The ICAS Lectures

No. 2004-0210-DxO


The Korean Peninsula: Danger Ahead


Don Oberdorfer



ICAS Winter Symposium &
Humanity, Peace and Security
February 10, 2004 12:00 NN - 5:30 PM.
Rome Auditorium
The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
Johns Hopkins University
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Biographic Sketch & Links: Don Oberdorfer






The Korean Peninsula: Danger Ahead

Don Oberdorfer

SANG H. KIM: Iím just a businessman but I must say the talks have been pretty enlightening and interesting. Iím here to introduce the next guest speaker. Our next guest speaker is Don Oberdorfer who is a distinguished journalist and Adjunct Professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins Universityís Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Previously, Professor Oberdorfer was a journalist for 38 years including 25 years with the Washington Post. He was a featured speaker at the ICAS Winter Symposium held February 13, 1998 where he addressed "Seoul-Washington Relationship: How Strong and How Stable". At the time, he predicted many of the current underlying issues facing South Korea and the U.S. today, and the North Korean issues. It is my great honor and privilege to introduce Professor Oberdorfer.

DON OBERDORFER: Thank you for the introduction. Thank you for inviting me. I have to make -- before I get into what I planned to do -- a few remarks about Claudiaís presentation. I found it very interesting. I agree with some it, and I disagree with a lot of it. I guess my problem is I covered diplomacy for 17 years, and as much as I would like to think so -- the United States may be the most powerful country among other countries, but it cannot remake the world in its own image. Itís not possible, as powerful as we are. I also disagree with the idea that itís bad to be talking to tyrants. I basically think itís good to be talking to tyrants. If youíre going to have a negotiation, youíre going to have to talk to the other party.

I covered the negotiations which ended the Cold War. They did not start in 1987 with President Reaganís speech at the Wall. In the first place, even with Reagan they started in 1981, and when he came in as President, despite all of his remarks about the Evil Empire and so on, almost the first thing he did was attempt to get together and have an exchange, if possible directly, with the leader of the Soviet Union. In 1981 he wrote a letter to Leonid Brezhnev asking that the two countries get together and find some way to get along.

When Brezhnev died, he got in touch with his successor. When he died, with his successor. And finally Gorbachev came along in 1985 and he met Gorbachev in Geneva in 1985, and he had a number of direct and indirect meetings with him, most prominently and historically at Reykjavik in 1986. So I donít agree with Claudia that the principal interaction between the United States and the Soviet Union in those days was Reaganís speech in Berlin. I think that was a fine speech, but it came on top of a very, very patient diplomacy that, by that time, had taken six years.

Regarding North Korea, I donít disagree that North Korea has a terrible human rights record -- probably the worst anywhere in the world, and Iíve said it on many, many occasions when Iíve made talks about the Korean reality. But I donít think that means that we should go in and put down some non-negotiable demand that they change their regime. I donít think that will work. I do think that the nuclear question is, as unfortunate as it may be, probably the most serious question having to do with the reality of North Korea, because compared to anything else, nuclear weapons are the most serious development of our time.

So I just want to say, and Iím glad sheís still here, that I agree with some things and I donít agree with other things.

You will hear from me a different version of reality about what has been taking place in and around the Korean peninsula in recent months and the past year or two. I want to begin by saying that I think the external situation on the Korean peninsula, and by that I mean between the two Koreas as well as with the other powers, is the most uncertain and in many respects the most serious situation since the Korean war. I think the US/ROK alliance is under terrific strain. I donít know whether it will survive or not. I think weíll know a lot more after the April elections in Seoul, and I think they are, as far as I know, totally unpredictable. Maybe Don Kirk whoís been there recently will have some prediction as to what is going to happen.

Moreover, within the last year-and-a-half, the situation in terms of reality with North Korea has changed immensely. North Korea has become virtually a declared nuclear power. It is producing plutonium. Sid Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos nuclear laboratory saw it. He held it in his hand. Heís an expert, and he said, "Yes, this is plutonium metal." He saw that the fuel ponds where 8,000 fuel rods had been stored were empty. The strong suggestion is -- and I think itís very likely correct-- they have reprocessed 8,000 fuel rods, or nearly all of them, as they have announced that they have.

The U.S. intelligence agencies said before that they believed it was possible that North Korea, before the agreement in 1994, had reprocessed enough plutonium for one or possibly two -- actually what they said was "possibly one or two" but now itís been changed into "one or possibly two" -- but at any rate, potentially, a few nuclear weapons. If they have reprocessed 8,000 fuel rods, weíre talking about perhaps the material for seven or eight nuclear weapons, which is a different thing from the "potential for one or two."

Moreover, the relationships in East Asia, including the relationship with the Peopleís Republic of China, has changed. The big change took place beginning in October of 2002 when Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Jim Kelly went to Pyongyang. The Bush Administration had been very reluctant to engage with North Korea for some of the reasons that Claudia mentioned. It found it uncomfortable. President Bush said to Bob Woodward, my former colleague, "I loathe Kim Jong Il." Did not want to deal with him. But in the summer of 2002, it was determined that the United States was going to open negotiations with North Korea. Actually, the U.S. had been offering to do so since the summer of 2001. But before Kelly went to Pyongyang, the United States discovered that the rumors that had been floating around for some years were actually correct; that North Korea had begun to engage in a secret uranium enrichment program, basically supplied by Pakistan. And Kelly, instead of going to North Korea and telling Pyongyang, as the North Koreans anticipated, that "We are now ready to deal with you," went there and said, "We have learned that you have a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of your agreement with us, with South Korea, and with the international community based on the Treaty Against the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons -- or NPT. And weíre not going to deal with you until you get rid of it."

