DPRK Briefing Book: Nautilus Institute Special Report:
Nuclear Confrontation with North Korea: Lessons of the 1994 Crisis for Today
Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 20, 2003
Professor, Claremont McKenna and former Blue House National Security Advisor
Dean at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and former Ambassador-at-Large in the U.S. Department of State and chief negotiator of the Agreed Framework
President, Korea University and former South Korean Foreign Minister
Professor and President Emeritus of Emory University, and Co-Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on Korea; and former U.S. Ambassador in Seoul
Principle at the Scowcroft Group and former Special Assistant to the President of the United States for Nonproliferation and Export Control Policy
Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies
U.S. Ambassador to Seoul
Joel Wit: The idea for this roundtable originated with myself and two other panelists, Ambassador Gallucci and Dan Poneman. For the past two years, the three of us have been working on a book about the 1994 crisis that led to the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework. The book will be published later this year, in English, Korean and Japanese. Eight months ago, we decided to bring together former American and South Korean government decision makers who worked together on resolving that crisis, both to illuminate historical events and to draw some lessons for the future. I am fairly certain this is the first time that such former decision makers have been on the same panel.
Now, we have a new crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which makes the events of 1994 and their lessons even more timely as the international community struggles to come to grip with this mounting problem. It is our hope that this unique gathering of former officials can offer insight into a wide variety of topics, such as U.S.-South Korean relations, the role of military force in dealing with North Korea, and negotiating with Pyongyang, to better inform the current public debate over what to do next. I should add that the results of this meeting will be made available to the general public through various media and Internet outlets.
My plan for proceeding over the next few hours is to give each of the panelists a short amount of time for an initial presentation, during which I hope they will share with us their perspectives on the 1994 crisis and the events of today. During the second hour, it will be my responsibility as the moderator to ask our panelists questions and hopefully to stimulate some interesting discussion. Finally, we will save some time at the end for questions from the audience.
Before beginning, let me briefly introduce each of our panelists, most of whom are familiar to you. Professor Han Sung-joo from Korea University was South Korea’s Foreign Minister during the 1994 crisis. Ambassador Robert Gallucci, the former Ambassador-at-Large in the U.S. Department of State, was in charge of U.S. policy during the 1994 crisis and was the chief negotiator of the Agreed Framework; he is now the Dean at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Professor Chung Chung-wook was the Blue House National Security Advisor during the 1994 crisis.
Ambassador James Laney was the U.S. Ambassador in Seoul during the 1994 crisis. He is now a Professor and President Emeritus of Emory University, and Co-Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on Korea. He wanted me to add that he also has 16 grandchildren. Finally, Daniel Poneman was the Special Assistant to the President of the United States for Nonproliferation and Export Control Policy during the 1994 crisis and is now with the Scowcroft Group in Washington, D.C.
I would also like to also acknowledge the presence of the current U.S. Ambassador, Tom Hubbard, who played a critical role, second only to Ambassador Gallucci, in helping to deal with the 1994 crisis while he was working in Washington at the State Department. During the course of our discussion, I plan on calling on Tom to get his insights.
So with all the formalities out of the way, we will start with Professor Han.
Han Sung-joo: I will talk briefly on four items. First, what are the differences between the situation in 1993/1994 and today? Second, what are the pending issues between and among the allies in dealing with the problem? What are the possible scenarios coming out of the situation: comparing those 10 years ago and the scenarios that we see today?
There are many similarities, as well as differences, between the situations that are apart by 9 to 10 years. Today, North Korea is much closer to nuclear weapons than they were 9 or 10 years ago. When the nuclear crisis started, North Korea had not yet withdrawn their spent fuel rods from the five-megawatt reactor, as they did that in the spring of 1994. Although that in itself was an urgent crisis, we still had time for dialogue and to see if that would succeed or fail. We did not know, as we do not know now, whether North Korea intended or now intends to trade its nuclear program away or whether North Korea is determined to become a nuclear power. But, in 1994, we could afford to give diplomacy a chance and, failing that, we could still resort to other, more severe measures. Today, we do not have the luxury of depending on one method, i.e. negotiation, at a time. We have to be prepared for the possibility, or even probability, that sooner or later North Korea will become or declare itself a nuclear power.
The second difference consists of the attitudes of the Republic of Korea and the United States. In 1993, there were times when [the ROK] government had a harder line than the United States. On the whole, we were able to coordinate and make our positions fairly consistent, whereas today it is obvious that the United States is taking a much harder line than the Republic of Korea. Given the nature of politics on the Korean Peninsula, it was much easier to deal with the issue when the South Korean government took harder line than the United States, inasmuch as North Korea considers South Korea fellow Koreans. The third difference is the firmness or shakiness of the U.S.-South Korean alliance. It is much more difficult to deal with this issue when the two countries are not in lock step together.
Finally, there is probably less, if not an absence of, constraints on North Korea. Despite his manipulating attitude, the senior leader, Kim Il Sung, could restrain some of the younger hard liners, and make the key decision to meet with former President Carter. We do not have such a force today in North Korea.
Today, North Korea has a greater incentive to secure nuclear weapons after seeing what occurred in India, Pakistan and Iraq. President Bush said in his State of the Union address that this year the U.S. learned a lesson from North Korea in dealing with Iraq. North Korea probably learned a lesson from Iraq in dealing with the United States. That is, if you are working on a nuclear program, you should complete it
Finally, America is now post-9/11 America. You have a Bush doctrine that places an emphasis on preempting possible threats to the United States; that divides the world into enemies and friends; and for very understandable reasons and circumstances, will make the U.S. act in a certain way. That is a lot different from the United States of 1993 and 1994.
There are five additional issues among the allies to consider in moving to confront North Korea. First, there are different assessments of what North Korea’s motives are. One position holds that all North Korea wants is to start negotiations with the United States and, given the proper payoffs in terms of dialogue and financial or material assistance, North Korea will give up its nuclear program. The other position holds that North Korea intends to become a nuclear power and it does not matter what we do. Second, certain allies emphasize sticks, and others emphasize carrots. Third, should we neglect the issue, whether it is benign neglect or malign neglect, or should we actively engage in solving the problem? Fourth, should we try to deal with the issue in a bilateral way as we did 10 years ago or we should rely on multilateralism? Ten years ago, Russia was probably the only champion of multilateralism, advocating a 10-party conference of some kind. Now, the United States has become the champion of multilateralism. The question is how do we harmonize the need to have bilateral solution within multilateral context? Finally, should we negotiate new agreements or place exclusive emphasis on enforcing old agreements? These are the issues at the moment that make coordination among allies somewhat difficult and rough.
Robert Gallucci: Thank you. First, let me say what a pleasure it is to be with you and these distinguished members of this panel. I mean that sincerely. I generally like to give a presentation that is analytical and has three or four or six or eight moving parts, but if the focus is lessons from 1994 I will keep it simple. I want to offer one lesson from 1994, and that lesson is that negotiations, bilateral negotiations, between the United States and North Korea can work. That is it. If we look back to 1993, a decade ago, there are many differences that Professor Han noted and laid out fairly clearly. But overall, these similarities seem, in a way, unavoidable.
In 1993, North Korea had violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the safeguards agreements. They refused to accept the inspections that the International Atomic Energy Agency required. The Atomic Energy Agency Board reported the matter to the Security Council and the United Nations. North Korea announced their intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as they were pursuing actively a nuclear weapons program.
We now find ourselves with North Korea having violated several nuclear agreements: the Agreed Framework, North-South Declaration on Denuclearization, and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The IAEA Board has reported the matter to the Security Council and the United Nations. North Korea has again withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and is pursuing actively a nuclear weapons program.
In 1993, the United States made a decision first to stimulate a U.N. Security Council resolution calling upon member states to work to resolve the crisis and then the United States took the initiative and engaged North Korea directly in talks. Was it, in 1993, a concession by the United States to go to the table bilaterally and talk directly with North Korea? I would say, yes, it was. The Administration made that decision, knowingly made that concession, because they thought it was the right thing to do. It was a good idea. We agreed then in 1993 that we would talk to North Korea. There were a number of conditions: most importantly that there was no reprocessing or separation of plutonium and that there was a continuity of safeguards maintained. In other words, inspectors would make sure that the nuclear situation was not getting worse while we talked.
