In 1994, President Carter negotiated terms for the first dialogue in 40 years between the United States and North Korea. The Carter Center has been involved in two other peacemaking efforts on the peninsula since then, as well as a joint international food production program.
In 1994, the United States and South Korea were on the brink of war with North Korea, convinced that the North was moving to develop nuclear weapons.
In June 1994, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter became the first people to cross the demilitarized zone from South Korea to North Korea and back again since the two countries were divided following the Korean War. President and Mrs. Carter had been invited by then-President Kim Il Sung to visit North Korea and went as representatives of The Carter Center with the hope of defusing a serious issue related to North Korea's nuclear program.
The international climate at the time of the Carters' visit was growing increasingly heated, as fears mounted in the United States and other countries that North Korea was developing a nuclear arsenal. After the North Koreans had withdrawn their membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and threatened to expel the IAEA's inspectors, the United States began pushing for U.N. sanctions.
Following two days of talks with President Carter, President Kim agreed to freeze North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for the resumption of a dialogue with the United States. That breakthrough led to the first dialogue between the United States and North Korea in 40 years. Subsequent talks between the two countries resulted in two agreements, reached in October 1994 and June 1995, in which North Korea agreed neither to restart its nuclear reactor nor to reprocess the plant's spent fuel. Construction was halted on two additional plants, and all three were to be replaced with safer light-water reactors, which cannot produce weapons-grade materials.
In 2002, relations between the United States and North Korea became strained after President George W. Bush labeled North Korea a member of the "axis of evil" during his State of the Union address. In October 2002, the administration announced U.S. withdrawal from the 1994 Agreed Framework. In response, North Korea expelled the IAEA inspectors in December 2002, withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and restarted the Yongbyon nuclear reactor. After reprocessing the fuel rods, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006.
Until they were abandoned, the agreements were successful in immobilizing the fuel rods and preventing North Korea from developing nuclear weapons for eight years, from 1994 until 2002.
In August 2010, former President Carter undertook a private humanitarian mission that gained the release of an American teacher imprisoned in North Korea for seven months. Aijalon Gomes had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor with a fine of about $700,000 for illegally entering North Korea. President Carter was invited by North Korean officials to go to Pyongyang to negotiate Gomes' release, and after receiving White House approval, embarked on a two-day visit with a Carter Center delegation. President Carter requested Gomes be released for humanitarian reasons; he was released and amnesty was granted by the chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Jong Il.
Carter Issues Warning on North Korea Standoff, New York Times article, Sept. 5, 2003
U.S.-North Korea War Seems 'Strong Possibility', Op-Ed by Jimmy Carter, Sept. 2, 2003, USA Today
The Center and several other NGOs took part in a pilot initiative to boost potato production and improve food security in North Korea.
In April 1999, the Center joined several relief and development agencies to undertake a pilot initiative to boost potato production and improve food security in North Korea. The group purchased 1,000 metric tons of potato seed and oversaw its planting in May on farms in a southeastern North Korean province. Agencies included Adventist Development and Relief, Amigos Internacionales, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Church World Service, Korean American Sharing Movement, and Mercy Corps International.
In addition, a food-for-work program, with 100,000 metric tons of commodities provided by the U. S. Agency for International Development and the U. S. Department of Agriculture, supported the potato seed initiative and was targeted to the neediest areas of the country. This marked the first time the American government provided humanitarian assistance directly to U.S. aid agencies for distribution in North Korea.
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Size: 120,538 square kilometers
Life expectancy: 70 years
Ethnic groups: racially homogeneous; there is a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese
Religions: traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist, some Christian and syncretic Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way)
Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2016