The ICAS Lectures

No. 98-511-ChK

 U.S. Policy Towards
North and South Korea 


Charles Kartman

ICAS Spring Symposium
Asia's Challenges Ahead
University of Pennsylvania
May 11, 1998

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3992


Biographic Sketch of Charles Kartman

U.S. Policy Towards North and South Korea

Charles Kartman


It is a pleasure to be here in Pennsylvania, and it is an honor to discuss a subject of such consequence with this distinguished group. I am particular1y honored by the sharing of "top billing" with two such eminent individuals, although it is also a bit intimidating to speak about Korea at the same symposium as a scholar-diplomat such as Dixie Walker.

The United States has Long recognized the importance of Korea. The large number of Korean-Americans and our expanding trade have increasingly brought our two nations together, and we have managed to create a close partnership, centered on, but not confined to, our military alliance. As I will later explain, we've needed it.

President Kim's anticipated June visit to the United States will underline the importance of our relationship. Tt will also highlight the fact that our peoples are bound together by shared values. I refer, of course, to the long struggle of the Korean people for democracy. President Kim has become a symbol to many of that struggle's success. Korea itself has become a model for democracy and human rights not only in Asia, but throughout the world.

President Kim's years of battle for democracy have won him many friends in the United States. Like other Americans, I have known him for many years and believe that, with his leadership, the already strong U.S. - Korean bilateral relationship will continue to deepen and evolve.

U.S. - ROK Economic Relationship

We know, of course, that President Kim and the Korean people are facing many difficult challenges. One of the most pressing is the economic crisis. The ROK's energetic response to this problem has already helped put South Korea on the road to recovery. However, Americans understand that the pain of the current economic crisis, even if short-term, is real. But let me assure you that America has supported, and will continue to support, Korean's efforts to recover. We are friends and allies in good times and bad.

The U.S., from the start of the crisis, has taken the lead in the international effort to stabilize the financial situation. We will continue to stand by Korea, because it is in our interest to do so, but also because Korea's continued success represents the triumph of the democratic values we share.

Signs of improvement are already evident. For example, Korea's immediate financial crisis has eased with the receipt of funds under the IMF program. South Korea was able to reschedule over $21 billion, a significant amount of the short-term foreign debt owed by Korean banks, and successfully issued $4 billion in new government bonds. The won is still fluctuating, but the wild swings we saw at the beginning of the crisis have subsided. Such factors have begun to boost the confidence of international financial markets in Korea's future, and Moody's has upgraded the credit rating on Korean debt.

President Kim has rightly said that the crisis should be seen as an opportunity to put in place long-needed changes. Despite the hardships of the moment, the Korean people have given the reform program -- and President Kim -- their support. We fully agree that reform will lead not only to recovery, but also to a fundamentally healthier Korean economy.

I have no doubt that Korea will recover and emerge as an even more dynamic economic power and stronger partner if it stays the course. The U.S., of course, has a large stake in Korea's Success. Last year the Republic of Korea was the fifth-largest market for American goods and, not very far into the future, will be again. I would add that the United States remains Korea's most important market. As the crisis is overcome, the commercial relationship will deepen. Trade will grow and investments in each other's country increase.

Deterrence and Diplomacy

The Republic of Korea faces other, well known challenges that have been present for some time Let me say something about the greatest: dealing with the security situation on the Peninsula.

Our security ties remain the bedrock of the alliance, and deterrence remains central to the maintenance of peace. American military personnel, with their Korean allies, have prevented armed aggression for almost fifty years. The U.S. and the ROK are both prepared to defend Korea with whatever is required, and this determination has not, and will not, flag.

Over the last few years, however, deterrence has been supplemented by vigorous diplomacy. These complementary efforts have succeeded in reducing tension and begun to promote greater engagement by the North Koreans with their neighbors and the international community.

The Agreed Framework

Let me turn to the foundation stone of this diplomacy, the 1994 U.S. - North Korea Agreed framework. The origins of the problem this agreement resolved lie in 1992, when, contrary to its obligations under the international Non-Proliferation Treaty, Pyongyang denied the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency access to its nuclear facilities. Amid suspicions that it had reprocessed plutonium for nuclear weapons, the North then announced its intention to withdraw from the treaty in 1993.

Answering a UN Security Council appeal for member states to help resolve the growing crisis, the U.S. engaged with North Korea. These difficult; negotiations which required a new level and intensity of U.S. ROK coordination, led to the creation of the Agreed Framework the following year. Its implementation froze activities at North Korea's operating reactor and its nuclear program as a whole.

The Agreed Framework is a simple, and ongoing, series of reciprocal steps. This included the creation of an international organization, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), to construct two proliferation~resistant light water reactors and to deliver heavy fuel oil for specified civilian use annually until the first reactor is built. It is a truly international effort with funding from the United States, South Korea, Japan, the European Union, and eight other member states.