That issue was fine-tuned a year later, in 1994, after North Korea discharged fuel into the storage pond in a way that we had warned them not to do. As a result, we said we are not going to continue negotiations. We only went back to the table after we raised the bar a bit and told North Korea they could also no longer produce more plutonium in their reactors. That is, they could not run their five- megawatt reactor, and if they started to then we would not go back to the table.
We had some conditions, but we made the fundamental concession of agreeing to talk to North Korea bilaterally and directly. It seems to me that the lesson is we ought to do so again. I recognize that there are many, many, many differences, but we ought to understand and be willing to admit there is a political concession to speaking directly with North Korea. In my view, we ought to be willing to do so again, in the same way we did a decade ago, with similar kinds of conditions. We did not negotiate with a gun to our head; we made sure that the five-megawatt reactor was not producing more plutonium and there was no reprocessing. Essentially, we start with the status quo ante and that we then see if we can negotiate an outcome that improves the situation.
Is it now, and was it in 1993, appeasement? Were we subjecting ourselves to blackmail? Were we then, and would we be now, morally wrong if we were to engage North Korea? Is there a reason why we should negotiate with North Korea now after they cheated on the last deal we made? Would that not reflect naïveté, if not stupidity? These are the kinds of questions I see in the air in Washington these days. It seems to me that if we are going to talk about morality, one of the first places to begin that discussion is with the outcomes produced by the policy you propose to evaluate. What is the political wisdom of the policy?
If you look at outcome of the Agreed Framework, you see that a North Korean nuclear weapons program based on plutonium was stopped. If we had not negotiated and had not otherwise stopped the program, it would have produced by now at least 100 nuclear weapons. With a program of the capacity to produce no less than 30 additional weapons each year, who believes that North Korea would be morally constrained to not sell the plutonium, or even the weapons, to the highest bidders the way they sell ballistic missiles around the world? Who would like to live in such a world?
It was a good idea that we made the concession to prevent such a world in 1993. As the Secretary of Defense said in 1995 in testimony, we could have bombed Pyongyang. We were capable of doing it, prepared to do it, we knew how to do it and we would have succeeded. Would there have been a war? Possibly. Would it have been a lot more costly even than constructing light water reactors and delivering heavy fuel oil? Yes.
I do not have any ambiguity about the moral value of what we did in 1993. Did the Agreed Framework contain vulnerabilities? Was it less than perfect? I would have to say that, yes, the Agreed Framework is less than perfect and there are vulnerabilities. The most glaring one is not that light water reactors also produce plutonium; it is not that we rewarded bad behavior with good things. The most glaring problem was that we were trying to stop the nuclear weapons program and we focused on the existing weapons program in North Korea based upon plutonium. We froze that program and we arranged for its dismantlement over time, as the framework played out. But we did not achieve any additional transparency. We had no new inspection regime and all of us were keenly aware that one could build nuclear weapons not only with the existing facilities, but also with new, secret ones.
I was asked in testimony in 1995, and many times privately by Senators and Congressmen, whether North Korea could cheat. I said, yes, they could and if they did it would probably be in the area of enrichment and the technology would be centrifuge. This was common sense. Many of us had been around the track with other countries that had done exactly this. The Iraqis had a secret uranium enrichment program, and one of the technologies they used was centrifuge. The Pakistanis built their first nuclear weapons with a secret uranium enrichment programs based on centrifuge. Although we could predict it, why did we not do something about it? Because we did not think it was negotiable. That’s a judgment of the negotiating team and the government at the time. It was not my personal judgment only. We made the best deal we could, and we reported that the way to deal with this vulnerability was to monitor North Korea just as carefully as we would if we did not have a deal, through our intelligence capabilities and the intelligence capabilities of our allies. We would try to catch them if they cheated, and the program we knew about we could monitor. The deal also gave us leverage with North Korea, in 1998, to do some inspections. North Koreans agreed to those onsite inspections because they wanted to preserve the framework.
Why should we have another deal if North Korea cheated on the first one? Because we might be better off after another deal, as we were last time, than if we do not have a deal at all. That is my standard. It is a very pragmatic standard. If we only do deals with people who we are sure we can trust, we will make very few deals. We should look to verify what we agree to. Where we ca not verify, we ought to understand the vulnerability. If the deal includes those elements, we should understand that it could still be in our interest to make it, even if it will not be perfect.
One of the advertisements I read in airplane magazines all the time says, “you never get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.” We got what we negotiated, and it was better than not having negotiated, but it was not perfect. It has been said, “you can not make peace by only negotiating with your friends.” Morality, for me, is not contained in the moralisms that we see enshrined in words like appeasement and blackmail. Morality is achieving our security and the security of our allies at the least cost in life and treasure. That is what we did in 1994, and it can be done again. That is the lesson of 1994. Thank you.
Chung Chung-wook: Thank you. My remarks will consist in two parts. First, I will present my personal recollections from the government during the first phase of the 1993 nuclear crisis. Second, I will draw some lessons from the earlier experience to shed light on the present situation.
I felt very chagrined and sorry when I heard that the Agreed Framework went down the drain, if not totally died since so many of us put in so much intellectual energy and material resources to help this agreement come to life. As Ambassador Gallucci pointed out, the Agreed Framework was not necessarily the best deal we could get at that time. It was meant not to be such an ideal. It was meant only as a framework, a kind of road map along which we could find some kind of solution, and eventually come to the complete resolution of North Korea’s nuclear program.
Many people say that it took too long to complete the tour of the road. But it was the best deal we could get given the situation, at that time, with the most difficult country we had ever dealt with. As someone who worked in the government at that time, I had the opportunity to witness how hard these decision-makers worked against North Korea’s nuclear ambition.
But I sometimes wonder whether or not there was something that we could have done better. Was the deal the only alternative we could have obtained given the situation? In particular, I wonder if our decision, which was dictated partly by North Korea, to make light water reactors the centerpiece of this Agreed Framework, perhaps allowed North Korea to keep the nuclear option way too late in the game. Certainly we could have done something else given the fact that North Korea wanted energy. Light water reactors would take 10 years or more before electricity could be generated. Perhaps a thermal or hydro power plant could have been much more effective.
In terms of cost, construction of a light water reactor is around five billion dollars. If you include the cost of the heavy fuel oil that we had to supply to North Korea in the interim, the bill would go up. We could have perhaps persuaded North Korea to accept another alternative which could have provided North Korea with a faster, more direct means of getting what they wanted and also allowing us to obtain what we were looking for, transparency of North Korea’s nuclear program. We can apply this to the present nuclear situation.
I will mention only a few additional lessons we can draw from the earlier working experience. One is that we have to act fast. As Minister Han and Ambassador Gallucci pointed out, time is running out. This situation is different from 1994. Today there are more serious consequences of delay. Whether or not North Korea has decided to go for the nuclear option or not, today they have a greater nuclear weapon capability than 10 years ago, and may be moving very fast to make it a fait accompli before the end of war in Iraq.
Second, it is necessary to maintain very close cooperation and consultation with the United States. It is the most essential element in resolving any situation such as North Korea’s nuclear crisis. It is already a difficult enough a task to tackle the crisis without the reported descent between Washington and Seoul in the press. Now is not the time for decision-makers in Washington and Seoul to explore the possibility of a more balanced, better relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea. They should wait until after we have cleared this nuclear problem. I worry that a report of dissension between Seoul and Washington would give the wrong signal to North Korea. We can no longer afford to do that.
Third, we should have a sharper focus on what we intend to achieve, on our goals. Certainly I see the merit of comprehensive approach toward North Korea, and I do think that is perhaps the approach we should take, but an overly comprehensive approach dilutes your focus.
Finally, We must recognize importance of international cooperation. We had international cooperation in 1994, but that was fairly limited. This time we need genuine, very close cooperation from the international community, and China, Russia and Japan in particular. The multilateral approach is very appropriate. However, a key difference between 1994 and today is that the Chinese position has changed. In 1994, Chinese relations with North Korea were not very good. Its relations with Washington were not that good either. Now, China maintains a very good relationship with both, and the new leadership in Beijing is much more concerned with the nuclear crisis situation than the previous leadership.
