The ICAS Lectures

No. 2003-1014-IKA

The Korean Peninsula Issues:
A Russian Angle

Iskander K. Azizov

ICAS Fall Symposium &
Humanity, Peace and Security
October 14, 2003 12:00 NN - 5:45 PM.
U.S. Senate Dirksen Office Building Room SD 562
Capitol Hill
Washington, D. C.

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

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Biographic Sketch & Links: Iskander K. Azizov

The Korean Peninsula Issues: A Russian Angle

Iskander K. Azizov
Counselor for Asia & Pacific Affairs,
Embassy of the Russian Federation, Washington, D. C.

Thank you very much, Professor Kim. This is indeed an honor to speak before this audience for perhaps the second, or to the best of my memory, for the third time. I first of all should congratulate Professor Kim on the excellent arrangement he has had for this particular seminar, as he always does. I have never stopped wondering how can he manage to pull off this trick, to have a hall like that at his disposal and at the disposal of his audience? It might be a testimony to the power of American Koreans here in the United States.

Thank you very much for placing number 2 on the list of speakers. It has given me a chance to listen to Dr. Vollertsen. I have heard a great deal about him, but this is my first face-to-face experience and I am hopeful not the last perhaps.

At the same time, thank you for this place in the order of proceedings because it allows me to be a little bit less emotional. I'm not supposed to be. I'm a government official, so I would dispense with emotions. And secondly, it makes my task a bit harder because you will have excellent speakers following my presentation in the persons of my colleagues from the Japanese Embassy and from the Chinese Embassy as well. Needless to say, since our positions with China coincide on the North Korean issue, whatever little might be missed in the comments from my talk will be more than made up for by the comments of my colleague, Youming Yang from the Chinese Embassy.

And now after this rather short preface, let me just say that I'm not prepared to deliver any long speech, but I had just prepared, as I promised, a few talking points in the form of theories which might be put across to you. My task was to talk on the Russian angle in North Korean and in the Korean Peninsula in general.

So, briefly, I would make six points. What is Russia's interest in the Korean Peninsula? To summarize, to sum up the gist of what might be said on that particular point, we have long-standing historic, as well as current political and economic interests in Korea. We view Korea as a strategic key to the situation in East Asia in general. That will be my point #1.

Point #2: What is Russia's position vis--vis the current situation? As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, one of the staunchest supporters of the NPT, participant in all the major non-proliferation regimes on the one hand, and an immediate neighbor and a long-standing partner of DPRK's on the other, we are definitely against a nuclearized Korean Peninsula while at the same time no less in favor of a political solution to the current controversy.

Point #3: The six-party format is the optimum platform to tackle both the DPRK's nuclear program issue and the Pyongyang well-known grievances. Why is it so? Because this platform somehow involves all the immediate neighbors and most concerned parties. It allowed, as any multi-lateral forum would perhaps do, for all sorts of formats for discussions - bilateral, trilateral, or others - under the general aegis of the six-party talks. And on top of that, this six-party format is quite flexible. It allows for an evolution of the talks, of the negotiating process in any desired direction, for instance, towards an expansion of the format of these talks, if the situation at the negotiation table so warrants.

My fourth point will be - we have very, very cautiously - very cautiously - and the emphasis should be placed on the words "very" and "cautiously" - not so much on the second part - we are very cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the talks.

We understand that the process will be a very protracted and perhaps arduous one, nevertheless the first step was made. And on top of it, the six point statement of principles for settlement was agreed upon in August in Beijing. Some people tend to forget about this agreement from time to time, but this is an important agreement. The elements as you know are: peaceful solution, simultaneous reciprocal and synchronized steps on all the sides immediately concerned; then again, no deterioration by any of the parties of the status quo situation as it is now.

Despite all the gloom in the press now, there are grounds to believe that the most concerned parties to the talks are making some progress. I know that sometimes your journalists and your mass media in general view statements made by your officials with a hefty degree of criticism, or even - allow me to say it - cynicism, but I think when Mr. Powell makes remarks as he has been doing of late, that there is an important progress in the six-party format, I think we can use some, you know, milder words subscribed to his conclusion.

Why do we think that there might be some ground for very mild optimism? Because we see the two main protagonists as making progress. On the one hand, allow me to say a few words about the DPRK position. There have been many statements coming out of Pyongyang as of late. Of course, the gist of the statement was such that in the press it evoked much ......, many interpretations, and in some quarters, even hard feelings. But let's tackle one by one. For instance, there was a statement made that the 8,017 spent nuclear rods were processed. And that was the part of the statement which evoked everybody's attention. But there was another part of it, and that is that they were reprocessed way back in June which means that it was reprocessed before the August talks and before the six-point understanding reached at the conclusion of those talks. It means that our DPRK colleagues might be hinting - that is just my interpretation - that the truth to Point #6, I think, of those arrangements and that is that there should not be any deterioration of the situation through the efforts or steps of all sides.

Then there is a statement that the DPRK has no great expectation or any expectation whatsoever for this current six-party format. But despite those statements, we have never heard, as far as I know, that any DPRK official or any official media outlet of DPRK's stated that they were not coming to the next round of talks. There was no such statement in so blunt terms.

