In recent years, North Korea has been accused of nuclear brinkmanship, while rejecting rapprochement from the White House. But why does the country hate and distrust the US so much in the first place?
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: In recent weeks and months, the war of words between Washington and Pyongyang has reached its climax, spilling over into the UN General Assembly in September.
SOUNDBITE [English] Donald Trump, U.S. President: “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocketman is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
SOUNDBITE [Korean] Ri Yong Ho, North Korean Foreign Minister: “Trump tried to insult the my country’s leader by referring to him as “Rocket Man” by doing so however he committed an irreversible mistake of making our rockets' visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable. None other than Trump himself is on a suicide mission. In case innocent lives of the US are harmed because of this suicide attack, Trump will be held totally responsible.”
Narration: Over the past years, North Korea has been accused of nuclear brinkmanship, while rejecting rapprochement, if any, from the White House.
But the question is, why is North Korea so skeptical of the US, preferring to use a harsh military language than to extend the hand of friendship. There is no doubt that US-led crippling sanctions as well as its joint military drills with South Korea right under the nose of N. Korea have inflamed anti-American sentiments. But why does the country hate the US so much in the first place?
The strained relationship between the two countries traced all the way back to the Korean War in 1950 when the US intervened on behalf of South Korea. US bombers dropped over 600,000 tons of bombs in Korea, destroying as much as they could, showing no mercy to the northern inhabitants. In fact, North Koreans remember very well what most Americans have long forgotten.
SOUNDBITE [English] Hamid Javani, Press TV Correspondent: “This museum is placed in a village that was the scene of part of American troop's crimes against Koreans during the war, a place filled with bitter memories in one of the bloodiest wars in the 20th centuries.”
Narration: According to John Delury, an international relations professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, "Korea is called the forgotten war, and part of what has been forgotten is the utter ruin and devastation that we rained down on the North Korean people.” The war continued to for three years, after exacting a bloody toll. And it ended with an armistice, not with a peace treaty. Although the US intervention in the Korean War inflicted collateral damage on North Korea, this is not the only reason for the nation to hate or distrust the Americans.
In 1994, the U.S. and North Korea signed an agreed framework that froze Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Under the terms of the 1994 framework, North Korea agreed to freeze and dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for “the full normalization of political and economic relations with the United States”. This meant four things:
- By 2003, a US-led consortium would build two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea to compensate for the loss of nuclear power
- Until then, the US would supply the north with 500,000 tons per year of heavy fuel
- The US would lift sanctions, remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and normalize the political relationship
- Finally, both sides would provide “formal assurances” against the threat or use of nuclear weapons.
TIME CODE: 05:00_09:51
Narration: For a while, things went well. In 1998, US officials involved in the implementation of the agreement testified that there had been “no fundamental violation of any aspect of the framework agreement” by North Korea.
SOUNDBITE [English] Siegfried Hecker, Fmr. Director of the Los Alamos: “You have not shown me anyone that I could talk to that is the device, that would give me any indication whatsoever that you can build a nuclear device'. The response was 'you saw our people in Yongbyon, from their technical competence, can't you tell and from the facilities?' And I said 'absolutely not'.”
Narration: But Washington failed to honor its own promises. The light-water reactors were never built and heavy fuel shipments were often delayed. Rust Deming, assistant secretary of state, told Congress that “to be frank, we have in past years not always met the fuel year deadline”. Robert Gallucci, a diplomat who had negotiated the framework, warned that it could fail unless the US did “what it said it would do, which is to take responsibility for the delivery of the heavy fuel oil”.
SOUNDBITE [English] Hamid Javani, Press TV Correspondent: “This is the official letter of commitment sent by US President Bill Clinton in 1994 in which he committed and confirmed that he will use his full power to facilitate the building, financing and construction of a light water nuclear reactor inside DPRK, a promise that was never materialized.”
Narration:In addition, North Korea was not removed from the state department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism until 2008, though it had long met the criteria for removal. Needless to say, the deal never eased U.S. sanctions on the country.”
SOUNDBITE [Korean] North Korea's National TV: “We, The DPRK will never allow the transferring of equipment, facilities and technical documents out of the Kumho district unless compensations for the stopping of construction of light-water reactors are made.”
Narration: The agreement finally broke down in 2002. As Gallucci told a congressional committee, “The North Koreans have always been disappointed that more has not been done by the US.” Most importantly, nothing was done to formally end the Korean War by replacing the 1953 ceasefire with a peace treaty. The “formal assurances” that the US would not attack North Korea were not provided until six years after the framework was signed. In the meantime, the Clinton administration insisted in labeling North Korea a “rogue” state. The situation only deteriorated under US next president George Bush as he called North Korea part of Axis of Evil.
SOUNDBITE [English] Geroge W. Bush, Fmr. US President: “North Korea is a regime arming missiles and weapons of mass destruction while starving its citizens. States like these and their terrorist allies constitutes an Axis of Evil.”
Narration: The Bush administration listed North Korea as one country the US might have to use nuclear weapons against.
SOUNDBITE [English] Selig Harrison, Centre For International Policy: “The North Korea thinks that the US is pursuing regime change of policy. Objective of US policy is really to put economic squeeze on North Korea and bring down the Kim Jong-il regime, which of course, according to Bush's Administration, is part of the axis of evil.”
Narration: To date, the US has 28,500 troops stationed across 11 US military bases in South Korea, and the two countries continue with their joint annual military exercises off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, threatening North Korean national sovereignty. In an interview with The Associated Press, North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong said "Stop the nuclear war exercises in the Korean peninsula, then we should also cease our nuclear tests."
In hindsight, one thing is crystal clear: The U.S. was never truly committed to the agreed framework. The 1994 story was in fact a cautionary tale for Pyongyang to remain deeply skeptical of the US and its political intrigues, whatsoever.