James Laney: I want to add that it is my pleasure and honor to share this panel with my former colleagues and friends, and to revisit times that were both exhilarating, exhausting and, I might add, frustrating. I came as a tyro, a newcomer, to the post in Seoul, in the middle of much of what has already been discussed, and found that the situation was deteriorating rapidly. Then, as now, the North seemed to have the initiative and most of our moves were reactionary.
Both South Korea and the United States were hamstrung by very vocal and harsh domestic critics. They were afraid of being charged with appeasement, even though negotiation may have turned out to be the best solution, whereas being tough can always brings you domestic support.
In Seoul, I found Foreign Minister Han calibrating his carrot and stick approach with only hot and cold support in the Blue House from President Kim. I began to see that one of my jobs was to reassure Seoul of U.S. support, as well as, frankly, to try to fathom what the U.S. policy was and coordinate with one another. One of my greatest concerns was that there seemed to be a lack of policy direction in Washington at the highest level. This was to be remedied very shortly, but at that point it was a matter of enormous concern for me.
Second, while we did have some moderate or low-level talk going on in New York and elsewhere with North Korea, we really were not dealing with North Korea. In early January of 1994, Senators Nunn and Lugar, as the Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee and the ranking minority member of the Foreign Relations Committee, respectively, came to Seoul for a very purposeful visit. At that point, I shared with them my concerns that the proliferation issue was overwhelming most considerations of stability on the Peninsula. As a result of these concerns and with some urging from both Nunn and Lugar, I returned to Washington and had some very serious talks at the White House asking specifically that someone be placed in charge at a high level that would have the President’s confidence. I am delighted that somewhere along the line Ambassador Gallucci was given that responsibility.
But that still left the issue of our contact with the North at that point. There was much going on and during the course of the spring of 1994 there were several approaches attempted. One was a Nunn-Lugar visit to North Korea, but they were not able to obtain permission from the North. In May, when I returned to Atlanta, I had a long talk with former President Jimmy Carter, who it turns out, had been with President Clinton the day before and expressed his concerns about similar things. As I talked with Carter came the decision that he was going to try to go to North Korea.
After having been briefed by Ambassador Gallucci and others, and having been given at least a yellow light, if not a green light, to go from President Clinton, he went. At that time this was an extraordinarily awkward move. It was awkward for the Administration in Washington, and it was not really welcome on the part of many, and certainly not by President Kim Yong Sam here in Seoul in part because it seemed that the initiative had been passed out of the Administration in Washington and of the Blue House. So President Carter crossed over the DMZ on the 15th of June.
The next day, and I am going into this because this is part of the problem of coordination between the two allies, General Luck called me in great agitation. He was the Commander of American forces here, and said that he had just learned that there was going to be a very significant build up of forces imminently on the Korean Peninsula and wanted to know if I had authorized it. I told him I did not know anything about it. So we sent a cable stating that were not really ready for this because, first of all, there was no provision for civilian evacuations, nor for the impact that it would have on the Korean people or the Korean government.
Coincidentally, within 24 hours, Carter announced in Pyongyang that he had reached an agreement with Kim Il Sung to freeze their nuclear program until some things could be negotiated. That lessened the tension on the peninsula, as we were moving with some inexorable measure toward confrontation on the issue of U.N. sanctions, despite all the efforts that were going on in Washington and Seoul. The Carter visit provided an intervention from outside the equation, which seemed to, if not forestall, at least to slow the process down and allow things to catch up.
Reflecting on that over and over again, I am aware of several things. One, when things begin to move inexorably in one direction, there needs to be some imagination about what kind of approach can break us out of the box, because there is so much invested on the part of pride and the desire to prevail on all sides.
Second, I am deeply concerned that the initiative for the build up of forces concomitant with the sanctions at the U.N. took place with little Korean input. It was more or less just done. As Professor Han has mentioned earlier, it seems better when the United States takes the lead than when Korea takes the lead, in dealing with North Korea. But it is also important the United States takes the lead in coordination with Seoul.
Han Sung-joo: Just to clarify, I did not say that it is better for the United States to take the lead. I said it is better on the Korean issue if the United States takes a softer line and South Korean government takes a harder line. Then it is much less of a domestic issue.
James Laney: Well, I stand corrected. But I am not sure that that invalidates the concern that I am trying to express, which is that close coordination is crucial. In 1994 there were people like Nunn and Lugar, two very powerful men in the Senate, to provide a moderating voice. They were realists, pragmatists, and certainly no one would call them liberal, against he more hawkish and harsh tendencies in and out of government. I am not sure whether we have such seasoned people with that kind of standing now.
It is important to note that as difficult, as hard and as urgent as it is to deal with the nuclear issue, the proliferation issue is not the only issue. There is also the issue of the security and stability of this Peninsula and of the region. Both of these are tied up now in far more complex ways than they were then. It is important that they be held together and not separated. However we pursue the issue of the nuclear program in North Korea, any move toward a military action to resolve the issue of the nuclear program needs to not only be coordinated with our ally in Seoul, but also fully taken into account in the costs.
Daniel Poneman: I am also honored to join my colleagues. We just had a very recent example of how even with no separation in time or time zone you can have some lack of communication among close allies. It points to a larger lesson, which I will get to. I also want to reiterate Joel’s thanks to the Carnegie Corporation for supporting this event, Korea University, all other sponsors, Ambassador Hubbard and other distinguished guests.
I would like to make three points, and in the interest of being provocative, I will include some different reflections on the history of 1994. Number one, we need clear goals and a road map to achieve them. Second, we need energetic diplomacy in the service of those goals. Third, we need to employ every available tool in support of that diplomacy.
First, on the need for clear goals and a road map, Ambassador Laney just mentioned that both of the goals that we considered paramount in 1994 are still paramount today. Number one, that Korea remain a non- nuclear Peninsula and, number two, that we ensure a safe, stable and secure Korean Peninsula. That of course includes ballistic missile proliferation, the conventional arms issue and the dangers of maintaining hair trigger deployments on the DMZ, and other issues of international concern on human rights and tragic famine that are continuously plaguing the regime in North Korea. However, it was a conscious decision in 1993 that the U.S. government contemplate the full array of issues at play in Korea but put the nuclear issue first.
The theory was quite simple, absent a resolution of what was then an unshackled, rampant growing plutonium threat no other issue could be dealt with in a reasonable manner that could ensure U.S. and ROK objectives. Today, while it would be laudable and worthwhile to attempt to solve the great range of issues that are still very critically important in North Korea, I would still take an interim solution that put a tourniquet on the nuclear problem so that we could buy time to work the other issues. Fortunately, at this level of generality, there is a broad degree of consensus on these objectives not only among the treaty allies: the core three nations of U.S., Republic of Korea and Japan, but also the other P5 members.
Harder than articulating these objectives, is devising a road map likely to achieve them. There is something very important in what Ambassador Laney just said about the 1994 crisis; there needs to be a way out. On a historical note, this was a preoccupying concern of President Clinton throughout that period in which tensions were rising vis-à-vis North Korea. He was very concerned that there be an exit ramp; that we not only indicate to Pyongyang what we did or did not want, but that we provide some mechanism for North Korea to come into compliance with our objectives in a manner that was plausibly acceptable to Pyongyang.
Former President Carter was a very conscious of this and internalized part of U.S. strategy to find an exit ramp. By the way, that was not the only time in which we attempted to find an exit ramp for a face- saving North Korea to climb down. The attempted visit by Nunn and Lugar was part of that process, as was the earlier visit by Billy Graham.
As we devise this road map, one of the lessons is that we have to be firm on the principles, but flexible on our tactics. While I agree with Ambassador Gallucci’s assessment that U.S. direct talks with North Korea was a concession, I have always felt that if was merely a tactical concession. We never made a concession on our objectives of a non-nuclear and safe, stable and secure Korea. I attach zero intrinsic importance to the shape of the table. But if you give up on the objectives of preventing the reprocessing of five to six nuclear weapons worth of plutonium in North Korea, that would be a major concession. All of the pre-conditions for direct talks set out by the U.S. prevented us from engaging in the famous third round of talks that was anticipated with North Korea. Instead, we ended up negotiating with ourselves and with our allies, instead of dealing directly with the problem.
