[INTERVIEW]Hubbard: Terror Measures Mean No Change in North Korea Policy

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[INTERVIEW]Hubbard: Terror Measures Mean No Change in North Korea Policy

Kim Young-hie, senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo, met U.S. Ambassador Thomas C. Hubbard at the American Embassy on Oct. 17. The following are excerpts from that interview. - Ed.



JAI: We have a very high expectation of your role as one of the authorities in dealing with North Korea.

Hubbard: Well, I'm not sure if "authorities" is correct. I have dealt with North Koreans quite a bit. I have also spent a lot of time in the Republic, and now have a chance to live here.

JAI: Since Sept. 11, many international issues have been overshadowed by the anti-terrorist operations. North Korea may be one of them. Where do you stand with your attempts to resume talks with Pyeongyang?

Hubbard: Well, we've made it very clear that we very strongly favor your talks with North Korea and President Kim's sunshine policy in an effort to reduce tensions on the peninsula. We've also made it clear that we're prepared to enter talks with North Korea any place, anytime, with no preconditions. We should be free to raise any issue if we wish. We're waiting for the North Korean response.

JAI: North Korea is still on your list of terrorist-supporting states. Do the terrorist attacks on the United States work against an early resumption of talks?

Hubbard: Not necessarily. I think the fact is that North Korea is on our terrorist list because of things that took place in the past. But some continue; they continue to harbor the Japanese Red Army terrorists of several decades ago. The North Koreans know why they're on the terrorist list, but we've been prepared to talk despite that. One of the main items that we would talk with North Koreans about. We had extensive talks about terrorism and counterterrorism about a year ago; we issued a joint declaration and we would like to go on from there.

JAI: Is it a meaningful step that the Japanese Red Army is off the State Department list?

Hubbard: I don't think there's a direct connection. At the time when those terrorists took refuge in North Korea, their organization was on the terrorist list. So I don't think it's connected to the current situation.

JAI: Will the United States be more insistent on verification of each stage of an agreement with North Korea on missiles and nuclear programs?

Hubbard: We've always considered verification to be a very important element of any agreement, and the Bush administration has reinforced that position as a result of our policy review.

JAI: More so after the terror incident?

Hubbard: The terrorism brings home how serious we need to be in pursuing our foreign policy, but I don't see any direct connection.

JAI: Is the same true with reciprocity?

Hubbard: You know, reciprocity is a word you use a lot in Korea. We rarely use it to talk about our objectives in North Korea. We would like to see tensions reduced on the Korean Peninsula on the basis of concrete changes in the situation. We have focused very much on North Korea's nuclear program. We're very concerned about their missile program. We're concerned about how the North Korean regime treats its own people. You don't like to see starvation in North Korea. We would like to see progress, but we wouldn't necessarily use the term reciprocity.

JAI: An American expert from the Brookings Institute presented a paper here recently saying the State Department is divided into ideologues and pragmatists, the latter more interested in pursuing the Clinton engagement policy. Is that analysis valid? If so, where do you stand?

Hubbard: That's not a valid way of looking at things. The Bush administration, having followed the Clinton administration's approach, at the outset had some questions about the value of continued dialogue with North Korea. I chaired the policy review at the senior official level; the conclusion was that we should continue to support President Kim's approach to North Korea; we should continue to uphold the Agreed Framework while trying to improve its implementation. We will continue to pursue the missile issue while insisting, as the Clinton administration insisted, on monitoring and verification; we seek confidence-building measures to address conventional military tensions. So the Bush administration policy , I think, continues to be very, very congruent with your government's: to talk with the North Koreans to pursue a dialogue whenever, wherever and without preconditions.

JAI: North Korea joined the world community in denouncing the terrorism. What is the significance? Were you surprised?

Hubbard: We welcome their opposition to terrorism and the condolences they have expressed for the victims of the attacks. They actually conveyed those words not only at the UN but also in various subtle ways, including through the North Korean delegation that arrived here a couple of weeks ago. We'd like to see North Korea join in international concrete actions to stamp out terrorism.

JAI: Is it possible that arrested terror suspects may turn out to have been trained or even supported by or in North Korea?

Hubbard: I wouldn't want to speculate. I've seen no concrete evidence of that.

