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Disarming, Delisting, and Dealing with North Korea: Next Steps

Speakers: Michael Green, Senior Fellow and Japan Chair, Center for Strategic And International Studies (CCIS), and Associate Professor, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, and Gary Samore, Vice President, Director of Studies and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Don Oberdorfer, Chairman, U.S.-Korea Institute, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University
November 12, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations



DON OBERDORFER:  Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations meeting.  We're about to get started.

Please turn off -- I'm told to remind you to turn off, not vibrate but turn off, your cell phones, BlackBerrys, other insidious devices that you may have on your person to avoid interfering with the sound system and avoid interrupting the proceedings, to remind you this meeting is on the record, which is a good thing for a former journalist to say.

And today, we have a very important issue, among the most vexing issues really, dealing with international affairs that we have right before us -- "Disarming, Delisting and Dealing with North Korea: The Next Steps."

We have some very outstanding people to discuss this. And as you all know, these two people, Michael Green, the senior adviser and Japan chair for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, at the same time an associate professor of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, and Gary Samore, vice president and director of studies and the Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.  These two are people who know the subject very well and can lead us through this issue.

Our friends need little introduction.  You know them, but I'm going to give them a little bit of introduction anyway.

Michael Green is, as I said, senior adviser and Japan chair at CSIS, also an associate professor of International Relations at Georgetown, all important posts.  Previously, he was special assistant to the president for National Security Affairs and senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.  Before that, he was senior fellow for Asian Security at, you guessed it, the Council on Foreign Relations, where he directed the Independent Task Force on Korea and study groups on Japan and security policy in Asia.

Still earlier, he was an assistant professor of Asian Studies and a professorial lecturer at Johns Hopkins SAIS.  Mike speaks fluent Japanese and spent five years as a staff member of the Japanese Diet and as a journalist for Japanese and American newspapers and is a consultant for U.S. business on Japan.

He graduated from Kenyon College with highest honors in history and received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins SAIS.

Gary Samore is president, director of studies and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations and a respected specialist on nuclear proliferation and arms control, especially in Asia and the Middle East.  Previously, he was vice president for Global Security and Sustainability at the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation.  Before that, he was director of studies and senior fellow for nonproliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.  He also served at the National Security Council, specializing in nonproliferation and export control.

Previously, he spent 17 years working on nonproliferation and nuclear energy policy at the Department of State.  He edited three strategic dossiers published by IISS on the strategic programs of Iran, North Korea and Iraq, respectively.  He authored or coauthored numerous other works, including the chapter on the North Korean nuclear crisis in the magazine Survival.

He holds a B.A. in sociology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and an M.A. and Ph.D. in government at Harvard.

Well, the drill here is that first I ask questions of these two experts.  And after they give answers for a while, then we turn to you and get your questions.  So I will now proceed to ask a few questions.

The issues are explicit in the title which tells us "Disarming, Delisting and Dealing with North Korea: Next Steps."  So I'm going to ask each of you in turn, what do you see?  What is the next step in this process as you see it today?

And Gary, I'll start with you.

GARY SAMORE:  Well, you know, the Obama administration will inherit a mixed hand.  On the positive side, the Bush administration has established a diplomatic mechanism, both direct talks with North Korea and the six-party process, which has been successful in constraining North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and, in particular, further production of plutonium.

On the other hand, North Korea has acquired a small nuclear arsenal and very unlikely to give it up in the near future.  So I think the first challenge for the Obama administration will be to reassure countries in Asia that the U.S. has not given up on its ultimate objective of achieving nuclear disarmament.

The abrupt change in the Bush administration's policy after the North Korea nuclear test and then the subsequent concessions that the Bush administration has made to keep the process going has really created doubt in Japan and South Korea and China that the U.S. is serious about achieving disarmament.

And so I think the first immediate step for President Obama when he comes in is through statements and speeches to reassure the Asian countries and to warn the North Koreans that the U.S. is not going to fully normalize relations with North Korea, sign a peace treaty with North Korea until it gives up its nuclear weapons.

OBERDORFER:  Do you think there's any doubt in their mind on that score?

SAMORE:  Yes.  I think the North Koreans believe that they have successfully forced the Bush administration to back down on seeking complete, immediate, verifiable disarmament.  I think they have high hopes that the Obama administration will be even more generous in terms of giving them energy assistance and political recognition and so forth.

And the North Korean view, I think, is that the longer they keep their nuclear weapons, the more likely it is that people will eventually get frustrated and sick and tired of trying to disarm them and just go away and leave them alone.