Second, we need an energetic diplomacy. In a way, you could finesse the multilateral versus bilateral issue by saying everybody needs to do what they can. Indeed, that is what U.N. Security Council Resolution 825 of May 1993 provided. Clearly, at the core is the U.S.-ROK relationship. The trilateral process involving Japan is also crucial, as well as, the roles played by the P5 and the non-aligned movement, the IAEA, the G8 and other supporters. In this context, the hardest issue to manage is the coordination between the U.S. and the ROK, vis- à-vis North Korea.
I would draw a distinction here between the last crisis and this crisis. Always present in everyone’s mind, especially here in Seoul, is our proximity to the DMZ. It was always a potential source of tension, albeit one that we always worked very hard to manage, that the brunt of any conflict that would occur as a result of the North Korean nuclear program would be felt here in South Korea. We have many American citizens and troops here, but it is obviously of paramount importance that this is your homeland. The difference now is September 11th. The five to six North Korean critical masses, which would be about the size of a baseball each, could go anywhere, and threaten the U.S. homeland. North Korea has not shown restraint in terms of exports of weapons of mass destruction and it is entirely plausible to envisage those critical masses ending up in Oklahoma, California, Colorado, or Baltimore. As a result, the geographic proximity that was a distinguishing feature between the U.S. and the ROK in 1994 has been largely erased. Those five to six critical masses present a tremendous direct threat to the United States and how that plays out in the U.S.- ROK relationship in managing this crisis is one of the greatest challenges we now face.
The third and final point is the need for a robust use of every available tool we have. Someone once said, “it is hard to have leverage over a country that is only hovering about one inch off the ground.” We do not have the luxury of lots of WTO negotiations and genetically modified beef as tools of leverage with North Korea. There are very few tools available to us to exert pressure or use as incentives in a creative way with North Korea.
We do need to study what in 1994 brought North Korea around. We were heading on a track toward negotiation with North Korea and had finally gotten toward the decision of having a third round on the famous Super Tuesday, when everything unraveled. North Korea continued to flout the IAEA inspectors and made the infamous Sea of Fire statements of March 1994. North Korea saw an ever-tightening noose as a result of our joint U.S., ROK and Japanese diplomacy. They saw they were getting repeated votes against them in the U.N. Security Council, even in the U.N. General Assembly, and their reliance on China to save them from possible sanctions was very much in question. At the same time, Secretary Perry came out here in the spring of 1994 and met with the South Korean military and defense leaders. He and General Luck came back to Washington for full sessions with the other military commanders and a full briefing of the President in May of 1994. And when June came around and North Korea had taken the fateful step of de-fueling their five-megawatt reactor, leading the IAEA to conclude that it could no longer attest to the historical activities of those spent fuel rods, we were clearly then on the road to sanctions.
At this point North Korea was bereft of support, even from China, and Russia by that time had announced that it would not enforce their mutual assistance treaty. They were looking at the prospect of U.N. Security Council sanctions, and the likely substantial increase of U.S. military forces on the Peninsula, as a deterrent against their own threats to treat the imposition of U.N. sanctions as an act of war.
It was then decided that under this pressure, President Carter’s willingness to go to Pyongyang could provide North Korea with a face- saving exit. Blandishments or cajolery alone, were and are not going to be sufficient. As before, we need the full complement of tools at our disposal, as a balance of sticks and carrots.
One of the first things told me by somebody older and wiser than I about dealing with North Korea back in the early 1990s was that North Korea does not respond to pressure, but without pressure they do not respond. There is an art to finding the optimal level of pressure where you indicate with clarity your objectives and the consequences if they do not meet your objectives. We need to include the full range of options, including, if all else fails, sanctions and military possibilities.
At the same time, it is equally important to say that if they do move toward meeting our objectives, there are things of value available to them as an exit ramp to show them how to get from here to there in a way that is acceptable in their system. I would start with security assurances.
Joel Wit: Thanks you all. The presentations have highlighted a number of interesting issues. Do any of the participants have any reactions to any of the other presentations? Is there anything they would like to comment on something another panelists has said?
Robert Gallucci: When Professor Han was outlining the differences between the situation in 1993 and now, I believe he said that North Korea was now much closer to nuclear weapons acquisition than they were in 1993. I am not sure about that. We had calculated in 1993 or 1994 that the reason we got into the crisis was because North Korea may have separated more plutonium than they admitted to the IAEA when they reprocessed some spent fuel presumably back in 1990 or 1991. If they did, we calculated that they might have reprocessed somewhere between five and ten kilograms of plutonium, enough for one or two nuclear weapons.
The question was did they make the nuclear weapons? The judgment in 1993 and 1994 was they would have wanted to, that was why they had the program. Did they have the capability to build the implosion system? Probably. So we ended up with a judgment that it was more likely than not that North Korea had one or two nuclear weapons. I heard Secretary of State Powell on television one Sunday morning, say that North Korea had a couple of nuclear weapons, which is a little further along than more likely than not that they had nuclear weapons. But if they do have nuclear weapons it would be the same two that they would have had in 1993-1994.
What we are looking at now is the prospect of restarting the plutonium program and the beginning of the highly enriched uranium program. I would say that the situation, with respect to what North Korea possesses right now, is probably pretty much what it was then.
Han Sung-joo: Maybe I should have said they are closer to having enough nuclear weapons to be able to conduct a test and maybe even export two or three. At that time, they were close to having one or two. Possibly they could have already made one or two, but that is not the same as having five or six. If they start reprocessing the 8,000 fuel rods they have now, it will be not only quantitatively different, but also the threat will be qualitatively different.
Robert Gallucci: I would still dissent then, because in 1994 the American technicians from P&L Labs had not yet recanned the spent fuel and the reprocessing plant had not yet been frozen. So if you asked in 1994 how close were they to separating the plutonium in the spent fuel as compared to now, I would say they were closer than they are now.
Han Sung-joo: We are talking about spring of 1993, before they had withdrawn.
Robert Gallucci: Oh, compared to spring of 1993 when they had not discharged the fuel?
Han Sung-joo: Right.
Robert Gallucci: But that only took a matter of weeks, so the situation is substantially the same in their capability to produce nuclear weapons in 1993, in terms of numbers and capacity, as it is now. Maybe even better than 1993, although I must admit I really do not know more than what I have read in the newspapers about the enrichment program.
Joel Wit: Let me try to intervene here. I do not think we are going to bridge this gap. Let me try to pull this to a different plane and that is one of the issues that has been raised by a number of the panelists is the subject of U.S.-South Korean relations and the consultation process in dealing with North Korea. I have a feeling that there may be some differences here, even among the Americans. How did the consultation process work in 1993 and 1994 in dealing with this issue, or how it did not work?
James Laney: First of all, the consultation itself worked beautifully. I could not have asked for two more accessible, understanding, or helpful officials in the Korean government in trying to work together for a common policy than the two that are on the panel here today. This is not flattery at all. This is a simple fact. We spent hours, both in offices and outside of offices, and in homes over coffee until midnight. I am sure that continues to go on today.
The issue was not so much the closeness of coordination between the Embassy and Seoul government, as it was the lack of clarity and communication in Washington on the one hand, and sometimes moves that were virtually preemptory by Washington on the other. These were not deliberate, but part of the pell-mell operations. The process of policy making in Washington is one of vast complexities and confusion, especially interagency. In addition, there is a cleavage within the Administration: we have people in Washington today that want a regime change in North Korea. We also need to consider having a credible military position.
I just talked to someone who was back from North Korea two days ago, and they said the one palpable sense there was fear. I do not think that there is any lack appreciation of the threat in North Korea about what might happen to them if this thing does not get resolved. That does not necessarily lead to any solution, but that there is an awareness that there will be serious consequences if this thing does not get worked out somehow.