The U.S. position is not at a standstill either. We have heard statements from Mr. Kelly, who is the head of your delegation to the six-party talks, that it has been evolving. For instance, the United States is not requiring, according to Mr. Kelly or according to my interpretation of what he has said - is not requiring an immediate, at one go, a dismantlement of all the nuclear programs of the DPRK. Rather the American delegation and its head view this as a lengthy process which is open to further discussion and to further negotiations. This is a good .... Then again, there are indications coming from various mass media in the United States that there is some, you know, work in progress on the part of the United States delegation on the issue of guarantees - security guarantee assurances to be given to the DPRK.

Having dispensed with those remarks, I would rather go over to the next point, and that is - some people say that the pace of the settlement and of the talks is slow now. Is it slow? Or not? Perhaps the reason for this conclusion is that first it was announced that the next round would be held in October, then Mr. Kelly hinted that perhaps it might be held in early November. He has done that in Tokyo. And now there is talk with references to the Chinese and South Korean sources, that perhaps the next round will be held in December.

To us, this is not the indication of the slow motion of the talks. It is rather an indication that the parties concerned are preparing to tackle the substantive part of the talks. After all, one year was spent on finding a commonly acceptable format for the talks. Then some time was required on persuading all the parties concerned to come to the talks. And now when the August Beijing inaugural dispensed with the so-called prelude or preface, if you wish, now we are on to the next chapter, and that is the chapter of the substantive problems to be tackled. What we would like to emphasize is, to our mind it is most important that the six parties, including ourselves of course, would concentrate on the main point and that is the nuclear issue, and the related concerns on the North Korean side without being restricted by any extraneous subject, be it of whatever nature - multi-lateral or bi-lateral.

Now, what about our role in the process of negotiations - how we see it. At this particular point in time, we view ourselves together with the Chinese as a facilitator of the process, as one of the powers who might guarantee the sustainability of that particular exercise which promises to be a very lengthy one. But at a later stage we would perhaps be in the position, depending on the progress of the negotiating process, to think more about a material contribution on our part if required, perhaps in the shape of gas deliveries from Russia to the Korean Peninsula, or in the form of other relevant projects. And having limited myself perhaps to those six or seven points, and having been in the position that I have to dispense with any lengthy remarks, I am now prepared to give the floor back to Professor Kim. Perhaps you have any questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and the floor is open. Chuck.

CHUCK: Thank you Dr. Kim, for giving me a second chance to ask a question today. Sir, the former Soviet Union maintained huge air bases in Mongolia and many people in this town and in Seoul and in a few other places have looked at the utility of these air bases as potential refugee camps. I've seen pictures of the facilities, and with a certain amount of money, not a great deal, they could be renovated and they could become actually very attractive refugee centers. Is there any claim that the current government of Russia would impose as an obstacle to the use of these air bases in Mongolia for refugee camps? Thank you.

AZIZOV: Thank you for your question. It could be well anticipated, of course. First of all, allow me to say that we have to have a list of priorities. What is our No. 1 priority now as the international community of nations? This is of course the issue of nuclear programs. All other issues - missiles, chemical weapons, conventional forces, humanitarian issues - are perhaps very much important, but at this point in time, you should think hard about whether you should be distracted from the pursuit of the main goal. This is my one point. The second point will be - of course it's up to Mongolia, whatever Mongolia wishes to do about those empty facilities. But to get to Mongolia, they will have to first - those potential refugees will have to travel some distance across China or Russia. So that's the situation, and I would say that we have some international obligations, vis--vis DPRK. These obligations are of course of a bilateral nature, but this new Russia, unlike the former Soviet Union, is known to have stuck to its obligations - bilaterally, internationally, or multilaterally. That would be my tentative answer to your question.

CLAUDIA ROSETT: I want to ask a question with great respect for the people of Russia, but it's still difficult and I'm trying to think how to phrase this. Right now you're describing a situation in which the two facilitators are a country that is still a highly repressive state in itself and has been supporting - the main supporter of Kim Jong Il's regime in recent times, and Russia which in fact first began transferring the nuclear technology as the Soviet Union. And it's true that it has changed in Moscow, but there are still slave labor camps policed by North Korean agents in the Russian Far East, there are considerable difficulties - if you are certain there are not, I'd be interested, but I believe there are - and this is something Russia tolerates in its borders. There is no move in Russia to do anything to actually help people escaping a totalitarian state, and finally - and this is a question - in Russia itself - in the Soviet Union, Stalin had to die before any kind of reform began, and the regime had to collapse before you got to the state that you are describing as an acceptable dealer in the world community. Why is it assumed that in North Korea, this is all right and that these two facilitators are in any position to promote anything really viable in the way of peace on the Peninsula? Thank you.

AZIZOV: Thank you. There are various ways and, you know, angles to view the situation on the Korean Peninsula, of course. I might not agree with what you say, but I honor your point of view, and I call on you to also show some respect toward China and Russia. We have our reasons to behave the way we do. And we will continue to do so. As for the nature of the regime in China, it's up to my colleague from the Chinese Embassy to reply, if he so desires. That would be my answer, ma'am.