MICHAEL GREEN:  I agree with all of that.  And the only thing I would add is I think that the Obama administration is going to have to go well beyond declaratory policy if they want to reassure our friends and allies that we're serious about denuclearization.

The problem has not been the declaratory policy of the Bush administration.  It's been the specifics, it's been the details.  And as Gary said, there has been process, but a lot of it has come through concessions.  There hasn't really been any pressure on the North since the Security Council passed very draconian sanctions in Resolution 1718 in October of 2006.  Since then, there really hasn't been much pressure.  It's been a diplomatic process.

Most of the big gains have been won through concessions or narrowing down our demands.  But the specifics are going to matter.  Let me list a few.

One is verification.  On June 18th, Secretary Rice at Heritage and then on June 26th, President Bush at the White House said very specifically that our delisting of North Korea from the state sponsors of terror was contingent on, and they mentioned very specifically in section samples, interviews with engineers, documents.

We entered into a negotiation with the North Koreans with the expectation that we would receive a verification protocol that would list how all this happens, and ended up, essentially, with a very watered down and, ultimately, not usable text.

But our side then presented to the other party our list of what we though the verification procedure should be with the expectation that that's what would happen in the six-party talks.  And we see in today's press that the North Koreans have announced publicly that they refuse to do any of these things other than let inspectors talk to engineers.  And then they've already given us these documents which we aren't able to verify.

So they have said no and publicly said no to the specific things that the president and Secretary Rice would be our conditions and that we told the other parties we would get.  So I mean, right off the bat, there's going to have to be a serious discussion about an area Gary knows better than I.  But that's, how do we get verification back onboard?  And that's something that both McCain and Obama said was critical.

Second area is HEU, highly enriched uranium, which is largely excluded from the current agreement.  But in the negotiating process over the past year and a half, the North Koreans inadvertently gave us documents and other things that were irradiated with enriched uranium.

So rather than reassuring us, they have accidentally made everyone more nervous about it.  And that one, I think, can't stay off the agenda for too long.

And the third one which we, you know, amazingly have heard very little about lately is this transfer issue to Syria.  And I remember in 2003 when Jim Kelly led our delegation to the DPRK-U.S.-China three-way talks in Beijing that preceded the six-party talks -- (inaudible) -- after our dessert at dinner-- that on instructions from Pyongyang they had a nuclear deterrence, they would expand it, they would test it and they would transfer it if we didn't end our hostile policy.  And there's a long list of what goes into that.

Well, they tested.  Right around the time he was talking to us, they began reprocessing or expanding their deterrence.  And we now know that at some level in some way, there has been something that I think we can call transfer with respect to Syria.  And I think that is an area that's going to come back.  It will be back.  I think this is an area where the North Koreans can demonstrate horizontal escalation and threaten us.  They can get something for it.

So that, although it's not on the agenda at present, I think, is going to be a priority quickly the Obama administration will find.

So that's three specific things that are pretty tough.  They go beyond just the declaratory policy where, I agree with Gary, we have some work to do.

OBERDORFER:  So in your opinion, what do we do about this, given what they've said and not done?

GREEN:  Well, I was an adviser to Senator McCain.  So what I do about it is think and write.  (Laughter.)  What the Obama administration probably ought to do, I think Gary's got it right, right off the bat, there has to be some, you know, declaratory policy with respect to our position, that we will never accept a North Korea with nuclear weapons.

I would go further and say we need to find ways on our extended nuclear deterrence to demonstrate that an Obama administration will stand by what President Bush said after the nuclear test, which was basically, our nuclear umbrella is a high priority.  And basically, you have to talk to the allies and decide what they want to hear.  It's not that hard.

OBERDORFER:  (Inaudible) -- ways.

GREEN:  Well, the discussion about North Korea in the political campaign was political.  I think what the allies want to hear and, in particular, Japan, is that an Obama administration takes defense and deterrence and diplomacy, the three d's--not here--very seriously.

How you do that really is a matter of consultation with Tokyo and Seoul to make sure you find a way to reassure your commitment to the nuclear umbrella without going so far that you, you know, provoke problems with China or end the diplomacy.  It's really a matter of talking to the Japanese and Koreans, which, procedurally, is the first thing an Obama administration should do before even thinking about next steps with Pyongyang.  You gotta do that.

I am confident that our Japanese and Korean friends will come in.  They'll talk about -- (inaudible) -- they'll talk about North-South issues, but they'll talk about verification.  And you've got to reach some consensus on that and what our goals are and what we're willing to give or not give to get it.

