Report to Congress on U.S.-North Korea Relations

December 13, 2022 9:12 AM

The following is the Dec. 12, 2022, Congression Research Service report, U.S.-North Korea Relations.

From the report

North Korea’s advances in nuclear weapons and missile capabilities since 2016 under its leader Kim Jong-un have catapulted Pyongyang from a threat to U.S. interests in East Asia to a potential direct threat to the U.S. homeland. U.S. policy on North Korea (officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) has focused primarily on the DPRK’s nuclear weapon and missile programs. Other U.S. concerns include illicit DPRK activities, such as cyberattacks and cyber-crime, as well as the potential resumption of small-scale conventional attacks against U.S. ally South Korea (officially known as the Republic of Korea, or ROK). Congress has expressed particular concern about the state of human rights in North Korea, passing laws directing the State Department to prioritize pressuring the Pyongyang regime to improve human rights conditions.

Since U.S.-DPRK negotiations on the latter’s nuclear weapons program broke down in 2019, North Korea largely has ignored attempts by the United States and ROK to resume dialogue. In 2022, Kim declared North Korea will never denuclearize. North Korea also has continued to test missiles of various ranges and capabilities, including more than 60 ballistic missiles since the start of 2022, in violation of U.N. Security Council (UNSC) requirements. The tests appear to have advanced the reliability and precision of the DPRK’s missile forces, and improved its ability to defeat regional missile defense systems. In 2022, North Korea tested intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017. Since early 2022, many observers have seen evidence that North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear weapons test, which would be its first since 2017. North Korea has undertaken its missile tests despite hardships resulting from near-total closure of its borders since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the DPRK demonstrates greater military capability, some Members of the 117th Congress have pushed the Biden Administration to offer greater incentives for North Korea to return to negotiations. Others have sought to require the Administration to tighten pressure by enacting additional sanctions legislation. In December 2022, a bicameral agreement on the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 7776, as amended) would require the President to develop a strategy to combat the DPRK’s “repressive information environment” and authorize $10 million annually for five years to increase U.S.-government sponsored broadcasting and information dissemination into North Korea. Some Members support reauthorizing the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which seeks to elevate U.S. policy on the DPRK’s human rights record, including the appointment of a special envoy for North Korean human rights issues. Authorities in the 2004 act expired at the end of FY2022, and the special envoy position has been vacant since January 2017. Amid signs that basic human needs inside North Korea are not being met, some Members of Congress have proposed offering food and medical aid packages to Pyongyang and/or easing the process for obtaining sanctions waivers and licenses for those delivering humanitarian aid.

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