QUESTION: ........ With the way NATO has been expanded and the role the United States has played in that expansion, is that affecting these talks regarding North Korea? What would you say, from the Russian perspective? Is this something that is helping or hurting the process?

AZIZOV: I frankly do not see North Korea applying to be a member of NATO, or NATO agreeing to consider such a request on the part of Pyongyang. And we are not applying for NATO membership either. So I don't think there is any correlation between the process of NATO expansion on the one hand and the DPRK nuclear issue on the other. There might be some correlation between the. . . in Pyongyang behaves itself internationally, and some of the earlier statements made not far from here that might be perfectly possible, but this is just a suggestion, nothing else.

MIKE ______: There are some, as Claudia suggested, there are some things in Russia's background that I think need clearing up and one of them is KL 007, the Korean Airliner that was shot down near ..... Island. Last year my organization, Accuracy in Media, submitted 500 petitions to the Soviet - to the Russian Embassy in Washington to ask that the questions that had been raised by Senator Helms about what happened - since there were virtually no bodies found it the wreckage, no remains found - what happened to all the people that were aboard that aircraft. There are stories, a lot of stories that have emerged that they were - as a matter of fact - rescued and some of them were in prison camps in the Soviet Union. Do you have any reason why the Russian government would not answer the questions of the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee about where are the bodies? If they are dead, where are they buried? If they're not, where are they? How do you solve - where's the answer to that?

AZIZOV: Thank you for your question. If the petitions reached their final destination, if they were given to us, they are being considered now of course.

MIKE _____: They were rejected.

AZIZOV: They were rejected.

MIKE _____: They were rejected.

AZIZOV: I see.

MIKE _____: By the top people in the Embassy.

AZIZOV: Mm-mmm.

MIKE ____: Why?

AZIZOV: I don't know. I will find out.

MIKE _____: You'll find out. I'll give you my card and I would appreciate getting an answer.

AZIZOV: Okay. All right. Yes, I'll find out.

MIKE _____: Very good. Thank you.

MARK _____: ....... I'll try not to bring up any dirty laundry ........ The question I have is - there is a view that we take, and as you say, there's many world views of what is going on in the North Korean area. It's 50 years since the cease fire, and so I take the view that the problem that exists in North Korea and South Korea is a regional issue rather than a global issue. The reason it might get into a global issue is because it's easier for the U.S. to maintain its - I guess - political stance that it should be involved. Could I hear you speak a little on your view about trying to deal with North Korea as a regional issue versus trying to deal with it as a global issue?

AZIZOV: I think it is both - or rather, it has three aspects to it. But this is my personal way of thinking of this issue. One is a bilateral issue. After all, this is an out- growth of the 1994 agreement, which was bilateral in nature, predominantly so, although it contains some multilateral elements to it as well. There is a regional dimension which is quite obvious, and the six-party talks stand to confirm that there is such a dimension. Otherwise, I don't think all those five other countries would take part in the talks. And there is an international - because it somehow pertains to the global non-proliferation regimes and their survival, or rather the issue of their viability in this current world environment. So - it seems to me that it would be tackled at all three levels - bilateral, regional, and international levels. That's my answer. And by the way, it has already been somewhat tackled at the international level by the efforts of EAIA - or rather IAEA.

LEONARD ______: I'm just wondering because of your last comment about the three facets - in each of these facets is the perception being that North Korea is being addressed as a state, or is there a component of Kim Jong Il being addressed as an individual leader with a different perception from the state in the international setting?

AZIZOV: Well, if you wish to ask us in Russia, we do not separate DPRK from Chairman Kim Jong Il, of course, but I am not aware of the American position, and it's not for me to speak on that subject.

JAMES _____: I want to ask a question that you may or may not want to answer. Twenty-five years ago we have a similar problem - North Korea and Vietnam. We had a lot of vulnerable people inside a hostile country, and in that country the international community had no access to them. The only way we could help them was when they left that country and they went to friendly asylum countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia. Over two million people. There, the international community was able to help. Now, we just heard this morning in the first presentation, there is a growing internally displaced problem in North Korea and many of them are unlikely to try to leave, but if it's impossible for the international community to get access in North Korea, would the neighboring countries, and this time similarly provide some degree of asylum and protection - maybe even temporary. I know that Russia and I think a number of the other countries in the region are now signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the related '67 protocol, which provides something of a humanitarian obligation to provide asylum to people fleeing oppression. But could you see a pattern for the countries of the region, if needs be in order to save lives, would open their borders to provide similar asylum as we saw 25 years ago?

AZIZOV: Sir, my reply will be the same as I've given already. I'm not prepared to comment on the internal politics of the DPRK. I'm not supposed to. That's not the country I'm attached to. I'm attached to the United States, and being an official of a foreign government, I'm not supposed to comment on the United States administration's actions as well. And I'm on the record. Thank you very much.

This page last updated 11/7/2003 jdb

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