Remarks by James A. Kelly
Assistant Secretary, East Asia and Pacific Affairs
December 16, 2004
Chairperson Synja Kim, Dr. Sang Joo Kim, Professor Murphy and friends: I thank the
Institute for this high honor and for the opportunity to comment, in the spirit of ICAS,
on "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." I also appreciate the
opportunity to comment on the United States and the Korean Peninsula. The United
States Government puts the highest priority on maintaining our strong alliance with the
Republic of Korea, and I am delighted to accept the award in that spirit.
I’d like to talk for a few minutes about the importance and breadth of the
partnership the United States enjoys with the Republic of Korea, and then speak
to what we are doing to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean
The growth of a robust and vibrant democracy in Korea over the last several
decades has been a positive development both for Korea and for the United States.
And among policy successes of the past four years has been the consolidation of
this partnership. When President Roh was elected there was talk of a "middle
path." But President Roh's election success and that of his Uri Party
colleagues, has in fact broadened and reaffirmed our close ties.
Recent elections have empowered a new generation of leaders in Korea, many of
them members of the reform-minded ‘386 Generation.’
That generation is too young to have experienced directly the Korean War, and
many of them are often suspicious of U.S. motives. So as you might expect, the
rise of this group to political leadership has challenged us to anchor bilateral
relations more deeply, and in some cases to define the importance of our ties in
new terms appropriate to a new generation and a new era. As we have done so, we
have made it a point to develop extensive relationships with young Korean
parliamentarians, who as you know constitute a large percentage of the current
National Assembly. We have also made it a key priority to reach out, using the
internet and other "new media" to new audiences in Korea.
We have taken on this important responsibility at all levels of our government as
we have sought to forge stronger ties with Koreans of all ages. Secretary Powell
has made this his own priority, as well. You may recall that when he visited Seoul
recently, he had an extremely successful public town meeting with college
students, whose questions were both polite and direct. For those who saw the
pictures of that encounter, it was clear that the chemistry between Secretary
Powell and these young people was excellent.
We are reaching out in this way in the context of a vibrant and dynamic bilateral
economic and trade relationship. The scope of that relationship is huge. Korea is
our seventh largest trading partner. U.S. firms have invested some $27 billion in
the Korean economy. And Korean firms account for one-quarter of all foreign
firms in the U.S. Our trade and investment links have fuelled prosperity in both
our countries, and fostered burgeoning people-to-people ties. Well over 700,000
Koreans a year visit the U.S., and something like 100,000 Americans are resident
In short, the ties and the partnership between our two nations have never been
stronger -- and they need to be at a time when we are together addressing some
very difficult issues.
We are modernizing our security alliance. The current disposition of U.S. forces
in Korea, essentially unchanged for half a century, frankly reflects another era
and is an antiquated and inefficient approach to defense. Both governments
recognized this fact and the need to realign and restructure the U.S. military
presence, not only to rationalize the footprint of our base structure to meet the
needs of the times, but also to take advantage of new technologies that allow us to
increase overall capabilities while reducing the size of our force presence. I am
happy to note that the Korean National Assembly has this week approved
agreements that will allow us to consolidate our bases and eventually relocate U.S.
forces from metropolitan Seoul, including from Yongsan Garrison to areas south
of the Han River. As we do so, we are making a major investment in new systems
and realigning some traditional roles and missions that will ensure that, when
these moves are completed, we will have a more credible and capable deterrent to
provide for the defense of the Republic of Korea.
Our two countries are also working closely together for a democratic Iraq, and
earlier this month President Roh paid a highly appreciated visit to ROK forces in
Irbil. The ROK is now the third largest presence in the multinational coalition in
Iraq and has taken a leadership role in rebuilding that country.
And we are working closely together to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean
The DPRK leadership decades ago set out on a path that would allow it to acquire
North Korea began construction of its 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon in 1979.
Under international pressure, it joined the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in 1985,
but did not sign its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA until 1992.
Within months, the IAEA found evidence of inconsistencies in North Korea’s
declarations with respect to its nuclear program.
By 1993, IAEA pressure for additional inspections led North Korea to announce its
intention to withdraw from the NPT. As tensions mounted, the U.S. and North Korea
began high-level talks that culminated in the Agreed Framework of 1994. That
agreement obligated the DPRK not to produce fissile material at its declared nuclear
facilities at Yongbyon. The agreement’s goal, as stated in its preface, was "an
overall resolution of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula."
That agreement did not, as we learned later, end the North Korean nuclear arms
programs. By the summer of 2002, our intelligence community assessed that North
Korea was pursuing a large covert program to produce enriched uranium -- in violation
of the Agreed Framework, the North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization
of the Korean Peninsula, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the DPRK’s
Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. In fact, we determined that North Korea had
been pursuing the program for a number of years, even as it was negotiating with senior
American officials to improve relations.
In October 2002, I led a delegation to Pyongyang to confront the North Koreans with
our assessment that they had a uranium enrichment program. DPRK First Vice Foreign
Minister Kang Sok Ju told us that the "hostile policy" of the U.S.
Administration had left North Korea with no choice but to pursue such a program.
When we pointed out our assessment that North Korea had been pursuing such a
program for years, he had no response.