And then I would argue you need to think of ways to remind North Korea there are consequences.  Resolution 1718, which passed after the nuclear test, says very clearly that if the North Koreans do not implement all of the demands of the Security Council, the Security Council should convene again to consider next steps.  You don't have to do that.

I personally think it would be useful, in consultation with our allies, to remind the North Koreans that that is an option.  Doing everything that Gary said -- keep the six-party, make it clear you'll continue the bilateral negotiations.

OBERDORFER:  Well, if it's not going to be rather hollow, what would the next steps be that you would sort of hint to them or indicate to them?

GREEN:  In terms of the consequences?

OBERDORFER:  Yeah.  If they don't --

GREEN:  Again, if I were the administration, I'd listen to the Japanese and Koreans on this one in a trilateral meeting and come up with a joint message.  Because I think the unity of message from these three countries is as important as the content in a lot of ways.  So that's the first thing I'd do is make sure we're listening and we find the right steps.

You know, the vehicle for this could be that -- here I'm getting into my old bureaucratic minutia -- but the vehicle for this could be a statement out of the three parties, you know, a senior officials meeting of Japan, Korea, U.S. on next steps.  A statement which offers very clearly the things North Korea has expected from the process and states quite clearly where the U.S., Japan and ROK see verification and other issues.

OBERDORFER:  Go ahead.

SAMORE:  Just wanted to add, I think that if the new U.S. administration is able to convincingly proclaim its commitment to disarmament as well as defense of its allies, I think the Asian governments are actually very realistic about what can be achieved.

I mean, as I've traveled around East Asia, there's a general consensus among the experts -- I don't know what the public thinks -- but the experts understand that North Korea is not going to be enticed or coerced to give up their nuclear weapons any time soon.

And I think although they don't like it, I think the countries believe that it's a manageable threat provided that it doesn't continue to grow, provided that we limit the amount of fissile material, the North Korean delivery capacity, and that we're on a general, long-term trajectory toward disarmament.

So I don't think we need to run the risk of precipitating a crisis with North Korea by threatening them.  I think the North Koreans are willing to play ball in exchange for food and heavy fuel oil and fertilizer and so forth but in a process that's going to be torturous.  It's going to be a continuation of the current, you know, process of negotiation which is delay tactics, reneging, cheating.

But I think we're sort of condemned to that process because we don't really have any alternative.  We can't ignore North Korea because they'll make mischief.  We can't coerce them and force them to give up their nuclear weapons.  And the only alternative, I think, is a long-term disarmament process which will involve very painful, slow, incremental progress.

And so for me, the more important issue is to preserve the principle of what we're trying to achieve at the end of the day.  And then the actual day-to-day on all the really tough issues that Mike mentioned, that will be a continuation of what we've seen the last two years.

OBERDORFER:  So if it was up to you, what would the next step be or steps?

SAMORE:  Well, as I say, to me, the most important first thing to do is to establish through statements and speeches and consultations with our allies what the principles are -- defense and disarmament.

And then after that, I think we need to continue the bilateral.  And obviously, the Obama administration needs to put a team together.  And here, I think, the lesson from the Bush administration is that you really want to have a coherent and a cohesive interagency team.  I think the Bush administration has never really been able to achieve that kind of interagency unity.  And the result has been sometimes dysfunctional decision-making and a lot of personal animosity.

So putting the right team together, getting the right person, you know, to lead the negotiations and making sure that all the agencies -- Defense, State, NSC, DOE and so forth, CIA -- are all really lined up together, working for the same objective.  I think that would tremendously improve our performance in terms of, you know, our ability to negotiate with the North Koreans.

OBERDORFER:  I don't want to put you on the spot, or maybe I do, but who would you suggest be the leader of this team?

SAMORE:  You know, I think there are lots of people around who've, you know, had a lot of experience.  (Laughter.)  I did this 15 years ago.  I think you may want somebody who's, you know, fresh and enthusiastic.

But I think there are a lot of people around.  And I think Chris has done a good job.  But I think probably by changing, you know, our lead negotiators at this point, that is another way of reassuring our allies that, you know, we're committed to disarmament and defense.

OBERDORFER:  Who would you pick?

GREEN:  Well, I think I'm not going to contest the assertion that we had a friction and dysfunctionality from time to time in our North Korea process.  It's a hard issue.

