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Extra!: North Korea nuclear tension

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(CNN Student News) -- On October 9, 2006, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency reported that the country had performed a successful underground nuclear test. Use the information in this Extra! to help students place this event in historical and geopolitical context.

Historical Background

For the first half of the 20th century, the Korean Peninsula was controlled by the Japanese, who had annexed the country in 1910. When World War II ended in 1945, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel line. The Soviet-occupied north installed a communist government. The U.S.-occupied south installed a capitalist democratic government.

On June 25, 1950, after unsuccessful attempts to reunify the country, North Korea launched a surprise attack against South Korea, starting the Korean War. The war ended in July 1953, with nearly 3 million dead and the Koreas separated by the most heavily guarded border in the world.

North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, a former guerrilla leader and Soviet soldier, created a militarized and strictly controlled society. North Korea relied heavily on the Soviets and Chinese for economic and military support. Kim spent one-fourth of North Korea's gross national product on creating one of the world's largest armies. Never accepting the division of Korea, Kim Il Sung consistently tried to undermine the South Korean government and kill its leaders.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 left North Korea without a major trading partner and one of its prime sources of support. Yet Kim continued to invest heavily in military programs that drained his country's resources and alarmed its neighbors. Isolated and with a rapidly shrinking economy, North Korea fell into economic chaos. In the 1990s, an estimated 2 million North Koreans starved to death.

Nuclear Tension

In 1985, North Korea joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state, but it withdrew from the NPT in 1993, then later reversed the decision. . The U.S. opened talks with Kim Jong Il, who had become the leader of North Korea after his father's death in July 1994. The talks resulted in a diplomatic road map known as the Agreed Framework, in which North Korea pledged to freeze and eventually dismantle its nuclear program and allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. In return, the U.S. agreed to provide North Korea with two civilian power-producing nuclear plants and 3.3 million barrels of oil.

Following North Korea's missile launch over Japan in 1998, the U.S. and North Korea began high-level talks over North Korea's suspected construction of an underground nuclear facility. Talks continued between the two nations, but in 2000, North Korea threatened to restart its nuclear program if the U.S. did not pay for the loss of electricity caused by delays in the nuclear power plants' construction.

The 2001 inauguration of President George W. Bush prompted changes in U.S. policies toward North Korea. In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush labeled North Korea, Iraq and Iran as an "axis of evil." Later that year, the Bush administration revealed that Pyongyang had admitted operating a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of the 1994 agreement. As a result, the U.S., Japan and South Korea stopped supplying oil to North Korea. Pyongyang removed monitoring seals and cameras from its nuclear facilities, and, less than a month later, again withdrew from the NPT.

In August 2003, the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia began what became known as the six-party talks, which were aimed at ending the North Korean nuclear crisis. North Korea demanded that Washington sign a non-aggression pact with Pyongyang and said it could not dismantle its nuclear program if the United States did not abandon its "hostile policy" toward Pyongyang.

Citing what it called U.S. threats to topple its political system, North Korea dropped out of the six-party nuclear talks in 2005 and announced it would "bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal." The report was North Korea's first public claim that it possessed nuclear weapons.

In early July 2006, North Korea test-fired seven missiles, including a failed attempt to launch a long-range rocket believed to be capable of reaching the western United States.

On October 9, 2006, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency reported that the country had performed a successful underground nuclear test.

Sources: The U.S. State Department,


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