One other thing I want to say is that if you re thinking about the possibility of military confrontation with North Korea, the downside for South Korea is so much more enormous than for the United States. Regardless of the United States’ claims of its own security risks, especially after199/11, South Korea ought to have a major voice in the approach that is going to be taken. It is that level of coordination, at the Ambassadorial level and also beyond, that is absolutely critical. What I have to say about 1994 is no reflection on my colleagues; it was a very confused time and we were all working our heads off. But there does need to be a very deliberate effort at a very high level to work on these things together. I do not know whether that is happening now or not, but I am concerned.
Joel Wit: Dan do you have the White House perspective?
Dan Poneman: The one point where I completely agree with that Jim is that anything having to do with the prospect of military action on the Peninsula must involve the closest consultation at the highest levels and below between our two governments. That is unquestionable. I want to be clear, though, that we need to have a credible deterrent. The changes wrought by September 11th in the U.S. perspective do not undermine that fundamental truth.
I actually thought that, 10 years ago, the system worked extraordinarily well and smoothly within Washington. I was not only involved with North Korea, but also Iran and China and Russia on export controls. Almost any one of those other issues was more painful and difficult to work interagency than North Korea. There was no need to get into the kind of inside Washington politics because everyone understood that the stakes were so high in Korea. As well, the personal mutual regard and chemistry that developed between Secretary of Defense Perry, Secretary Christopher, all the principals, Tony Lake, Sandy Berger, Bob Gallucci and others meant that people would come in and genuinely try to thrash out a problem. each agency had a different perspective. But to a large degree the agencies succeeded in figuring out whether to put the nuclear issue first or the missile issue. It was, sometimes painful. But we actually came out with summaries and conclusions, immediately disseminated in each case. I felt from that perspective, as Jim said, it was a very confused time. There were sometimes 25, 30 issues on the table. But in terms of my experience seven years watching that process run, I could point to almost every other case as, being harder, more confused and more difficult to get people coordinated.
Indeed, during the discussion here in Seoul with some of the Embassy staff, the question was did the negotiator, Bob Gallucci, feel he was getting the kind of coordinated support from the Executive Branch writ large as he needed? Which is, to some degree, litmus of the kind of question that Jim raised. At that time, Bob said that he was.
Joel Wit: I would like to focus in on more of the issue of the U.S.- South Korean relationship here and whether indeed the consultations worked well or they did not work well given the situation. There were a lot of instances where there were real tensions.
James Laney: I will just say one word on that and then I will stop. I will not try to address the Foreign Ministry/State Department side, but I can say that at some point in the crisis there was felt a need to have communication directly between the White House and the Blue House. This is always a very tricky situation, because you want to make sure you are not uncoordinated with your various foreign ministries, particularly if the personal chemistry and consultation, between the National Security Advisors, Tony Lake and Chung Chung-wook, was excellent.
Chung Chung-wook: First, on the crisis of May and June of 1994, as I felt it, the President of Korea felt strongly the impact of the U.S. decision to evacuate non-combat civilians as a precautionary measure. The President must have judged that that would have an immediate and drastic impact on the Korean economy; perhaps Washington cannot fully share the intensity of this.
Second, the Blue House at the time was very concerned about the failure of brinksmanship. We were on the assumption that North Korea at least had a minimum of rationality. Brinksmanship assumes a rational use of irrationality, so that the appearance of irrationality is calculated rationally. But once this process of brinksmanship has begun, it is very difficult to control Kim Jong Il, so we were worried about an unwanted military conflict that might result out of this precautionary contingency basis we were planning with Washington.
The last point I want to make is that the political consultation between Washington and Seoul at the White House and Blue House level was quite good. As Ambassador Laney pointed out in his opening remarks on the military preparations and contingency planning, the consultation between the White House and the Blue House was not too close. Maybe consultations were going on at the working level between our Defense Ministry and the State Department.
Joel Wit: I would like us to continue on the military issues for a second and the level of consultation for a bit.
Robert Gallucci: Consultations between allies can occur a variety of different ways. There is a famous story of an American diplomat being sent by President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis to Paris to see Charles de Gaulle. He said, “I have come to consult with you on the Soviet decision to place missiles in Cuba and I have been sent by the President to do this.” De Gaulle said, “have you come to consult or have you come to inform? Have you made a decision that you are now going to tell me about, or are you asking my advice and after this conversation I can have an impact on what you decide to do? Which is it?” The diplomat said, “I have come to inform.”
We had genuine consultations between Seoul and Washington. I really do not recall others more senior than me informing the Korean government of anything. These were genuine consultations. However, in those consultations did we ever push, I would say yes.
The character of those consultations, even if they are true consultations, still can be difficult, collegial, respectful or less than that. There were real differences of view. The United States wanted to try various approaches. President Kim Young Sam’s government was more reserved about how to proceed. That is when, in the context of consultation, those personal relationships that Dan was referring to, are so very important.
We were extraordinarily fortunate to have Ambassador Laney here in Seoul at the time, and to have Foreign Minister Han Sung-joo as our interlocutor in the Foreign Ministry. I do not think we would have gotten back to the table in the spring of 1994, had there not been an agreement that was reached because of the Foreign Minister’s willingness to allow us to go back to the table without having direct negotiations between North and South precede the negotiations between the United States and Pyongyang.
Certainly in the end game of the framework, we never would have succeeded in closing those negotiations without the role played by the Foreign Minister. I do not know if he is pleased with that outcome now or not. I feel like I am giving him credit. I worry that he thinks I am giving him blame. But that relationship was key to the outcome.
When we say that there were consultations, are there ever enough? One of the rules we came away with is you cannot consult too much with your ally in a situation like this. We were constantly concerned in Washington that we had not consulted enough. Even though we met twice a day with our South Korean and Japanese colleagues in Geneva going over what we had planned to do or what we had done during the course of the day and what to do the next day. We certainly visited each other’s capitols quite frequently. But still, there was always the concern that since those negotiations were bilateral and direct that we were not consulting enough. It is a tough standard to meet and the personal relationships turn out to be of critical importance.
Joel Wit: Professor Han, since everyone is talking about you and your role as Foreign Minister, maybe you would be willing to share a few comments about your views on the levels of consultation and how successful they were?
Han Sung-joo: Well, except for the comments on my role, I agree with pretty much everything that everybody said. There was an advantage, as well as some disadvantage, in having former academics in both governments whenever we met. I do not think in those sessions it was one side trying to persuade, impose his position on the other, or the other side trying to fend off a push as Ambassador Gallucci described it. I remember these sessions being more like seminars or brainstorming sessions where we would try to find the best way to proceed, rather than having a predisposed position and trying to persuade the other. It is true, that there were discussions within respective governments prior to the consultation session. It was an advantage, from our point of view, if the U.S. did not have a firm, decided position on policy, which gave us the flexibility to explore the best way out.
I would like to set the record straight on the June of 1994 situation. There are a lot of half-truths and myths now in Korea about the situation as it was then. There is an assumption that the United States was about to strike North Korea and that the plan was made without any consultation with the South Korean ally, or even without letting the U.S. Ambassador or Commander in Korea know about the plan. Some former politicians would like to take credit for personally stopping the process. The current political leaders believe that that was the failure of the previous government and, therefore, should not be repeated in the future.
I know we were well informed and consulted about the U.S. military build up since September of 1993 when General Gary Luck came to Korea. He was the one who was responsible for building up U.S. forces before the Desert Storm operation in the Gulf War. He knew full well the need to have the military ready for any situation. It is inconceivable that the Ambassador and Commander did not know about the build up plan as some think. I would think that that was, in fact, the recommendation of the local Commander to have it built up.
I remember going to the U.S. in January of 1994 when the negotiations with North Korea was at a very, very delicate stage, and the issue of the deployment of Patriot missiles came up. I remember spending one hour talking with Vice President Gore and emphasizing why we should at least postpone the deployment. In fact, as a result of that consultation and subsequent discussions, our view ultimately prevailed on that issue, although eventually Patriot missiles were deployed.
I do not accept the notion that the United States was proceeding to either strike North Korea or build up without letting us know. The atmosphere is now somewhat poisoned because of the belief that the U.S. would be reckless enough or cynical enough to pursue what it thought it could without letting us know.
Joel Wit: Let us put this into a little bit of perspective for the audience who may not be familiar with all the excruciating details. As Professor Han mentioned, in the months leading up to June 1994 and Jimmy Carter’s visit to Pyongyang, the United States proceeded in a number of ways militarily.