That was the first day of the talks. The North Korean diplomats denied it, said it was a provocation to make such charges. However, on the second day, late in the day, Kang Suk Ju whose title is First Deputy Foreign Minister, but he was more important than the Foreign Minister or any other diplomatic person in North Korea, told Kelly, "Weíre entitled to have such a program, and more because of your hostile attitude toward our country."

I believe that North Koreans are correct when they say that they never said explicitly in so many words, "We have a uranium enrichment program." I was in North Korea with Ambassador Donald Gregg who has been referred to already, exactly one month after Jim Kelly, and we talked to exactly the same people that Kelly and his delegation had talked to. Iíve known Kang Suk Ju for nearly 20 years. I have no reluctance to ask him point blank questions, and I said to him, "What did you tell Assistant Secretary Kelly?" And he said, "I told him exactly what is in our October 25 Foreign Ministry statement which is: we are entitled to have nuclear weapons, and more, because of your hostile attitude toward our country."

At the same time, neither he nor anyone else that we spoke to, military or civilian, denied in any way that they have a secret uranium enrichment program, and all the discussion really was about what are the consequences of having such a program. They said to us, as they had said in the October 25 statement by the Foreign Ministry, they would "clear the concerns of the United States" if the United States would do three things: one was to recognize their sovereignty; the second was not to interfere with their economic programs - They were not asking for any kind of assistance. They were asking fundamentally not to be sanctioned -. And third was to negotiate and sign an agreement of non-aggression so that they would know that the United States is committed not to attack them or to, through means of force, try to bring down their regime.

My own judgment -- and it canít be proven -- itís simply a judgment based on having had two previous meetings over the years in North Korea and having followed Korean matters to some degree since I was a soldier in the U.S. Army in Korea in 1953 and 1954 -- is that what they were asking was their "going-in" request. Not their bottom-line request. I personally think they would have gotten rid of this highly enriched uranium program over time in negotiations with the United States. What the negotiations would have done, what the price would have been, I do not know. Gregg and I told them flat out that "you have created a very difficult situation for yourselves by breaking your word, by signing the 1994 agreement and then not keeping it. And the next agreement that is signed, if an agreement is signed, is going to require a far, far greater degree of verification and inspection than any previous agreement." I agree with what President Reagan said, "Trust, but verify." Everything was going to have to be verified. They didnít like that, but it was, I think, a recognition of reality.

We returned to Washington. We talked to the White House and the State Department at very high levels. We told them what we had heard. We encouraged them to engage North Korea and try to find a way, through a negotiated settlement, through negotiations, to stop the highly enriched uranium program which was in violation certainly of the spirit of the Ď94 agreement -- whatever some lawyer might say. The Administration decided to do otherwise. They decided simply to exert pressure in an attempt to force North Korea to give up the uranium enrichment program. They cut off the supply of heavy fuel oil despite the appeals of both South Korea and Japan that they not do so. The North Korean response was, I believe, predictable. They re-opened the much more dangerous plutonium program. They announced in December of 2002 that they were re-starting their reactor. Then they broke the seals that had been placed on the fuel rods in the containment ponds. They put hoods over the cameras which had been placed by the U.N. inspectors. Then they kicked out the U.N. inspectors and announced that they had left the Treaty against the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. And they began starting down a road which led to their re-processing of many if not all of 8,000 fuel rods.

The United States did not wish to deal with North Korea directly. The Bush Administration said that had been tried and had been found wanting. But it turned to China. China is believed to have more influence on North Korea than any other country because it has been supplying fuel and food, and because itís been the traditional close ally of the DPRK. and the Chinese brought about a meeting in April between the United States representative, Jim Kelly, North Koreaís Li Gun, and a Chinese diplomat. Kellyís instructions were not to negotiate -- really not to engage with the North Koreans, but to state the U.S. viewpoint.

After the first day of talks, there was a dinner. Jim Kelly was sitting at the table with Li Gun who as someone had said earlier, had been a Deputy representative of DPRK in New York at the U.N., who speaks English. Many of us have met him. And they were making small talk, basically. The dinner was over. Kelly began to rise from his seat, and Li Gun said, "Mr. Kelly, I have to talk to you." They walked over to a corner, and Miss Choi, the North Korean interpreter for the Foreign Ministry who has interpreted for us and who interprets for most serious enterprises, came rushing over and, in Korean, Li Gun told Jim Kelly, "We already have nuclear weapons. And weíre not giving them up. And by the way, we feel itís perfectly within our rights to transfer nuclear materials to other countries should we so choose to do so."

That kind of blew up the meetings because there was no basis, obviously, for negotiation or discussion with that. Since then, there has been another meeting that took place toward the end of August. Again, it was engineered by the Chinese, although here it was also engineered by the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. The only way that Colin Powell could get this meeting approved was to get hold of President Bush while he was on a trip to Africa and explain to him, quietly and patiently, what the situation was in the Korean peninsula, and get the Presidentís authority and approval to have a meeting under the aegis of the Six Party Talks in which the United States would directly -- directly -- engage, or talk at least, to the North Korean representatives.

