The Agreed Framework of 1994

Joshua Kim
March 25, 2021

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2021


Fig. 1: Photo of the cooling tower at Yongbyon nuclear complex near Pyongyang, North Korea. [6] (Source: Xinhua)

The Agreed Framework between the United States and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea was a bilateral treaty to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Korean peninsula. At a time when tensions between the two countries were rising, the agreement provided a diplomatic solution to the issue of nuclear weapons in North Korea. [1] In exchange for their promise to dismantle their weapons program, the United States offered Pyongyang two 1,000-MWe light water reactors (at a cost of $4.5 billion), not suitable for making bombs that would reduce some of North Koreas energy concerns.

Though the technical aspects of the deal were clear, bad behavior and delays ultimately led to its failure. Nevertheless, the Agreed Framework temporarily froze North Koreas 5 MWe reactor at Yongbyon and halted construction of two others a 50 MWe reactor at Yongbyon and a 200 MWe reactor at Taechon that could have produced tens of nuclear weapons by today.


Shortly after the Korean War, the United States continuously deployed nuclear weapons to the Republic of Korea. [2] By the late 1960s, the arsenal contained as many as eight different types and approximately 950 nuclear warheads. In response to this deployment, the DPRK signed an agreement with the Soviet Union to install a Soviet IRT-2000 nuclear research reactor to produce radioisotopes and to send scientists to the USSR for training. [3] However, in the early 1980s, US intelligence officials detected via satellites the construction of a second reactor at Yongbyon and soon pressured the DPRK to sign the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In the mid-1980s, the DPRK signed both the NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards Agreement, which allowed the IAEA to conduct inspections of North Koreas nuclear facilities. After being threatened by the IAEAs demands, the DPRK withdrew from the NPT. [4] Then, in May 1994, North Korea threatened to convert 8,000 irradiated fuel rods from its Yongbyon nuclear reactor into enough plutonium to create four nuclear weapons. The IAEA urged the United Nations to impose sanctions on North Korea, and US President Jimmy Carter visited North Korea to speak with North Korean President Kim Il-Sung. [5] During their meeting, President Kim offered to close their Yongbyon reactor in exchange for light-water reactors and the suspension of economic sanctions on the DPRK.

The Agreement

The DPRK would:

  1. Shut down the Yongbyon reactor and place the 8,000 fuel rods at the facility in special containers for long-term storage.

  2. Stop the construction of two reactors (50-MWe and 200-MWe reactors) which could have generated up to 50 kilograms of plutonium per year.

  3. Allow IAEA inspectors to monitor the facility.

The US would:
  1. Build two 1,000-MWe light-water reactors in North Korea by 2003.

  2. Supply 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil annually to the DPRK.

  3. Not use nuclear weapons against the DPRK.

Reasons for Failure

The Agreed Framework ultimately fell through because of delays in implementing the agreed upon provisions and acts of punishment against possible defections from the agreement. The causes of these delays were changes in US domestic policy and insufficient funding as well as the threats by North Korea of withdrawing from the agreement. The DPRK routinely blocked the IAEA safeguarding inspections and admitted in late 2002 that they had created a program to generate uranium-based nuclear weapons. Consequently, the US suspended its shipment of heavy-oil and froze the construction of the two light-water reactors. The agreement was finally ended when the DPRK withdrew from the NPT and reactivated its Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

© Joshua Kim. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] J. D. Pollack, "The United States, North Korea, And The End of The Agreed Framework.," Naval War College Review, 56, No. 3, 11 (Summer 2003).

[2] H. M. Kristensen and R. S. Norris, "A History of US Nuclear Weapons in South Korea," Bull. Atom. Sci. 73, 349 (2017).

[3] E. Ha and C. Hwang, "The U.S.-North Korea Geneva Agreed Framework: Strategic Choices and Credible Commitments," N. Korean Rev. 11, No. 1, 7 (Spring 2015).

[4] S. A. Squassoni, "North Korea's Nuclear Weapons: How Soon an Arsenal?," Congressional Research Service, RS21391, May 2005.

[5] E. N. Sarantakes, Dropping the Torch: Jimmy Carter, The Olympic Boycott, and the Cold War (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

[6] P. Park, "Experts: North Korea Can Make Nuclear Weapons Without Yongbyon," Voice of America, 5 Mar 19.