The first was to enhance our forces in the region and in South Korea, including the deployment of Patriot missiles to South Korea. Second, we considered much larger deployments in June 1994 as the crisis accelerated. Third, we considered launching a preemptive attack against North Korea.
The issue is how closely did the United States consult with South Korea in each one of those areas? It is best to break them down, because we may hear there was different level of consultation in each one. Professor Han has touched on that. Dan, did you want to touch on this issue too?
Daniel Poneman: I do not want to preclude others comments, but Professor Han’s remarks remind me very clearly of my experiences at that time as I sat in on all the meetings. Foreign Minister Han visited Secretary Perry, Secretary Christopher, the Vice President, and Ambassador Laney. It was the first ever time where the U.S. President actually came down the hall from the Oval Office to meet with Foreign Minister Han.
That was at the time of the Patriot deployment discussions. My recollection is actually quite clear because I am in the process of doing the research on our book and I recently went over my files from the NSC in which this is recorded. Professor Han is exactly right. The initial request came from our Field Commander, General Gary Luck, who felt the need for Patriot missiles for military purposes that others can describe more in detail. Professor Han did come to Washington and expressed his concerns of the impact that it would have on the diplomatic track with North Korea, which was as he said, at a very delicate stage.
There was an exchange in the White House situation room in which the principals explicitly, and quite painfully, addressed a very tough choice. In the historical context, this is following our experience Somalia, and the recommendation of the military commander in the field was taken very, very seriously. As well, the U.S.-ROK relationship was also taken very, very seriously.
Ultimately it came down to Commander Gary Luck. The message came into the situation room that Gary Luck said that it was more important to preserve the cooperation between the U.S. and the ROK than to have the immediate deployment of Patriots. So we agreed to delay deployment. It was only after the Sea of Fire speech that there was later agreement in a presidential phone call between President Kim Young Sam and President Clinton on deployment.
I would submit to you that this was the pattern, not the exception, to our close consultation. And, as an important historical note, I will confirm one other thing that Professor Han said in his remarks; there was no U.S. decision to invade North Korea. I was the note taker on all presidential phone calls and there was no conversation in which this was decided.
James Laney: For the record, we can be very grateful that someone like Gary Luck was the Commanding General here. He had not only a profound sense of what was needed and how to best protect our assets, but also a close relationship between our two governments and the overall strength that that relationship provided. Gary Luck and I consulted on the issue of Patriot missiles and on the Black Hawks. There were about 2,000 troops that were to be brought in to augment some of the necessary build up. But overall it was a modest thing, with the Patriots being the most dramatic change because of their role in the Gulf War.
Not only was Gary Luck appreciative of the relationship with the Korean military, but he also understood how the North would perceive all of the moves that we would make. He used the image of a teeter-totter; that if we did not balance things in a certain way, it would precipitate the very thing we were trying to avoid. That kind of political and diplomatic sensitivity is quite remarkable for a Commanding General. There was no swagger and no bravado, but a very calm resolve.
It was not the case that we had not discussed the build up together or had general agreement on it. However, during the week that Carter was in Pyongyang, it seemed that all of a sudden we were going to put that plan into action without forewarning Gary Luck or myself. There had not been enough consultation before hand with our Korean counterparts to put the plan into actualization, nor between the USFK, the Embassy and myself. We felt blindsided by that, and it was then that we sent the telegram that Bob Gallucci mentioned as very strident or harsh.
Robert Gallucci: It was perfect.
Joel Wit: Ambassador Hubbard, did you want to say something on this point?
Thomas Hubbard: I would like to make some general comments and then I am going to have to leave.
Joel Wit: Please.
Thomas Hubbard: Thank you very much, for giving me the floor for just a minute. I do not want to take much time, but I am going to have to leave in just a minute. Let me first thank all of the panelists for coming here and giving us this very valuable retrospective on what happened during 1993 and 1994.
I have the very unusual situation of having been very involved in this operation in 1993 and 1994, under the Clinton Administration, and here I am now working for the Bush Administration. I am the only one of our team who’s still in government and I am beginning to wonder why.
But from that perspective, I would like to begin by saying I agree with almost everything that has been said here this morning, and, in particular, I agree with Bob Gallucci’s assessment that we got the best agreement that we could get in 1994 in the Agreed Framework. I remain as satisfied, and as proud as Bob is of having negotiated that agreement. It proved to be imperfect and did not achieve its ultimate goal of ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons, which we still have to deal with now. But it did prevent North Korea from producing as many as 100 nuclear weapons by now.
I would add, from my regional perspective, that it also created almost a decade of peace, stability, and relaxation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. That has enabled a number of other positive developments to occur, not the least of which was the dialogue that has begun between North and South Korea and the progress toward reconciliation. We are starting off from a very different standpoint as we deal with this problem this year than we had in 1993-1994.
I agree that the flaw in that agreement that we negotiated was the absence of transparency. There was nothing inherently in the agreement other than auditory statements that enabled us to determine whether or not North Korea was pursuing alternative nuclear programs. I would point out, as Bob did, that we did detect that program.
I would also agree with Professor Chung that the fact that the program was based so heavily on nuclear energy, which is something that North Korea insisted on, was a flaw in the agreement. Not necessarily because you can also, with a great deal of difficulty, extract fissile material from light water reactors, but more importantly because it was too slow in producing the light water reactors. And it was going to take an inordinately long time to actually complete the process of dismantling the North Korean nuclear program. The light water reactors brought no immediate benefit to North Korea and North Korea remained starved for energy. A different kind of power source would have accomplished both of those objectives sooner. But let me point out again in saying that we got the best agreement that we could get.
The Bush Administration, after its policy review, agreed that we should continue to support and abide by the Agreed Framework, so long as North Korea did. What changed that position was the discovery that North Korea was breaking the agreement with a highly enriched uranium program.
I also agree with Bob Gallucci and others that dialogue is the way to go. Somewhere, somehow we must find a negotiated solution to this problem. No one wants war even though you have to latently retain the military option. But we want a peaceful solution to this problem and I agree that a deal is not appeasement if it advances our objective, which is to stop and then dismantle the North Korean nuclear program. On that point, I do disagree with Bob a bit at least in emphasis. After a lot of careful consideration, I have come to agree that multilateral negotiations are the best way to go. We would get a better deal if we proceeded on a multilateral path.
Professor Han has expressed the view that perhaps it is better for our negotiations with North Korea if South Korea maintains a harder line position than the United States. I know there was a point during the Kim Dae-jung Administration when I felt a lot more comfortable negotiating with North Korea knowing that South Koreans fully supported those negotiations. I also did under the Kim Young Sam Administration, when there was often some question as to whether we were on the same wavelength.
A multilateral negotiation, in which the United States is present, along with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia, is by far the preferable way to go. I do not think we should give up on that idea yet. If North Korea finally rejects it, then we have to decide where we proceed, but I have not given up on the possibility that we can get there yet.
Finally, I truly welcome the discussion we just had about whether the United States, in 1993-94, was about to launch a preemptive attack against North Korea, without consultations with South Korea. I am pleased to be reminded of the conversations that we had at the time. I am convinced that we would not have launched an attack on North Korea without the fullest consultation with South Korea.
I am absolutely convinced that the same is true today. Indeed, one of the lessons I took from the 1993-94 experience is the same one that Jim Laney just cited. It is absolutely important that when it comes to these military issues that the U.S. and ROK not only consult, plan, and exchange views at the military to military level, but that we also do that more broadly. I work very, very closely with General Laporte. We talk to each other almost daily. It is very important that I know what he knows and that we share our discussions and military planning broadly with the Foreign Ministry, with National Security Advisors Office. If there is any single major objective I have as Ambassador here, it is to make sure that the U.S. and South Korea are working closely together and communicating fully on military matters, as well as civilian matters and foreign policy. So let me just thank you all, and thank you, Joel, for giving me a chance to say a couple of words.
Joel Wit: Thanks, Tom. One thing I would like to bring out in this military discussion is the U.S. planning for launching a preemptive attack, and the consideration of that in the context of the 1994 crisis.