The Presidentís idea -- actually itís Bushís idea as I understand it -- to have a multi-lateral international meeting to deal with North Korea. Originally, it was to be five parties, including United States, South Korea, Japan, China, and North Korea. But Mr. Putin, in a telephone conversation with President Bush, asked that Russia be included, and Bush said "Okay, sounds like a good idea." His idea is that itís more likely to have a permanent good result and to be successful if other parties which are very important to the North Koreans take part, as well as the United States. I donít disagree with this. I think it makes a lot of sense. My problem with the Administrationís policy is that they have not pursued it very forcefully or with much urgency. There was a meeting in August. The meeting took place in August because Hu Jintao, the leader of the Peopleís Republic of China -- the new leader -- sent a letter through an emissary to Kim Jong Il arguing that itís very important for North Korea to attend that meeting, as in the April meeting. Actually the April meeting came about because Qian Qichen, the former Foreign Minister of the Peopleís Republic of China, flew secretly to Pyongyang in the morning on a special airplane, met Kim Jong Il, told him it was very important for North Korea to participate in the meeting that had been planned, and Kim Jong Il agreed and the meeting was held in April.

At any rate, at the end of August, there was a meeting -- six-party talks -- and as it was agreed from the beginning, there was going to be a side conversation, individual conversation, "direct" as the U.S. word was, between the United States and North Korea. The meeting took place. It took 30 or 40 minutes. There are little differences about how long it was with consecutive translation. Again, Kelly was instructed not to negotiate, not to seriously engage, to make his statement to the North Korean representative who had four questions for Secretary Kelly, whoís a person Iíve known for many years and I have great respect for. Unfortunately, Kelly was forced to answer all those questions by saying, "Read my statement." He wasnít able really to engage the North Koreans to find out from them what the meaning was of some of their statements.

They did not mention, and I believe they have not mentioned again since April of last year, the possibility that they may transfer nuclear materials. I think they understand that from the U.S. standpoint, that is an absolute no-no -- that to continue to take that position would have very serious consequences for North Korea. But this time, unaccountably as far as the United States is concerned, they denied that they ever admitted that they have a highly enriched uranium program. As I say, I donít think they ever said it in so many words, but there was no doubt in anybodyís mind, there certainly was no doubt in my mind that the discussions added up to the fact that they had a highly enriched uranium program.

Itís very interesting to try to figure out when that program began because maybe thatíll tell us something about why it began. A. Q. Khan has been quoted as saying that the supply of technology from Pakistan to North Korea began between 1991 and 1997. Hwang Jang Yop, the famous defector who was mentioned here earlier, has been quoted in a Japanese publication as saying that in 1996 North Korea sent a party secretary in charge of military industry to Pakistan for a month, and thatís when the basic deal was made. Many reports suggest that it was made in 1997, and there are reports that the CIA has said that that was the origins of the deal. However, the CIA, in an unclassified report that was made public in November of 2002, which was the month after Kelly was in Pyongyang, said that the intelligence committee assessed that North Korean "embarked on the development of a centrifuge-based uranium program about two years ago." That would make it November or some time like that of the year 2000. And that "last year" -- meaning 2001 -- "North Korea began seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities." Iím left to believe that there is a difference between the time in which a deal may have been made or proposed and the time in which North Korea began seriously pursuing this program with some degree of intensity. It sounds like that latter enterprise took place in 2001 or maybe at the very end of 2000.

At any rate, after the meeting in Beijing, the Chinese were frustrated because North Korea, as part of this meeting, set forth a step-by-step plan for putting its nuclear program under control and eventually getting rid of it. It was a plan which was unacceptable to the United States because it does not start with an explicit, direct, and forceful that their intention is to get rid of all of its nuclear facilities in a verifiable and complete manner. There was to be another meeting last December -- two-and-a-half months ago -- and the Chinese had come up with a plan, a statement that was to be issued, which they believed would start the negotiations, get them underway. The State Department had made certain alterations in that statement to bring it more in line with U.S. policy, but before it could be agreed upon, Vice President Cheney intervened in a very unusual way in a meeting of the principals on Korean issues including State Defense and so on, and said "You cannot go forward with this statement because itís not explicit enough about what North Korea must do." With that, the Chinese threw up their hands. The meeting was not held.

A meeting is now scheduled to be held on the 25th of this month in Beijing. President Bush said on Sunday, "Weíre making good progress in the negotiations with North Korea." I hope heís right, but I have to say that publicly, there is no sign of this progress, and if the Administration takes the same position in this talk as it took in the previous two talks, there will be no progress. My fear is that both the United States and North Korea are going to be willing to move this issue down the road -- some people say "kick it down the road," that the Bush Administration basically does not want to deal with this in a serious way before the November election, that itís concerned that to do so will bring about a crisis in Northeastern Asia, and of course it has its hands full right now in Iraq; that North Korea is not anxious to bring this to a head either. As Kim Gye Gwan told the recent delegation that was in Pyongyang, "Time is not on the American side." The North Koreans appear to be making plutonium. They appear to have reprocessed the 8,000 fuel rods, or nearly all of them, and they have re- started a reactor which is going to provide some more thousands of fuel rods in about a year. They have not, as far as is known, tried to re-start or re-vamp the much larger reactor, which had been earlier under construction in North Korea, which would provide many, many more fuel rods with the potential for much more plutonium. And we donít know what theyíre doing with regard to the highly enriched uranium program. Presumably theyíre pursuing it. Whether theyíve gotten it to the point where they can create highly enriched uranium which is another method of creating the raw material nuclear weapons is not known.

