North Korea forum: starving proliferators

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North Korea forum: starving proliferators

This is the second of two articles with excerpts from a Washington Post-JoongAng Ilbo forum on North Korea last Thursday in Washington, D.C. Rick Smith of Newsweek is the moderator of the forum.

Smith: Don Gregg, I know you agree with Ms. Sherman's comments to a certain degree, but you also have said that you feel that the administration dropped the ball in the early stages. How much of this situation is self-generated, or would it have happened anyway?

Gregg: Well, let me approach that question by trying to answer why they violated their agreements and started the highly enriched uranium program? Kim Jong-il took power very shortly after Jimmy Carter's meeting with his father. The Agreed Framework was negotiated while he was moving into power. The Chinese have told me that he took a great deal of time to end the takeover so that he could be sure of the loyalty of the military and the hard line party members, which are his essential basis for support.

But as he watched the United States, he never saw really a reassuring signal from the United States about how at least the Republican Party felt about the Agreed Framework. In the 1994 election, where both houses were taken over by the Republicans, they immediately began to dump on the Agreed Framework.

Some of the ancillary agreements that were designed to improve broader relations were never implemented. Then came the Rumsfeld report on missile threats to the United States. North Korea fired the Taepo-dong. They immediately became the poster child for missile defense. Then came the 2000 election, and toward the end of his term, Bill Clinton almost went to North Korea. He didn't, and I know the North Koreans were very disappointed, and the Bush administration has not taken up where the Clinton administration left off.

I don't know when the flirtation with Pakistan started. I think it's been going on for some time. And from the Pakistanis, the North Koreans would be hearing a siren song of how much more secure Pakistan feels against India since it had developed nuclear weapons. And so now all of these things are coming together. I think time is not on our side. Less than 90 days ago, North Korea very much wanted to talk at a high level with this administration. That was seen as rewarding bad behavior and the oil for the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization was cut off. So are we dealing with an irrational country? I don't think so. Do they think they are right? Yes. Do they feel in extremis? Yes. Do they negotiate at the brink? Yes. Should we take them seriously? Absolutely.

Smith: Secretary Wolfo-witz, we've moved the rhetoric from "we're not going to talk" to "we're going to talk" to "we're going to negotiate." That seems like progress, but heading where?

Wolfowitz: I think the first negotiation that has to take place is working out with our partners what our position is going to be. The last thing we can expect to do, if we want to succeed in negotiation with North Korea, is to go in with five different positions, or to go into a position where the North Koreans are convinced that our allies don't support us. And I understand it's absolutely American to question where we may have gone wrong or where we may have caused something or where our allies may have caused something. But I think if we want to succeed with North Korea, it's quite important to demonstrate confidence and solidarity and to put the blame where it lies, which is with a program that started long before this administration, that clearly was intended to proceed secretly. The North Korean ballistic missile test didn't happen because of the Rumsfeld Commission.

But I'd like to close on a completely different note, which is that there is another problem, a purely humanitarian problem. As with the two million boat people rescued from Vietnam, I think there's the potential [to address] the suffering of North Koreans in China and elsewhere. It's something we ought to approach not as something that's going to aim at inducing the collapse of North Korea or embarrass China, but to deal with a true humanitarian catastrophe.

Smith: I'd just like to follow up on that with the Korean members of the panel. There's been talk lately that the refugee issue is an embarrassing and a difficult one for the Korean government, and that there have even been cases reported of refugees not receiving assistance from the South Korean government. Any reaction to that?

Lee: First of all, the South Korea should and will help the refugees from North Korea. We will try our best. We have as a nation a very strong commitment to improve the welfare of Korean people in the North.

Yoo: Regarding these refugees to the South, in just one year, 2002, we had more than 1,400. Many people misunderstand that South Korea never considers or worries about the North Korean human rights issue, but that is not true. We just keep doing our things very softly, quietly, not making noise, because there are China, Russia and North Korea; it's a very complicated issue.

Smith: Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of the Washington Post, you wrote a column recently with the headline, "Seoul May Not Know Best," suggesting that perhaps the South Korean view of the North was clouded. I would like you to comment on that.