Daniel Poneman: I would submit to you that any U.S. government, any President, and any Secretary of Defense, when confronting the prospect of a hostile state obtaining five to six nuclear bombs worth of plutonium, is going to review their options for eliminating or preventing that possibility. Indeed, it is now enshrined in the doctrine of the current Administration as an explicit policy since September 11th.
The Pentagon did exactly that in the 1993-1994 period. It was under the guidance of Secretary of Defense Bill Perry and is addressed in greater detail in our book. The bottom line is they addressed a number of options on how to conduct such an operation and concluded that it is technically possible to do so. There was also a conclusion that any such step would risk a significant military response across the DMZ from the North. As we approached the crucial meeting of June 16th of Former President Carter from Pyongyang, Secretary Perry was reviewing the plans with his top commanders and General Luck — I wholly agree with Ambassador Laney that Gary Luck did a phenomenal job during that time. Secretary Perry then concluded that while the operation was technically possible and could be carried out militarily, the risk of response was sufficiently great and the possibility of a diplomatic solution was sufficiently present that he would not carry that plan forward for formal consideration. Therefore, while the option was studied internally, and because we did have close consultation with a very limited number of people in the White House, it never reached the point of a proposal. Because the military option was never going to be seriously proposed, it was never ripe for consultation between our two governments. It would have simply generated hysteria without any basis because it was not being formally considered.
Joel Wit: Thank you. We have 35 minutes left, and I would like to open up the discussion to the floor and have people ask questions.
Don Kirk: The issues of human rights and the deaths of two million North Koreans from starvation and disease have not been raised at all. I wonder whether Professor Han, for instance, could tell me how much of a factor he thinks this is in the current crisis and how much this plays into what North Korea is doing and what the prospects are for resolution of this crisis.
Han Sung-joo: Is your question regarding whether North Korean nuclear weapons is related to their food problem?
Don Kirk: I am asking what is the impact of the suffering that has gone on in the nine years since the signing of the Geneva agreement on the current crisis? Because that whole issue has not been raised by any of the panel.
Han Sung-joo: Well, we are thinking and even hoping that since North Korea is much more dependent economically on the outside world than 10 years ago, it would be more susceptible to our economic leverage. But so far it has turned out to be not the case. If North Korea is looking for an economic payoff from their nuclear program, it is even possible that they are looking forward to an even greater payoff once they go over the threshold and obtain weapons.
At the moment, though, I do not think that is a very important consideration from the North Korean point of view. What does North Korea really want? Just as this issue was raised before, we are not quite sure why North Korea wanted to have the light water reactors then in return for freezing their nuclear program. Now, they are talking about a non-aggression pact with the United States, as if they have tremendous trust in such a document. So, it is very difficult to say just what food assistance and other matters will sway North Korea.
I would think that in June 1994 there were two major factors that prompted North Korea to invite Former President Carter. One was the show of force. The other was the Chinese communication to North Korea that North Korea could not count on a Chinese veto if and when the issue of sanctions was to come to a Security Council vote.
Mike Salenger: Thank you. I am with Knight-Ridder newspapers. I have a serious comment and then a question. It seems to me that the comments regarding the delay in delivery of the nuclear reactor program seems to be either dismissive of or disingenuous of the fact that there was a general thinking at the time that the North Korean regime would not even last the 10 years it would take to build the power reactor. As a result, making this concession might not be that important.
My question though is a little bit timelier. If I can infer from Dan Poneman’s and Han Sung-joo’s comments, this panel believes that North Korea is more serious a problem than the 250,000 troops on the border about to confront Iraq over the suspicion that they might, in the future, have weapons they can sell to other countries. If that is the case, what are the implications for the situation on this Peninsula once the fighting begins in Iraq? There has been a school of thought out there that Kim Jong-il has been making provocations to get attention from Washington in advance of an Iraq attack, not after. Since he’s been unable to do that, what are the implications?
Joel Wit: I am going to use my prerogative as the moderator to assign this question to Ambassador Gallucci because I know he would like to answer at least the first assertion.
Robert Gallucci: Thanks, Joel. On the first point about the virtue of the timeframe of the light water reactor, I do not know what was in everybody else’s mind, but I know in my mind the reactor deal had nothing to do with the expectation of the limited longevity of the North Korean regime. I was explicitly asked by one United States Senator whom I was courting trying to get his support for the Agreed Framework, “If you will tell me that you are so smart, that you are going to give them a deal where they get these light water reactors because the regime is going to collapse long before these reactors come online, then I might be interested.” I said, “I ca not tell you I am that smart.” And he said, “Well, then, I am not interested.” I believed then that we should only take this deal if we thought that it would still be a good deal if the North Korean regime stuck. You should not do it if it turns on the disappearance of the North Korean regime. It could be that that attracted other to it.
On the second part, for all that is happening in the Gulf in relation to the crisis on this Peninsula, while I am prepared to believe that North Koreans are smart folks, I do not believe that they have planned everything so the timing would mesh and dovetail perfectly for this week. Things happen the way they happen. The North Koreans have made use of the fact that we are otherwise engaged at the moment, but I do not think that they have structured this.
What does it mean if the war with Iraq will be short, and afterwards this issue will receive the fullest attention from the Administration? I do not know. I will take the Administration at its word, as the Ambassador just said a few minutes ago, that there is certainly a preference to deal with this through diplomatic means. Theirs is the view that the best diplomatic means would be a multilateral approach to the problem.
I might agree with that, too. Where we begin to diverge is if you do not get the multilateral approach, would you go to the bilateral approach and when do you make that call? I would have made that call about a month ago. So maybe that is where the division lies. I do see great benefit in multilateralizing this. It is the world’s problem; it is not just our problem. I do not know that I have more to add on where we go from here.
John Koch: I have another question for Bob Gallucci, since he did so well on the last one. I want to focus on the soft side of the Agreed Framework for a minute. I know you snuck in there some lines about North-South dialogue, but most of the soft side had to do with U.S.- North Korean normalization. I wonder if you could look back and tell us your sense of disappointment or your expectations. How did the North look at the two processes going in parallel? Do you find it ironic that the North-South dialogue has boomed relative to U.S.-North Korean normalization, which is in doldrums?
Robert Gallucci: In thinking about this over the last week, one could divide the 10-year period from 1993 to the present into different phases. There have been ups and downs. If there was a little bit of a peak when we did the deal with North Korea, the Agreed Framework, in 1994, then soon after the bloom seemed to come off the rose as we had difficulty with the heavy fuel oil issue, the creation of KEDO, and the construction work on the reactors progressing more slowly. We got into a period in which North Korea was not seeing the softer side of the framework implemented in a way they might have hoped.
We do not have liaison offices opened in Pyongyang and Washington, more because of North Korean problems than ours, frankly. But North Korea was disappointed in that period and you saw that disappointed reflected in things they did to call attention to themselves, such as the missile test in 1998 and other manifestations of their unhappiness.
Perhaps it was because of their unhappiness that their relationship with the Pakistanis that changed beyond missiles going to Pakistan from North Korea, but enrichment technology going to North Korea from Pakistan. I am not the best person to judge whether behind that question is the issue of whether North Korea were justifiably unhappy or upset about the slow progress of normalization with the United States. I left government in 1996 and I was not paying very close attention. Still, my impression was that we were doing pretty much what we should have been doing under the circumstances. In other words, there were difficulties on both sides. But much more important than that kind of impressionistic comment, and in fact critical from my perspective, is what North Korea thought. North Korea genuinely believed that they were not getting what they hoped for out of the framework. Not only was the reactor deal going much more slowly than they had hoped, but the political payoff was not there. There were occasional problems with the heavy fuel oil delivery, but much more important was that the special relationship with the United States was not materializing and that was the key to their security.
This is all about security. Light water reactors are tangential to that and much else is. The special relationship and normalization of relations with us is what they were really after, and what they are still after. We reached a high point in good relations when Madeline Albright and Marshall Cho exchanged visits. That is really when it is as good as it has gotten for North Korea; when they got the closest thing to assurances, although not a non-aggression pact, that we did not consider them an enemy.
It took a long time to get there and during that period the relationship got into some trouble that may have encouraged North Korea to think about an alternative to the plutonium program.