Meantime, in South Korea, as I said, things have changed. Part of it changed because of the legacy of Kim Dae Jung. I agree with Kim Dae Jung. Iíve known Kim Dae Jung for many years. This was not something that came up as some sudden thought of his, or because of the United States posture. Iíve known Kim Dae Jung since 1973 and to my certain knowledge, he had always had the same view -- that we must negotiate with North Korea, not confront North Korea. For this, he was red-baited in the 1970s. He was thrown in jail, sentenced to death. But he never changed his mind. He went to North Korea. He met with Kim Jong Il. The meeting is somewhat blemished now by the fact that the South Koreans paid money, among other things, to bring it about. But Iím quite sure that Kim Dae Jung felt that this was a small price to pay. Itís not defensible, but thatís probably what he thought.

At any rate, after the election of Rho Moo Hyun in December of 2002, the Korean body politic changed its views about North Korea rather greatly. In recent trips to South Korea Iíve made it my business to try to talk to people from the younger generation of Koreans, and while you canít draw a sharp line between everybody in one generation and everybody in another generation, in general I would say that the younger generation of South Koreans has very little sense of threat from North Korea. It does not see itself threatened. It believes that ultimately, and maybe before ultimately, it will be able to make some accord with North Korea, and South Korean and North Korea are doing all kinds of things together. Theyíre creating roads through the DMZ. South Korean visitors have gone north. There have been all kinds of meetings. You know the list as well as I do.

There was a recent poll sponsored by the Chosun in (inaudible) in which 39% of the respondents said the principal security threat to South Korea was the United States; 33% of the respondents said it was North Korea. That is a very, very different outcome than would have been the case at almost any other time. As I said a minute ago, thereís going to be an election in April of the National Assembly, and we will find out then how solid is the support for Rho Moo Hyun politically in South Korea.

So South Korea has a very different position than had been the case during most of the inter-Korean activities of the past decades. China is in a different position because the United States has turned to China and asked the Chinese -- this was our U.S. request -- to do everything possible to bring about meetings with the North Koreans and to bring the North Koreans into a situation where they would agree to end their nuclear program. The Japanese position is complicated by the abductees, people that North Korea abducted from Japan in the 1970s, but basically the Japanese are principally behind U.S. diplomacy. The Russians want to play a role as a mediator somehow between North Korea and the United States. Mr. Putin seems to be the closest major international figure to Kim Jong Il.

How all this is going to end up, I donít know. I have a great concern, and my concern is that the next President of the United States, whether it is George Bush or Kerry or whoever it might be, is going to face a very unenviable and a very difficult situation on the Korean peninsula. Politically heís going to face a situation which is much more complicated for the United States than the U.S. has been used to in Northeast Asia or East Asia generally because of the positions of the various other parties. And most importantly, heís probably going to face a North Korea which has the wherewithal of nuclear weapons, or perhaps even demonstrate that it has nuclear weapons. And then the United States president, the next president is going to face several difficult choices.

One is to attempt to negotiate, to see whether there is a way to negotiate with North Korea to eliminate these weapons, or perhaps to put them under some kind of international control. Or heís going to have to basically accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons power in Northeastern Asia, which has a lot of implications. Itís, I think -- that would be a difficult thing for the United States but thatís one of the potential outcomes.

The third one is to attempt to use military pressure, military force of some kind, whether itís an embargo of North Korean shipping or some other thing, or an actual attack on North Korea. If North Korea has produced plutonium as it appears it has, if North Korea has a viable uranium enrichment program which it may have, it is not going to be possible anymore to eliminate the North Korean nuclear program based on one military action -- as dangerous an action as that might be.

Iím very much concerned that we are entering into a new situation of greater danger on the Korean peninsula and greater uncertainty on the Korean peninsula than we have seen before. Some of you know that because I wrote a book about the contemporary history of north and south and its outside powers in the Korean peninsula, Iíve tried to be something of a historian of this. Iím not in any way attempting to proscribe for governments. I did, and Gregg and I did tell the U.S. Administration that we thought that they should engage North Korea, that we felt there was a chance to get this uranium enrichment program under control or eliminated. But basically Iíve been an observer. I was a reporter for 38 years. I wasnít a policy-maker. I donít think like a policy-maker. But I do think this, and I think the situation on the Korean peninsula is extremely serious, and I donít think itís getting any better. I hope the meeting which is going to take place, if it takes place, on the 25th of this month is going to bring us closer to solution but I fear itís not, unless something changes in the attitudes of the major participants of the meeting. Itís going to be one meeting; it may lead to more meetings; or it may be the last meeting. Unless some decisions have been made that have not yet been known in Washington and Pyongyang, it is not going to solve the nuclear dilemma and the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula. Thatís it.

MODERATOR: I just got a telephone call from the State Department saying that he just got a clearance and heís leaving to come here to see us. Itís John Merrill, as you all know. Now, Don just gave a grand presentation. Now, another Don -- Kirk -- he mentioned you, so do you have something to share with us?

