War, peace and nuclear weapons in Korea

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War, peace and nuclear weapons in Korea

The following is the first of two excerpts from a forum on North Korea in Washington on Thursday. Donald Graham, publisher of the Washington Post and Hong Seok-hyun, chairman of the JoongAng Ilbo, hosted the forum. Participants included Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. deputy defense secretary; James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, Yoo Jay-kun, foreign policy advisor to President-elect Roh Moo-hyun; Lee Hong-koo, chairman of the Seoul Forum for International Affairs; Kim Kyung-won, president of the Institute for Social Sciences, Han Sung-joo, president of Korea University and U.S. Senators Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) and Jay Rockefeller (Democrat, West Virginia. The moderator was Rick Smith of Newsweek magazine.

Smith: To start, let's try to get at the heart of the matter. Ever since last October, when North Korea confirmed that it was developing a nuclear capability, there has been a sometimes-heated debate on the nature and the urgency of that threat. Now we learn that North Korea has restarted its nuclear power plant at Yeongbyeon and, of course, has announced that it will be the first country to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Lee Hong-koo, what is North Korean leader Kim Jong-il up to, and how worried should we be?

Lee: Everybody has made the necessary adjustment to the post-Cold War world except North Korea. Due to its very special characteristics, the North Korean system has not been able to adjust itself to a new environment, which left it isolated and somewhat desperate, particularly in terms of its economic decay.

North Korea is trying to make perhaps its last move to make some sort of an adjustment that will ensure its survival in the new environment. Now, North Korea has its very special way of operating, largely due to the character of its system, including the character of its leadership.

Our security, and indeed the security of the entire peninsula, depends on the United States. The U.S. presence there has been the main factor that enabled the stability of the situation. But the United States, after Sept. 11, also has changed. There is a great deal of uncertainty as to the future of the global situation, as well as the Northeast Asian situation. North Korea is making, in my view, a very desperate effort to ensure its survival -- not easy. What South Korea is trying to do is to help North Korea to make that adjustment, yet in the process not allow them to develop nuclear capabilities, because that will surely make the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia a much less secure place. Indeed, it will threaten stability in the global dimension.

Smith: Mr. Wolfowitz, putting 24 B-52 and B-1 bombers on alert for possible deployment to Guam certainly sounds ominous. How concerned should we be?

Wolfowitz: I wouldn't make it sound ominous. We are dealing with an unpredictable regime and a regime that seems to be moving along a ladder of escalation in terms of its actions. It is a matter of some concern.

But what Secretary Rumsfeld has done, in putting those bombers on alert, is simply to reinforce our deterrent posture, to make sure that North Korea doesn't do anything adventurous or dangerous of a military kind.

Our whole focus here has been on trying to achieve peaceful resolution of this very serious problem. But it has to be one in which there is not a reward for bad behavior.

Secondly, it has to be a multilateral effort. Our larger goal in Northeast Asia is to maintain the solidarity that we have had with South Korea and with Japan over many years. The ultimate principle here is, as Ambassador Lee mentioned, that we are dealing with a regime that is desperate to survive. They have to recognize that has to come from solving the desperate economic situation that they face. As the president said, the North Korean regime will find respect in the world and revival for its people only when it turns away from its nuclear ambitions.

Smith: Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, we've heard that the president-elect of Korea wants to be a good friend to America. Some people have argued that this administration has not necessarily been a good friend to Korea in this current situation, because it has responded slowly. I believe you made some comments along those lines. How would you respond to this threat?

Lugar: Well, I accept the fact that the United States began to rediscover the rest of the world after Sept.11. Now we are thinking about the rest of the world.

I think, however, the important thing I've heard today was from my colleague, Lee Hong-koo, who said the objective here is to try to find how North Korea can be a nation-state. It seems to me that the North Koreans need a good consultant.

am not sure I'm wise enough to know what that plan may be for North Korea, given the depths of the economic crisis they have. We really have to visit in some way -- not necessarily in an negotiation, but maybe as an advisor as to what the stakes are and then see in fact if there is some way to move this situation in which North Korea will not feel paranoid. We need a time line here that allows us to do all of these things really fairly promptly.