Once caught in violation of their international obligations, instead of ending their covert
uranium enrichment program, the North Koreans escalated the situation. In December
2002, they expelled IAEA inspectors and began to reactivate the 5-megawatt reactor at
Yongbyon. In January 2003, the DPRK announced its withdrawal from the NPT. And
on several occasions in 2003, it declared it had finished reprocessing its 8,000-plus
existing spent fuel rods. If that is indeed the case, it could have produced enough fissile
material for several additional nuclear weapons. Since then, the DPRK has stated it is
strengthening what it calls its "nuclear deterrent capability."
The United States has adhered to two basic principles to deal with this threat. First, we
seek the dismantlement of all DPRK nuclear programs in a permanent, thorough and
transparent manner, subject to international verification. We cannot accept another
partial solution that does not deal with the entirety of the problem, allowing North
Korea to threaten others continually with a revival of its nuclear program.
Second, because the North’s nuclear programs threaten its neighbors and the integrity
of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, the threat can best be dealt with through
After a round of trilateral discussions in April 2003 in Beijing, we held the first round
of Six-Party Talks, with China as host, in August 2003. The other five parties all told
North Korea very clearly in plenary session that they will not accept North Korea’s
possessing nuclear arms.
The second round of Six-Party Talks was in February 2004. The parties agreed to
regularize the talks, and to establish a working group to set issues up for resolution at
the plenary meetings. At the second round of talks, the ROK offered fuel aid to the
DPRK, if there were a comprehensive and verifiable halt of its nuclear programs as a
first step toward complete nuclear dismantlement.
The third round of talks, held in June in Beijing, were useful and constructive. The
U.S. met directly with all of the parties over the course of the talks, and held a two-and-
a-half-hour discussion with the DPRK delegation.
The U.S. and ROK during the third round tabled concrete, detailed proposals to achieve
a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
The DPRK also participated actively in the plenary, offering a proposal for what it
describes as the first step toward full denuclearization -- a freeze of its nuclear-weapons
related programs in exchange for compensation from the other parties.
The Japanese also had constructive ideas, strongly supporting proposals that would lead
to the timely and comprehensive denuclearization of the Peninsula subject to
international verification, and expressing a willingness to provide energy assistance to
the DPRK when it is verified that the DPRK is actually on the road to denuclearization.
Despite the agreement of all six parties in June to resume talks by end-September, and
the willingness of five parties to hold to that commitment, the DPRK has not yet agreed
to return to the table.
North Korea’s rhetoric notwithstanding, the U.S. leadership has said repeatedly
that we have no intention of attacking or invading the DPRK, and that we have no
hostile intent towards the DPRK. If the DPRK is prepared to give up its nuclear
weapons ambitions, the U.S. remains ready, as we sought to convey in the third round
of the Six-Party Talks in June, to coexist with the DPRK and to work in the context of
the Talks to resolve the issues between us.
Diplomatic contacts among the Six Parties are continuing. We met with the North
Koreans in New York twice over the last three weeks, and made clear we remain ready
to resume the talks at an early date, without preconditions. We have also met with our
partners in the talks, in Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing. All of us agree that the Six-Party
Talks is the way forward -- to deal with the threat of North Korea’s nuclear programs,
and to improve the lives of the North Korean people and bring the DPRK into the
My hope is that the serious and extensive discussions with the United States, the
Republic of Korea, Japan, China and Russia will convince the DPRK that a truly
denuclearized Korean peninsula is its only viable option, and that it will come to
understand that delay is not in its interest.
Against the backdrop of the Six-Party talks, the DPRK appears to be trying to
undertake some measures in response to its disastrous economy. Its wage and price
reforms are an important first step but have created inflation and other economic and
social problems. Ultimately, then, it is too soon to evaluate the overall nature or long-
term impact of these steps, but we encourage Pyongyang to move in this direction and
hope they will serve as a foundation upon which to build improved economic relations
with other countries in the future. By addressing the world’s concerns about its nuclear
programs and other issues, the DPRK would have both new resources and opportunities
to pursue policies for peaceful growth in the region that is already perhaps the world’s
most vibrant, East Asia.
Let me conclude by stressing that the door remains open for the DPRK, by addressing
the concerns of the international community, to vastly improve the lives of its people,
enhance its own security, normalize its relations with the U.S. and others, and raise its
stature in the world. The United States, working with our ally the Republic of Korea
and others, remains committed to resolving the nuclear issue through peaceful
diplomatic means. Looking at what we have achieved in the Six-Party Talks thus far,
all of the elements of a resolution are clearly within sight. The only thing that is
missing is a strategic decision by Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions
and to negotiate in earnest. I trust that the DPRK will have the wisdom to make the
At this time, I would add a few words about the process and an important effect, even
now, from the Six Party talks. First, a "chemistry" has developed among the
six parties - a practice of frank discourse among all -- on an equal footing -- that
promises to keep this unprecedented Northeast Asian security dialogue alive, perhaps
even more useful in the years beyond resolution of the DPRK nuclear weapons
Second, unlike ten years ago, Japan and South Korea have their own communications
with the DPRK and it is clear that they are and will continue to be key to the resolution.
Personally, I hated to arrive in Seoul with the task of informing a major government,
with the most vital interests, of events to which they were not a party. This is not right
and no American should have such a task. Our allies need to hear what is said directly.
Thank you again for this chance to meet with you today, and for the honor that you
have bestowed on me.
(Update: December 21, 2004, jdb)