DON KIRK: Well, Don mentioned me in the context of what I might think about the upcoming National Assembly elections, and one thing thatís kind of interesting to me is that I think that Ms. Rosett pointed out that thereís been neglect of the human rights issue and so forth, and Donís been emphasizing the nuclear issue. Thereís also a neglect in the South of the nuclear issue. And apparently a different issue is at stake in these elections -- well, several different issues, but one overriding concern is these corruption charges that are being flung back and forth. This may seem like very trivial considerations here in Washington where you really donít hear it discussed much at all. In fact, I donít think Iíve heard the word "corruption" mentioned this afternoon at all. But this is the primary issue in South Korean politics today. Thereís arrests going on constantly of quite prominent people, from both -- I wouldnít say both parties -- from all the major parties. There are now three major parties. And some people say that President Rho Moo Hyun is manipulating this very skillfully in order to advance his own party of which, by the way, I say "his own party" -- heís still not a member of his own party. But in order to advance the interests of the Uri party. And some say that heís actually losing ground and his relatives -- some of his relatives are being exposed as corrupt and so forth.

But this gets to be a very -- to an outsider this gets to be a very boring game except itís the primary issue before South Korean voters. And of course this also relates to the regional issue in which -- which is always a primary consideration. Again, I havenít heard the word "regionalism" uttered here today, but thatís also a major factor in these elections that are coming up, so I just think itís noteworthy that these are the major factors that South Koreans are thinking about. The nuclear issue hangs over them, but somehow thereís a sense that itís all going to be resolved by these negotiators or by officials somewhere else, and that weíve been living with it for a long time, and it wonít go away, but it wonít -- it wonít destroy our society and in fact, it wonít even affect the stock market much, if at all. I believe the man from The Gale Company didnít seem too concerned about it either and he plowed ahead -- as he told us about his plans for developing the Inchon -- a huge project in Inchon, as if this is going to go on untouched by the whole nuclear issue.

So I just thought -- since Don mentioned the elections and thought I might know something about it -- I certainly donít know the outcome, but I do know from -- I do have a sense that it may be a surprise to some people here that the primary issue is not the nuclear issue at all, nor is it -- and certainly not human rights in North Korea. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Don. Since (inaudible) Claudia, would you like to have a comment, and then John, do you have something to (inaudible) Claudia, do you have some words to respond to Oberdorferís .........

CLAUDIA ROSETT: (inaudible) Unfortunately, I had a phone call through part of the presentation. I think it would probably not be right to ......

MODERATOR: Oh, okay.

________: May I use this microphone?

MODERATOR: Okay, sure. Use the microphone.

YOSHI YAMAMOTO: Iím a real admirer of Dr. Oberdorferís work --

OBERDORFER: Iím not a doctor!

YAMAMOTO: Professor. And my question is that I think you may have also noticed that in 2002, September 17, when Koizumi ... first met with Kim Jong Il, for the excuses that Kim Jong Il made for the abduction issue is that he blamed it on the leftist chauvinist, and that he didnít know, and he kind of like explained it like that. And going through your books, "The Two Koreas" where youíve mentioned about the 1972 encounter between the head of the KCIA and Kim Il Song, he actually -- Kim Il Song uses the same actually term -- itís quite shocking, where he uses that same way of saying that he didnít know about the chauvinists plotting the raid against Park Chung Hee and he apologizes for that. So itís pretty scary -- I come from Tokyo, Japan, and actually looking at Kim Jong Il and the way he does diplomacy where -- Iím just wondering since youíre a professional, you know whatís going on in the internal political situations -- is he still -- does he have any like close advisors, or is he still kind of like in that control where he just does these judgments by himself, where he just goes after -- succeeds the only mentor which is his father, and actually -- isnít there any like blame for -- I think it was a complete failure for his diplomacy for admitting the abduction issue, and isnít there any movements of those kind of like blames for these leaderships? That would my question. Thank you.

OBERDORFER: Well, in the first place, I do not know what goes on in Kim Jong Ilís mind, and I donít now what goes on in the North Korean higher echelon hierarchy. If I did know, I probably wouldnít be sitting here. Iíd be over there advising somebody in our government. We donít know a lot about policy-making in North Korea, but we do know a few things. And theyíre instructive, I think, about how policy has been made there.

In 1994, when former President Jimmy Carter went there, after Kim Il Sung agreed to freeze the plutonium based program at Yongbyon in return for negotiations, Carter and Kim Il Sung were floating down the Taedong River on Kim Il Sungís yacht, and I donít know if Kim Il Sung or Kang Suk Ju who was the only person of substance with Kim Il Sung knew that a Korean-speaking American diplomat was with Jimmy Carter, but this diplomat heard the following exchange in Korean: After Carter asked Kim Il Sung, "Please donít throw out the U.N. inspectors, those of the International Atomic Energy Agency -- let them remain" because North Korea had announced it was going to remove them -- Kim Il Sung turned to Kang Suk Ju and said, "What is this issue all about?" He really didnít know what the issue was. Kang Suk Ju in several minutes explained the diplomatic lay of the land. "We said weíve left this treaty. Weíve said weíre going to throw out the inspectors. President Carter is asking that you not do that." And Kim Il Sung then said to Kang Suk Ju, "Do you think it would be greatly to our disadvantage if we let them remain?" And Kang Suk Ju, according to this account by one who was there, said, "No, sir, I donít believe it would." At which point Kim Il Sung turned to Jimmy Carter and said, "They will stay." He did not summon a meeting of advisors, a National Security Council or anybody. He heard from one person. He made up his own mind, and he made a decision.