Smith: Jim Kelly, your president has put North Korea in the axis of evil. He says he loathes Kim Jong-il. It doesn't sound like that's a set up for being the advisor-consultant that Senator Lugar suggested. How do you view this threat, and do you think that there's much daylight between the U.S. and South Korean positions here?

Kelly: There is not really a great deal of daylight between these positions; the priority that the Korean Peninsula must remain non-nuclear is one that is very broadly shared. When we were planning our dialogue with the North Koreans, as many here recall, we went through a few months of review of the policy toward North Korea, and from June of 2001 were ready, as my boss put it, "any time, any place, any where" to meet with the North Koreans. What we had in mind was a very bold dialogue, even negotiations, with the North Koreans over a variety of topics that could lead them to a better place in the international community. When I went to North Korea in October, I went through all of the elements of the bold approach. But I had to say, "We're just not able to pursue this as long as you're pursuing, in violation of five different written formal agreements, this covert uranium enrichment program. But we still are dedicated to a diplomatic solution. We are looking for something that once and for all gets the nuclear issue, the nuclear weapons issue, off of the Korean Peninsula.

Smith: Kim Kyung-won, you were ambassador to the United States and to the UN. You have always been an outspoken analyst; is everybody being too polite here? (Laughter.)

Kim: I am not sure whether "polite" is the word I would use, but it seems to me that the kind of sharp division that one sees in the debate concerning the North Korean nuclear threat has not been referred to this afternoon. We have managed to pretend that this division of opinion does not exist between [those favoring and opposing dialogue with the North]. I would suggest that this is an exaggerated view of the impact of the dialogue between the North Koreans and the United States. Talking itself will not have that much impact. It seems to me what is important is the substance: What are we trying to achieve here? What are the means that are necessary to achieve those ends?

We need to have North Koreans accept an inspection regime that is more complete, more reliable and more thorough than what we had in the 1994 Agreed Framework. More thorough and more reliable inspections mean that North Koreans will see them as a threat to their sovereignty, as a threat to their domestic regime stability, as probably something that the United States is trying to impose on them in an effort to bring about what has been called regime change or leadership change. Now, therefore, for us to persuade North Korea to accept this inspection regime, it is going to take quite a bit of incentive. And we should not kid around; there will have to be quite a bit of a gift package to the North Koreans if we are going to be talking about this kind of objective.

Smith: Senator Rocke-feller, from your vantage point on the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Commit-tees, is the Congress in a mood to be talking about incentives to North Korea right now?

Rockefeller: I can't think of two people who would be less likely to understand each other than the people of America and the people of North Korea. Rather than looking for an economic solution, could they be looking for a nuclear breakout because fundamentally, that's all they have? I think anyone who says that this is not a crisis is not being realistic. I will not assume that the North Koreans are ready to buckle either to us, to international opinion or to their own sense of their future.

Smith: Dr. Han Sung-joo, former foreign minister, do you think the U.S. is overplaying the threat? And how do you react to Senator Rockefeller's characterization of the North's view of itself?

Han: If the Bush administration had done things differently, perhaps we may not have had the kind of crisis feeling that we have today, but North Korea would be engaged in its own highly enriched uranium program without our having made that an issue.

We might have been sitting comfortably thinking that we're all safe from North Korea's nuclear program. It is quite possible that things could have been done differently, but I don't put the blame on the Bush administration for having brought us to this situation right now.

There is a real possibility that possessing nuclear weapons is a real goal that North Korea has, in addition to and perhaps even in lieu of having negotiations with the United States. Instead of talking about these niceties that we've seen so far, [the allies] really have to sit together and find a joint strategy and try to jointly implement it. Otherwise, North Korea will see the light and will try to manipulate, take advantage of whatever room there is for them to take advantage of.

Smith: I think you raised a very important point, which is does North Korea want to be part of the international community?

Ambassador Wendy Sher-man, the former coordinator of North Korea policy in the State Department, are we dealing with a rational adversary?

Sherman: I think that it's very important that we not caricature either Kim Jong-il or North Korea. If you have a country in economic collapse, which they know they are, then military might and nuclear weapons become a leverage point.

Time is not on our side. North Korea will be a declared nuclear state; we will face the export of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials to terrorists by North Korea.

Part 2, tomorrow.
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