JAI: What's the general prospect for moving forward in your efforts to improve relations with Pyeongyang?

Hubbard: Pyeongyang can be unpredictable. I think we were all surprised when they postponed the planned exchange of family members. We regret that. We're waiting for North Korea's response to our very clear proposal for unconditional talks.

JAI: Recalling Mr. Bush's well-known skepticism about the North, is Kim Jong-il seriously interested in reform?

Hubbard: That remains to be seen; North Korea is unpredictable. Kim Jong-il says he wants to open up to the outside world, but says very little about reform in North Korea, and that would be critical to their economic prospects in the future. But we have conducted our dialogue with North Korea in the belief that they, like South Korea, would like to see tensions reduced on the Korean Peninsula. We would like to try to resolve some of the problems that we have all seen. And we hope that Kim Jong-il would like to improve the lot of his people and deal with some of the fundamental economic problems.

JAI: Why is Kim Jong-il delaying his visit to Seoul? Washington is partially blamed for the delay.

Hubbard: We made very clear our support for President Kim's agreement that resulted from the meeting last year. I wouldn't want to speculate as to why Kim Jong-il hasn't come yet. I'm disappointed.

JAI: If Chairman Kim comes, President Kim wants to make a joint peace declaration with him or sign some sort of an agreement on peace on the Korean Peninsula. What would be Washington's reaction?

Hubbard: We wouldn't want to tell your government what kind of an agreement ought to be pursued with the North Koreans. We would like to see an agreement that will lead to a reduction of tensions on the peninsula; that will require some very concrete steps and time. We would welcome a genuine agreement that leads in that direction.

JAI: Some "sunshine" supporters here don't like President Bush's call for conventional arms talks, saying that should be left to the two Koreas. They think conventional forces should be a goal, not a condition of talks with Pyeongyang.

Hubbard: Both our governments have a very real interest in a reduction of military tensions on this peninsula and a reduction and redeployment of conventional forces. We ought to be working together in that direction. Secondly, we're not naive. We don't expect to see major changes overnight. We do believe it is a time to begin a discussion of confidence-building measures with the North to reduce tensions. We have welcomed South Korean efforts to open up railroads and highways through the DMZ; these are significant beginnings of confidence-building measures. They can make us less concerned about the conventional military situation. We think your government is on the right track and we strongly support it.

JAI: The reduction and redeployment of conventional forces is not a condition?

Hubbard: No. We're prepared to talk without conditions. With Seoul, we would like to begin to develop some confidence-building measures that will put us on a path towards a reduction of tensions.

JAI: Missiles are an issue, and in March, presidents Kim and Bush seemed to have confirmed that Seoul and Washington have yet to iron out their differences on North Korea policy. Korea-Japan relations are still tense and sour. In contrast, Pyeongyang-Beijing and Pyeongyang-Moscow relations have improved. Is this asymmetry a worry?

Hubbard: March was a long time ago. It was the very beginning of the Bush administration. When President Kim visited, we had just begun our policy review, and I think the differences in that meeting have been overblown. President Bush made it very clear he supports President Kim's sunshine policy. He spoke less specifically about the U.S. approach to North Korea because we had only begun the policy review. There is much less difference than meets the eye.

You raised the separate issue of Korea-Japan relations. I know there have been some tensions. We hope they have been alleviated to a certain degree by Prime Minister Koizumi's visit. We think it's important for Korea and Japan to have good relations; they're both good allies of ours. Those tensions have not been evident in our trilateral consultations on North Korea, which have continued to be quite active, quite close. We think it's a good thing that North Korea has been in closer contact with China and Russia. China and Russia have a constructive role to play in bringing about a reduction of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Exposure of the North Korean leadership to the outside world is important.

JAI: Is it desirable for EU countries to get involved in Korean affairs?

Hubbard: EU countries have a lot to offer North Korea in terms of an understanding of human rights, an understanding of how market economies operate. They have some humanitarian assistance to provide. And the more contact with the outside world, the more confidence Kim Jong-il has, perhaps the better able he is to respond to the offers we have made to him.

JAI: On terrorism, do you think the North is scared by what's going on since Sept. 11 because it may affect its traditional diplomacy of brinkmanship, blackmail, and missiles?

Hubbard: I'm not very good at figuring them out.

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