A very similar episode happened when Secretary Albright was in Pyongyang negotiating with Kim Jong Il about the missile issue in October of the year 2000. So what little we do know about policy-making and decision-making in North Korea suggests that itís very much a one-man show. These kinds of governments -- thereís usually a No. 1, and effectively thereís no No. 2, and I think thatís probably the case in North Korea, which is why I think itís very important to get in touch with the man in charge, with Kim Jong Il. And I want to say this. If President Kennedy had not been in direct touch with Nikita Khrushchev in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we very well may have had a nuclear weapon fired against the United States of America. It was very important. I think knowing your opponent -- I wonít call him "enemy" -- but knowing the person that you have to deal with, even if itís a person you totally disagree with, and being in touch with that person, is extremely important in the interest of everybody concerned.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Yoshi. Claudia?

ROSETT: Actually I do have something to say!

MODERATOR: Yes. Please use the microphone andspeak loudly.

ROSETT: Thank you. Thatís exactly what -- thank you -- I wanted to address because I did hear that part. In the matter of being in touch with a tyrant, thereís a really important distinction, I think. We have two journalists talking to each other here. Thereís a terribly important distinction that is just crucial in our foreign policy today when we choose to apply it and should be, and that is: who actually speaks for a nation? Who speaks for the people of the nation? And in speaking with Kim or his envoys, thereís an unfortunate tendency I think to simply assume that that is then North Korea, and youíre entirely right -- your very good point that Reaganís Berlin Wall speech was hardly the sum total of the policy. There was all sorts of discussion going on, including the meetings in Reykjavik. But the point is -- what was important in that statement was -- it spoke past Gorbachev. It spoke to the people in the Soviet Union and what it said is: we are not only talking with the dictator as, yes, we have to. We probably do want some way to communicate with the Pyongyang regime. But it said: we also are listening to you. Weíre listening to the people who didnít just tear down the wall. They brought down the Empire. And that was the distinction I was trying to make.

The unfortunate thing about the way weíve been conducting ourselves is -- we deal with the regime; there has been so little effort to do anything that would actually say to anyone inside North Korea who has other ideas; and one would think there must be some number of them at this point -- that weíre paying attention. You know, we saw recently played out in the caucuses, the difference between Azerbaijan where we said, dictatorís okay with us; and the dictator won the scammed election, and Georgia, where we said, "No, we have some principles here." And Georgia had a big celebration recently of the best chance in a long time. Anyway, the point is -- we must speak -- Kim Jong Il does not speak for the people of North Korea. He speaks for a regime that controls them and thatís a distinction we need to try and make more carefully in our policy.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Claudia. Helen-Louise.

HELEN-LOUISE HUNTER: Iíd like to add one comment to Don Oberdorferís. I agree very strongly that Kim Il Sung and now Kim Jong Il have been a one-man leadership in North Korea. Iíve always believed that, and one of the anecdotes that I could add to Donís is -- in talking to the second highest level defector, Mr. Kim, who was a member of the Central Committee for years and head of the Kim Il Sung University, told me that in the time that he was the Central Committee in Pyongyang, the Central Committee never met, ever, together, and that he actually never saw Kim Jong Il. He never knew where Kim Jong Il was. He didnít know if he was in Pyongyang, in his office, or whatever. And that when Kim Jong Il wants you, he calls you on the phone and itís a one-to-one communication on the phone. And so you donít even know what other people might be telling him. So I do concur that probably whoever he talks to on one issue could have enormous influence.

And then just one second point -- I think because it is a one-man show, that the crucial thing is who we send to talk to Kim Jong Il, as it always was with Kim Il Sung. I know a lot more about Kim Il Sung than I do about Kim Jong Il, but the Americans who have affected -- who did affect Kim Il Sung were Jimmy Carter to whom he spoke at length, and Billy Graham -- and these folks -- and I could name some others -- actually have an enormous impact on his thinking. And if you know now that the Billy Graham family is very much revered in North Korea and his children are given VIP status, and a person like that can, I believe, have great influence on Kim Jong Il, and in the ideal world, Iíd like to think -- itís very complicated now by politics and wonít happen -- the best person that we could send to talk to Kim Jong Il would be President Bush, or maybe his father. Someone -- Kim Jong Il has to respect the person. You have to deal with him, and give him the honor. But the best person to make our case and explain our principles would be someone like that, and I believe he would listen and that you might have impact in negotiation. But when youíre negotiating at a low level, a reasonably low level, itís going to be a very long, slow process.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Helen-Louise. Bill?

WILLIAM BROWN: Don, I always enjoy hearing you. Youíre so good with the details. I always learn a lot from you. The question, though, is again on China. I try to put myself in a North Korean position with this -- playing around with this very, very dangerous game. They must be scared with it, and theyíre playing none game with the U.S., and one game with China, and another game with South Korea. All of it, I think, makes sense in a way -- what theyíre doing makes a lot of sense. Iíve always thought itís a very smart regime. They know what theyíre doing. But then I think, well, if Iím a North Korean, l," what am I going to do next?. Suppose the U.S. keeps sort of pushing me away, or calling my bluff, so to speak -- So, if youíre a North Korean, would you advise exploding a weapon? If they exploded a weapon, if they tested a weapon, how would you think the hinese Chinese are going to react? How are the South Koreans going react? You can sort of assume that you know how the U.S. is going to react, but from their perspective weíre already acting badly anyway. How would the Chinese and South Koreans and Japanese react? It seems to me Pyongyang is in an box there; they really canít test a weapon without a lot of trouble -- that is causing themselves a lot of trouble.