Hiatt: Thanks. Well, you know you can't trust those headline writers, Rick. (Laughter.) On that subject, to a large extent, the Koreans do know best. They obviously have a huge stake. One point is that I think it is possible that when you have a country that is most at risk, it can lead to a kind of wishful thinking about the nature of the regime on the other side. We saw that in some instances in Europe during the Cold War, and it wouldn't be surprising to see it in Korea. I think specifically with the issue of nuclear weapons, the South Koreans have known for a long time that North Korea could do huge damage to Seoul and to their country in the event of the early stages of a war -- even before nuclear weapons were an issue. So, for South Korea, the military equation maybe doesn't seem as different, whereas for the United States and the other large powers of the world that worry about nonproliferation, the greatest danger of North Korea getting weapons may be who it would sell them to or trade them with. And it wouldn't be surprising if that were less of a priority in South Korea.

And human rights: Here you have 22 million people living in what is essentially a concentration camp. Fifty years from now, what will historians say about whether the welfare of the North Korean people was a priority in South Korea and in the United States and elsewhere? The difficulty of quiet diplomacy on human rights, it seems to me, is that it does encourage among the younger generation in South Korea more of an acceptance or an unreality of what the regime is like.

Smith: Kim Young-hie, editor at large for JoongAng Ilbo, do you see any signs of wishful thinking on the North Korean issue?

Kim: Yes and no. First of all, I would like to start by telling you that our grand premise, the grand premise in Korea is no more war. There should never be another war. And to put it another way, Koreans prefer a bad peace to a good war.

Earlier you asked if Americans are overplaying this threat: I think there is some element of overplaying because this government decided to stop the supply of heavy fuel oil fully knowing, well-knowing that it would force or lead North Korea to do something to go further to the brink in this nuclear game. Therefore, we wish that the Bush administration had been more cautious and thought more carefully before taking such steps.

Smith: Don, I saw you react to that.

Gregg: Mr. Kim, I think the problem is that they did not realize that their decision to cut off oil would provoke what it did provoke. And I think that's, you know, a difficult commentary to make.

Smith: Jim Hoagland, foreign affairs columnist for the Washington Post:

Hoagland: I was absolutely chilled by some of the things that Don Gregg said, particularly about Pakistan, because I think it really touches on a defining characteristic, a distinguishing characteristic of this particular crisis. You have in Pakistan, and now in North Korea, very determined proliferators. These two countries have treated the trading of nuclear technology as simply ano-ther commodity: it's for sale. It seems to me we're facing a North Korea, a country that has demonstrated pretty conclusively that what they're interested in is not a face-saving solution, but in a nuclear arsenal, and they're prepared to do whatever it takes to get that nuclear arsenal.

My own reporting, particularly at the White House, suggests to me that there's not a lack of urgency in the administration. There is a serious question in their minds whe-ther or not there is anything that can be done to stop the North Koreans from doing what they seem to want to do.

Kim: The Korean government, with the agreement or support of American government, is considering an offer to North Korea of a double or triple guarantee.

First, the American government guarantees written non- aggression assurances. Why do it again? Because North Korea is so terrified by Bush doctrine. Second, Russia and China support this Ame-rican guarantee, making the guarantee binding. Then when North Korea agrees to forego its nuclear ambitions, the U.S. Congress adopts a non-aggression resolution.

Would it be possible for you to pass such a resolution, if and when North Korea clearly agrees to forego its nuclear ambitions?

Lugar: The issue was raised in our hearing two days ago. At the time, Secretary Armitage said there's not a snowball's chance in hell that that could occur. But Senator Biden and I said there's not been a vote count yet on this issue.

I suspect that the Congress of the United States could pass a non- aggression pact. If the president indicates this is in our national interest and is very important, you'd be surprised how much support might occur.

Rockefeller: I would agree with Senator Lugar. I think the conventional wisdom, based upon very good evidence, is that the Senate would turn this down.

But then, as Senator Lugar said earlier, everything chang-ed after Sept. 11. I would never rule out the possibility.
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