Joel Wit: I would like to ask a question actually of one of the panelists. You know, it is very clear that third parties can play an important role in dealing with this crisis and one of the key actors is China. Professor Chung you mentioned China’s role in your remarks. I was wondering whether you could elaborate about how you think China is going to play out this crisis over the next few months. Whether their position will evolve, or whether you think they are not going to do what many Americans think they might do, which is basically save our bacon in this particular problem?
Chung Chung-wook: It depends on what circumstances you are talking about, and what kind of help you are asking from China. I believe there are two sides: a positive and negative. On the plus side, China is much more interested and concerned with the resolution of the nuclear situation over in North Korea today than it was 10 years ago. The relationship between Washington and Beijing has improved considerably since that time. When Jiang Zemin was in Texas at President Bush’s ranch, they issued a statement urging the parties concerned, including North Korea, to exert a peaceful resolution of the situation. He said to the reporters that he strongly wished for the peaceful resolution of nuclear situation of North Korea.
This statement, although general and opaque, was quite a strong message given China’s past diplomatic practices. You may remember that when the IAEA wrote a statement in the Security Council urging North Korea to be more forthcoming and transparent in their nuclear activities, China voted for it. This was quite a change. Also, the new the new Foreign Minister, Ambassador Li Zhaoxin, who was former Ambassador to Washington, is one of the very few senior people in the foreign ministry who understands Washington. Also Tang Jiaxuan, the new State Counselor, is an Asian specialist and is very experienced on North Korea through his work on the 1994 nuclear crisis.
On the minus side, China has been always very cautious in exercising its influence, which is quite considerable, over North Korea. In particular, China’s behavior pattern has been very cautious in urging North Korea to become more forthcoming on the nuclear issue. China perhaps fears from their experience that putting too much pressure on North Korea makes North Korea behave more recklessly.
But all in all, if we demonstrate to China that we have exhausted every possible venue in persuading North Korea, as we did in 1994, they would be more agreeable to exercise their singular influence. Not by putting overt pressure on North Korea, but nonetheless in a very delicate and Chinese way of persuading North Korea.
Ambassador Kim: Let me first of all congratulate the organizers of this conference for bringing together the people who played an active role in the1990s crisis. I only wish that the North Korean counterparts could be here. Let us hope that that will happen soon. I am would like to ask Professor Han if he believes that the same two factors which he said contributed to the change in North Koreas position in 1994 would have the same effect today? You said that the show of force on the part of the United States, and the Chinese communication to North Korea that they were not going to be able to support North Korea by stopping the sanctions resolution in the Security Council, did the trick. Is this something that can be repeated? If not, why?
Han Sung-joo: As Professor Chung said, the Chinese will not squander their influence and will act in ways that they think are effective at a time when it seems quite decisive. In 1994, we were pushing for a sanctions resolution in the United Nations. Right now we are not doing that, and one of the allies is very strongly opposed to pursuing that route. Even if China would want to play such a role again, it will not have that opportunity.
Furthermore, as I said at the beginning, North Korea has a different kind of leadership that is much less mature, and I do not know if the United States can produce somebody like Jimmy Carter at this point. We might look for a dramatic breakthrough, but probably not a very similar one that we saw back in June of 1994.
Chung Chung-wook: It may not be directly related to what Ambassador Kim and others said, but I want to comment on what the use of creative diplomacy can do to persuade North Korea to go the other way other from the nuclear option. In June of 1994, as Ambassador Laney said, Jimmy Carter went to Pyongyang. My memory may not be correct, but as far as I could remember what Jimmy Carter told us that after Seoul after his trip to Pyongyang was generally along this line: Kim Il Sung did not recognize how serious the situation was on the Korean Peninsula as a result of North Korea’s nuclear development. Once he understood the seriousness of the situation, he intervened.
There is no reason that the situation today had to become as serious as it is now. The absence of a father figure like Kim Il Sung, as Minister Han mentioned in his opening remarks, is a very important reason for us to consider the present situation now more seriously than we did perhaps in 1993-1994.
George Wefres: I am from Newsweek magazine. I would like to ask a question to Dan Poneman please. Han Sung-joo, in his opening remarks, said that he believes that the lesson North Korea is learning from the events in Iraq is that if you are fiddling with nuclear weapons you had better do it quickly. I wondering if you think that we are seeing now the equivalent of a hundred-year dash. Is North Korea pursuing its weapons program with all the vigor that it can? Do you expect a test, a declaration, in the next weeks or months? Thanks.
Dan Poneman: One of the things we learned back in 1993-1994 was it is not an easy game, or even perhaps a losing game, to try to figure out what North Korea is thinking. I would defer to my ROK colleagues as being closer in every respect to that. I would only make the following comment that I was alarmed at the pace of actions undertaken by North Korea in late December. It seems if you simply look at outward indicators, they had concluded that their best interest would be served if they moved as rapidly as possible toward separation of the plutonium from the 8,000 spent fuel rods. As a policy matter, I thought the only responsible policy response was to assume that that might be what they were doing. If you made any other assumption and were wrong, you could end up with a dire situation, namely separated critical masses of plutonium that you cannot find.
Without knowing whether they can be dissuaded from this course, whether they are determined to go as quickly as possible toward the separation of those critical masses, the only responsible policy response is (a) to assume that they might be going as fast as they can toward that end, and (b) to test the proposition that they could be dissuaded from that course. That is why the lessons from 1994 to be firm on principle but flexible on tactics, are so relevant.
For me the principle is no plutonium in North Korea. The tactic is how you talk to people, and I agree with Ambassador Gallucci that our national security interest would be best served the earlier we can test that proposition.
Questioner: I would like to ask the panel to comment whether there is room for a different interpretation of the events during the Kelly visit and, if so, whether the reaction of the United States may have preempted an unnecessary reaction from the North?
James Laney: I will take a shot at this since I have a lot of excellent hearsay evidence to base this on. There was information available in the Clinton Administration about enrichment activities in North Korea that were inconsistent with the framework. Not a lot of information, but some information. There was a concern of what North Korea might be doing. Certainly if the implications of the Perry process had been fulfilled and there were further meetings with North Korea at an even a more senior level, as was planned after the Marshall Cho’s visit to Washington, these issues would have been raised with North Korea in an effort to improve the transparency on the nuclear issue. It was all in the cards.
When the Bush Administration began, they knew part of the background of this issue that it was not a pressing or urgent issue. Undersecretary of State Bolton mentioned it publicly in a speech that got a lot of coverage for its reference to biological weapons in Cuba, but in the same paragraph he referred to a secret uranium enrichment program in North Korea. This was in the spring of 2002. It did not get much attention in the press, but the Administration was focused on that.
What I have understood from more than one source is that during last summer, information about what North Korea was doing increased and that information indicated that this was a larger program than was understood before. In other words, the quantity of centrifuge machines that may be involved increased, so the Administration decided that there was urgency to taking up the issue with North Korea.
What I understand is that Secretary Kelly told North Korea — I do not think he presented physical evidence or other kind — that we knew of this program and that this inconsistency with the framework dictated that the program be dismantled. The second day the Vice Prime Minister said, that North Korea had a right to certain nuclear activities. What I am unclear about is what exactly they had a right to: nuclear weapons, uranium enrichment, or something else. There was something to he was asserting that North Korea was (1) accepting that they were doing something in enrichment and (2) that there was something appropriate from their perspective about what they were doing. There are various interpretations to this, either that North Korea was admitting to a nuclear weapons program, which would therefore be in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or that they were confirming explicitly that they had a centrifuge program. I do not know which of these interpretations is correct. I do not know whether this is a language issue or a reporting issue. But the general thrust here is that there is knowledge of the North Koreans dabbling in enrichment, and the U.S. government knew of that effort. North Korea did not deny it.
So now does the United States owe the international community more proof that there really is such a program? I do not know that they do. It depends on what happens next. It is less necessary absent a North Korean denial. The question is what happens now.
Joel Wit: Thank you. Well, we are out of time. It is 12:30 and I always like to end meetings on time, so I thank everyone for sitting through these three hours and I hope they have been instructive. Thank you very much.