The construction of the light water reactors, by a South Korean prime contractor using South Korean technicians, will take years to complete. Meanwhile, the North's own nuclear program remains frozen and under the continuous supervision of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) . Before key components of the light water reactors are put in place, North Korea must also satisfy the requirements of the IAEA's non-proliferation safeguards. Ultimately, the existing North Korean nuclear facilities will be dismantled.

This success was reinforced by a second initiative when President Clinton and then-President Kim Young Sam of South Korea jointly proposed Four Party peace talks in April 1996. Under this initiative, the four main combatants of the Korean War (the United States South and North Korea and the People's Republic of China) have agreed to negotiate a reduction of tensions on the Peninsula, as well as replace the armistice with a permanent peace arrangement to formally and legally end the Korean War.

After a series of preparatory sessions, the first plenary meeting was held in Geneva in December 1997 and the second in March 1998. This process represents the first serious multilateral attempt to negotiate a permanent end to the war since 1954. We hope to move forward to consideration of concrete confidence building measures in the near future. The North Koreans, not surprisingly, have put their initial emphasis on their demand for the withdrawal of American troops. The ROK and the U.S., needless to say, will not enter substantive negotiations under that agenda. No one should doubt, therefore, that this will be a long process and progress will be slow. But we have begun and that is of historic significance.

As we intended, this pattern of Diplomatic engagement encouraged direct North-South dialogue, which is the key to peace on the Peninsula. The United States has long supported South Korea's efforts to promote direct dialogue with the North. We were encouraged, therefore, that President Kim in initiatives in this area brought about a North-South meeting at the vice ministerial level last March, the highest level bilateral meeting since 1994. The U.S., as well as the Republic of Korea, views such North-South contacts as fully compatible with the Four Party Talks; in fact, the two efforts are complementary and mutually supporting.

The U.S. and North Korea

In close consultation with South Korea, the U.S. has also undertaken its own efforts to develop diplomatic contact with the DPRK. In the Agreed Framework, the U.S. and the North agreed to improve our bilateral political and economic relations as nuclear-related provisions of the Framework are carried out and as other issues of concern are addressed.

We also agreed on the opening of liaison offices in each other's capitals. However, I regret to say that the North is still not ready to resolve remaining technical problems and so these offices have not yet opened.

Meanwhile, we have been able to begin and continue direct communication with North Korean diplomats and have held several bilateral meetings. We used these channels to make progress on issues of special concern. By way of example, let me cite the discovery and return of MIA remains from the Korean War. A continuing series of joint U.S.- North Korea military teams have operated in the North and recovered the remains of American servicemen. The most recent operation, the first of five scheduled for this year, began on April 29 and is still underway now.

Food Aid

I would like to turn for a minute to new problem which has recently begun to be one of the most important issues on the Peninsula. Exacerbated by natural calamities, North Korea's structural economic problems have led to severe food shortages and an associated deterioration of public health in the DPRK.

In response to this human tragedy, the UN's World Food Program (WFP) began a series of annual appeals for food aid in 1995. The South Korean government and people have contributed generously to alleviating this crisis, both in direct bilateral assistance to North Korea and in response to international appeals.

The United States, true to its humanitarian traditions, has been the major donor to the WFP's efforts. This year the WFP issued its largest appeal yet, for 658,000 metric tons of food aid. We have contributed 200,000 metric tons, and are encouraging other members of the international community to respond as well. I would like to add that we delivered the first 22,000 metric ton shipment of our pledge in April. It, like the rest of our aid, will be distributed in North Korea under the supervision of the WEP and American NGOs.

Our food aid is given for humanitarian reasons only. However, I also believe that our willingness to provide emergency food aid does improve the atmosphere for diplomatic contacts.

This is what we have been doing, with our South Korean allies, and a short report of the results. They are modest, but I would argue that they hold the promise of further diplomatic progress in the future.

But, what of that future?

My crystal ball is cloudy today, but I know we will face other problems, and perhaps even other crises, tomorrow. I have often been accused of being an optimist, but you need to be in this endeavor, if you are to have any chance at making progress in changing the dangerous status quo. With regard to our diplomacy towards North Korea, however, I think I'm primarily guilty of realism. The basis of our policy has been, and remains, our strong bond of friendship and partnership with the Republic of Korea. On that foundation we have defused a nuclear crisis, built a peace process, and promoted a reinvigoration of the North - South dialogue, which holds the key to a lasting solution to tensions on the Korean peninsula. On this last point, I believe, all Koreans would agree. So does the United States.

I thank you again for your invitation to participate in this meeting and look forward to discussing these issues with you.

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