Finally, North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for shipments of oil and the construction of two light-water reactors, which are difficult to convert into the construction of nuclear weapons. Ground was broken for the reactors in August 1997. However, in July 1998 it was reported that North Korea was refusing to allow inspectors to its nuclear sites, raising concern that it had hidden away plutonium for bombs. At about the same time, North Korea suffered a major famine, the political results of which will not be known for some time.
Congress dragged its feet on appropriating the several million dollars to provide fuel oil for the North called for by the agreement. The North complained that the United States was going back on its promise, and there followed a string of provocations -- missile sales to Pakistan, the incursion of a small submarine carrying nine commandos off the South Korean coast, and reports that North Korea was refusing to allow inspectors into its nuclear sites. Then, on August 17, 1998, the American intelligence agencies announced that spy satellites had detected a huge secret underground complex twenty-five miles north of Yongbyon, the nuclear center where it was believed the North has created enough plutonium for six or more bombs.
On August 31, North Korea fired a two-stage ballistic missile that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean, demonstrating a range of about 1,250 miles and a capability to deliver warheads on American military bases in Japan as well as Japanese cities. Experts said that a two-stage missile was too costly to use to deliver conventional weapons and that the North must be planning for it to carry a nuclear warhead. Some observers thought North Korea was bluffing to hasten the aid they had been promised; others felt that Kim Jong Il had decided not to abide by his father's agreement with the West and had embarked on a program of building both nuclear warheads and the missiles to carry them.
On September 5, 1998, Kim Jong Il assumed the various titles held by his father -- "Great Leader," Chairman of the National Defense Commission, and so on.