OBERDORFER: I donít know how they would react. And Iím certainly not in a position to advise anybody -- certainly not the North Koreans, except I did say this to them. I said, "You may think that by acquiring nuclear materials or even nuclear weapons, you are going to assure your security. But I think youíre going to assure your insecurity because your neighbors, to say nothing of the United States, are not going to be happy with this development, and youíre going to be even more outside of the international consensus in Northeastern Asia." I think this is a dead-end street for North Korea. It staves off what they fear is going to be an American attack. I think the Li Gun piece -- I donít know if it was distributed here or whatever -- but anyway he says in here, and I think this is the North Korean position all right: "Only when a legal and systematic security mechanism guaranteeing that the United State will not threaten us is in place, and a certain level of trust is built, and we no longer feel threatened by the United States, will we be able to discuss with the United States issues relating to nuclear weapons we have already built."

I think a lot of this is about their perceptions of their security, and in a sense itís understandable. But if you look further down the road, this is not a good road, I think, for them to be on, to say nothing of the rest of Northeast Asia to be on.

MODERATOR: Chuck?

CHUCK DOWNS: Can I be heard without going to the microphone? Can you hear me over there? This is a question addressed to Don Oberdorfer. As we all know, and I think that as you mentioned, the North Koreans agreed in 1991 and the agreement was signed in 1992, that they would not undertake a uranium enrichment program. It was the third clause in the first section of the denuclearization agreement. And in 1994 those agreements, as you said, were made part of the agreed framework, and of course, the North Koreans had also agreed earlier in the non-proliferation treaty that they would not engage in a highly enriched uranium program. In October of 2002, there is a difference between what you think the North Koreans said and what Assistant Secretary James A Kelly told me just a few weeks ago the North Koreans said and it focuses on whether you can give the North Koreans credit for having said, as you assert, that they said that they had a right to have an HEU program. Of course, you could argue they do not have that right because they had already made agreements saying they would not undertake an HEU program. But you believe, you said, that the North Koreans can talk to us and "bring that HEU program under control and perhaps eliminate it", if Iím quoting your words correctly. I donít doubt that we can have an agreement with North Korea, but how can we be certain, to the degree we want to be certain, that they will adhere to the agreements they make?

OBERDORFER: Well, we canít be certain. There is no such certainty in this world that anybody is going to adhere to anything. But, I believe that in 2002, in October and November, there was a possibility -- possibility; I donít say it was a certainty by any means -- that they would have negotiated in such a way as to answer the questions of the United States regarding their highly enriched uranium program. How could it be done? Well, thereís only one way -- only one way fundamentally it can be done; they would have to open up that program to U.S. inspection. And you could say, "Well, how would we know whether they were really opening it up to U.S. inspection?" And the only way we could do that really is with the cooperation of the Pakistanis who know pretty much what they supply to North Korea in the highly enriched uranium program. There is some knowledge, I believe, in our intelligence agencies about what materials have since then been received in North Korea through purchases around the world and so on. It would not be easy. I agree with you completely, that it would be a very difficult thing to be certain -- you canít be certain -- but even to be reasonably sure that they have told the whole truth about their highly enriched uranium program. I donít think itís impossible, but I think it would be very difficult.

DOWNS: What do you think we should do if they donít adhere to the terms of the agreement that you think we can reach with them?

OBERDORFER: If they make an agreement and they donít adhere to it, what should we do?

DOWNS: Right.

OBERDORFER: Well, weíd cancel the agreement. We may do other things, too. We might take sanctions against them. I donít know what we should do, but I do know that having the possibility of such an agreement and working on it is a lot better than having them re-open the plutonium program and be where we are now.

DOWNS: Isnít it where we are now?

OBERDORFER: I say -- and be where we are now, which is the plutonium program is going full scale. That was not the case in October and November. It began to be the case in December of 2002. But I want to make one other point, and Iíve made this in every talk Iíve made, pretty much. I donít want to leave the impression that the fault for this situation is fundamentally that of the United States. The fault is fundamentally that of North Korea. Itís North Korea who broke their word about what they would do by getting this highly enriched uranium program. And I donít think the U.S. government handled it in the best way possible. Thatís my own opinion. But itís fundamentally -- itís not the U.S. government which brought this about. Itís North Korea which has brought it about. But it is a fact -- the world community somehow has to find a way to deal with it.

STEPHEN J MORRIS: May I just make a comment? Iíll speak from here. On the issue of talking to tyrants, Don, you brought up the case of Reagan and Gorbachev, but the trouble with that analogy is that Gorbachev wasnít a tyrant. He wasnít really even a dictator. He was the Secretary General of a Communist Party which was in fact metamorphosing under his leadership into something which became, one might say, even civilized. And it was the fact that Gorbachev was a civilized man, far from being a tyrant, that enabled us to have fruitful negotiations with him. So I think itís a bad analogy. Also I just want to -- to get back to what Claudia Rosett said before about tyrants. She actually got closer to the point. Not all dictators are tyrants, by the way. Tyranny, from Aristotle on, has been defined as an arbitrary form of government in the hands of one man who knows no moral or any other kinds of restraints. And that is the problem weíre facing in North Korea -- the lack of any kinds of moral restraints or predictability in the hands -- in the nature of the leadership. So Iíd like to get some kind of response to that from you, Don, and from anybody else who wants to comment.

