facts are. If you look at what we've done over the last year and a half,

we have followed basically a two-pronged policy. We have worked as hard as we could to be firm, to be resolute, to bring our allies closer and closer together. And when I say our allies on this issue, I consider not just South Korea and Japan, but Russia and China to be our allies. All of us have the same interests and the same desires.

We also always kept the door open. We always said—I always said I did not seek a confrontation, I sought to give North Korea a way to become a part of the international community.

When President Carter was invited and expressed a willingness to go to North Korea, I thought it gave us one opportunity that we would not otherwise have with a private citizen, but a distinguished American private citizen, to communicate the position of our administration and to do it—the very fact that he went, I think, was a gesture of the importance that we placed on resolving this matter, and not just for ourselves but for the world.

And so I think that we know what the facts are. We know we pursued a firm course. We know that President Carter went and made a very persuasive case, and we know what the North Koreans did. I don't think it's useful to characterize this in terms of winners and losers. I think the world will be the winner if we can resolve this. But we've not done it yet.


Mr. President, it would appear that President Carter may have either seen something that perhaps you and others may not have seen as clearly as he did, or that perhaps this was a more closely coordinated effort between you and Mr. Carter than it may have appeared at the time. Is either of those things correct?

Well, I don't know that I would characterize it in that way. He called me; we talked about it. I wanted to make sure he had adequate briefings. I have always—I have, as you probably know, I have—and I've said this I believe publicly—I have sought other means of personally communicating to Kim Il Sung that the desires of the United States and the interests of the United States and the policy of the United States was to pursue a nonnuclear Korean Peninsula and to give North Korea a way of moving with dignity into the international community and away from an isolated path, which we found quite disturbing for all the reasons that I've already said.

It seemed to me that when President Carter expressed a willingness to go and they had given him an invitation of some longstanding to come, that that gave us the opportunity to give North Korea a direct message to their leader from a distinguished American citizen, without in any way undermining the necessary and correct government-to-government contacts that we had going on at other levels.

President Carter, I think, was very faithful in articulating the policy of our government. And I think that that provided a forum in which the North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, could respond as he did. And I'm very pleased about it.

When we were called last Thursday and this whole issue was discussed, and we said what we said about we hope that their message meant that they were willing to freeze their nuclear program, then they said they were. Then we got formal confirmation today of the definition of freeze. Their definition was the same as ours. We had the basis to go forward. I'm very happy about it.

Yes, Wolf.

Could I—there will be critics, as you well know, who will argue that once again the North Koreans have succeeded in stalling and, clandestinely, this will give them an opportunity while their negotiators talk to U.S. negotiators in Geneva to pursue their nuclear ambitions, which they're not about to give up. How do you verify that they are sincere in this effort?

Well, that was a big part of the statement, of course, of the letter that we got—not just that there would be an agreement to freeze the program, but that the agreement be verifiable. The Iaea inspectors and the monitoring equipment on the ground can be and will be used to verify the commitment not to reprocess and not to refuel.

If we didn't have some way of verifying it, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation at this moment.

Yes—one last question.

Mr. President, could you tell us, beyond just the focus of the talks, could you tell us what your longer-range view is? Do you see the Koreas being reunified? What do you see happening, coming out of all this?

Well, I think, first of all, that is a decision for the peoples and their leaders in South and North Korea to resolve. What the United States wants is for the agreement that the Koreas made in 1991 to make the Peninsula nonnuclear to be carried through.

The United States wants the Npt to be a success with regard to North Korea. The United States wants North Korea, in whatever relationship it pursues with South Korea—that is up to them—to move toward becoming an integral and responsible member of the international community. That will auger well for the peace and prosperity of the peoples of north Asia as well as for the security interest of the United States. That is what we have pursued with great diligence, and I'm very hopeful that these talks will bring us closer to that.

As I said, this does not solve the problem, but it certainly gives us the basis for seeking a solution. And I'm quite pleased.

Thank you very much.

Have you called Jimmy Carter?

Oh, I have. I called him, talked to him about the letter. We had a very good talk; told him again I was glad he went and I thought it was a trip worth taking, a risk worth taking, and I was very pleased.

You didn't mind his criticism of your sanctions policy? He was pretty blunt, wasn't he?

No. No, as long as the agreement—like I said, we've been friends a long time. The agreement was that he would faithfully communicate our position. I am absolutely convinced he did it, and I'm absolutely convinced now that they have met the agreement. And I feel good about it.

Further Resources


Gilbert, Bill. Ship of Miracles: 14,000 Lives and One Miraculous Voyage. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2000.

Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Owen, Joseph R. Colder Than Hell: A Marine Rifle Company at Chosin Reservoir. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1996.


Laney, James T. and Jason T. Shaplen. "How to Deal With North Korea." Foreign Affairs, 82, March-April 2003, 16.

Roskey, William. "The Second Korean Conflict." Military History, October 16, 1999, 38.


"Korean News." News From Korean Central News Agency of DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). Available online at http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm; website home page http://www.kcna.co.jp (accessed April 4, 2003).

"North Korea: A Country Study." Library of Congress. Available online at http://memory.loc.gov/frd/cs/kptoc.html; website home page http://memory.loc.gov (accessed April 4, 2003).