The second point Iíd like to make is with regard to one issue which is deep in the minds of this administration, presumably, but I didnít hear brought up here, and that is: what is the nature of the nuclear danger from North Korea? Is it that the North Koreans are going to fire missiles at Los Angeles? Although they will have the capability, I donít believe anybody seriously believes thatís the threat we face, because if they tried that, we would annihilate them completely. They know that. We know that. Everybody knows that. I think what weíre all worried about is that this unpredictable tyrant will pass a nuclear weapon to a terrorist organization, because you can transport it in something a little bit bigger than that briefcase. And the fact of the matter is that this is a man who has shown no compunction about carrying out terrorism internationally. Why would we think that he might be restrained from doing something like this, given the fact that such weapon transfers would be undetectable? We would not know, even after the bomb had exploded in a container in New York Harbor radiating New York for the next 20 years. We would not know that it had come from North Korea. It would be certainly to the advantage of this tyrant in North Korea because all of a sudden this great colossus, the enemy, would be disoriented. Iíd like your comment on this particular problem, and whether you think we can live with such a situation, and a possibility.

OBERDORFER: Let me first address the first part regarding President Reagan and Gorbachev. Gorbachev was a very, very interesting person. Even despite all thatís happened, I think heís one of the most interesting people of the 20th Century. President Eisenhower dealt with Khrushchev. I covered the Khrushchev visit to the United States in 1959. President Kennedy was in touch with Khrushchev who was no shrinking violet, I believe. By the way, a very fine biography of Khrushchev was recently published. President Nixon dealt with Mao, who was certainly not anybodyís idea of a democrat. Deng Xioaping, who I think is one of the really great figures of the 20th Century, because I canít think of another person in the second half of the 20th Century who turned a great country around in a positive direction almost single-handedly. We can think of the Hitlers and Stalins who turned countries around in the negative. But he was no democrat in 1989 in Tienanmin. So you may be right about Gorbachev, but I donít think that invalidates the general principle. You have to deal with the principal person who you are concerned about or whose policies or whose government youíre concerned about. The best way to get something done, as Helen Louise said, is to go, particularly in these systems where power is so concentrated in one or very few people at the top, you have to go to them. You may not like it. You may find them very undesirable people. But if you want to get something done, thatís where you have to go.

Now, regarding the business about whether they can transfer a nuclear weapon and so forth -- anything is possible, but I think reasoning by worst case analogy in fear which is not grounded in any particular previous behavior or fact is not a good idea. And I donít think that thereís much possibility of North Korea slipping a nuclear weapon to some terrorist group to explode in the New York Harbor. What possible -- what would that possibly do for North Korea?

MODERATOR: Well, we are running out of time. -- okay, very quickly.

LARRY A NIKSCH: First of all, when negotiating with tyrants, I donít think the totality of Reaganís strategy has been laid out here. However if you want to define Gorbachev, Don is right. There were substantive negotiations. We concluded the conventional force reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in Europe during the Reagan Administration. But there also was a pressure. Afghanistan -- and Iím reading Charlie Wilsonís "War" right now, which is a very fascinating book about this one Congressmanís role in how we drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. Reaganís decision against much opposition to put intermediate range missiles in Europe, the defense build-up that his administration orchestrated, and on human rights, of course, the Helsinki Initiative, which was the brainchild of many of those neo-conservatives that are under such attack these days. So it was a very sophisticated mixture of diplomacy, but also pressure that he used against the Soviet Union. And a similar pattern was used in another successful round of diplomacy that I think we tend to forget about but which I think has real applicability to the kind of approach that it seems to me we ought to consider with North Korea, and that is the negotiation with Vietnam in 1989 and 1990. A lot of people thought we would never get the Vietnamese out of Cambodia -- that it was really impossible to achieve anything with them diplomatically. But we had a strategy then that worked, and again, I think there are some lessons about how we dealt with Vietnam during that period that perhaps could be applied in the case of North Korea.

On proliferation -- Iím concerned about two things, frankly. My greater concern with North Koreaís proliferation potential really is chemical and biological weapons, because we know they have a lot of these things. We also know, according to some recent statements by our intelligence people, that Al Qaida is very actively seeking these kinds of things right now. And relatedly, the other thing that worries me is that while North Korea apparently does not have a direct connection with Al Qaida, with Jema Islamia (?) or these other regional terrorist groups, they are in thick with the Pakistani intelligence services, the Iranian intelligence services, and those groups have very direct links with terrorist groups. And that is what concerns me about the potential for the passage of something like Sarin gas, for example, from Pyongyang through the Pakistani intelligence services to a terrorist group. So I think that there is a real concern. But Donís point, I think, is also very valid, that if this issue drifts, according to the scenario that he laid out, and I tend to agree with him on the question of whether the Bush Administration is willing to just let this drift along -- if this drifts without bringing these issues to a head, then it seems to me the danger increases, that North Korea may make a decision to do something this brazen in terms of proliferation.

MODERATOR: Well, thank you very much. Itís 5 oíclock. Thank you very much for your comments and questions. Now we have a Senior Official from the State Department.

END OF OBERDORFER PRESENTATION and Q&A.



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