I think that one lesson I take away is, it makes a lot of sense to have a senior envoy or coordinator.  I think Bob Gallucci did a great job.  There may be tactical errors where I might have disagreed.  But I think, in general, he brought that kind of coherence.  A lot of it's personality.  He's my dean, by the way, and I hope he's listening.  (Laughter.)  But he really did bring, you know, some cohesion.

I think it's too hard at this point, given the intensity of the diplomacy, too hard for the East Asia assistant secretary to take that on.

On the other hand, you absolutely cannot decouple it from our relations with Japan, Korea and China because in the process of negotiating this, we are transforming those relationships.  So you need the right personality, and you need somebody who's perhaps, you know, not managing the East Asia Bureau but is joined at the hip.  You need somebody who has some nonproliferation expertise.

So certain people come to mind.  But I have to say, at the beginning of this process in the Bush administration, I wrote a -- this is the revelation of the day -- I wrote a paper for the NSC proposing a senior coordinator or envoy.  All of our deputies -- go ahead, Chris, you can have this one.  All of our deputies said it was a great idea.  And then all started proposing the other guy.  And Jim Kelly was asked to do it, and he did, and he did, you know, as good a job, I think, as was possible.

But as I said, I don't think you can run the East Asia Bureau and do this at the same time.

SAMORE:  I completely agree with that.  And I think Mike is right that the relationship between the assistant secretary of EAB and the special negotiator has to be one of good cooperation.  And we were lucky to have Win Lord and -- (inaudible) -- and Bob Gallucci and the others, and they worked very well together.

OBERDORFER:  Well, what do we know about the views of the president-elect on this subject?  What does he want to do in this?  Do we have any idea from him or his aides of how they want to handle this story?

SAMORE:  I mean, my guess is that they haven't given this too much thought.  I mean, I think if you look at the really compelling problems that they confront -- the global recession, war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons -- since the North Korea problem had been managed, it's been under control since the North Korean nuclear test.  My guess is the sort of tendency will be to continue the process.

And it's only if the thing falls apart and we're faced with a crisis that they may have to start looking at, you know, dramatically different ways of responding.

But I think the U.S. strategy is to keep this issue under control so that we can focus on dealing with issues that are not under control, especially issues in the Middle East.  And I think that's doable.  I mean, I don't think we can achieve disarmament any time soon, but I do think we can manage this issue.

And I think, because the North Koreans are prepared to be managed, as long as they're paid, they will behave themselves.

OBERDORFER:  Before turning to Michael on this, do you think this news today that they won't allow samples to be made at Yongbyon, do you think that sort of suggests they're not going to be as forthcoming as you are hoping?

SAMORE:  Well, I didn't say they'd be forthcoming.  I said they'd be prepared to be managed.  But you know, this announcement could very well indicate they've decided to just run out the clock on the Bush administration in the expectation that they might try to get a better deal from an Obama administration.

So I don't see these kinds of delays and, you know, glitches as being very significant.  North Korea's strategy is to delay.  The longer that they can delay, the longer they can hang onto their nuclear weapons, the more likely it is that people will eventually get frustrated and give up.

So from their standpoint, they want this to be a slow, incremental, painful process.  And that's something they're very good at.

OBERDORFER:  Mike, what do you think is the significance of their statement today?

GREEN:  I think -- well, it tells us two things.  One that you can't -- we're not going to convince our allies or people in the Congress or others who are serious about, you know, not only managing but step-by-step rolling back this program -- we can't convince them we're serious if we frankly do things like lift sanctions based on the expectation North Korea will deliver the verification that we've told people they'll deliver because it's not patently obvious that they're not.

So we have to think very carefully about how we manage this in terms of expectations, recognize there's no glory.  It's going to be painful.  The more we talk, the less the Obama administration is going to be able to find someone willing to take this on.

But it's an incredibly important problem to manage strategically given all of the equities we have in terms of proliferation in Northeast Asia.

You know, as a McCain surrogate, I debated friends working for Senator Obama a dozen times on the Asia policy.  And you know, there was a clear migration in what Senator Obama was saying from the primary to just before the election about North Korea, and a migration, from my perspective, in the right direction.  He stopped saying he would meet unconditionally with Kim Jong-Il after a few months.  And the last statement I saw publicly that he made said that North Korea has to realize there are consequences if they cheat on their agreements.  It said verification is critical.  It said all the right things.

So I'm probably less equipped than almost anyone in the room to know what a President Obama would do.  But reading from the declaratory, public statements, it's moving in a very realistic and, I think, bipartisan, centrist direction.  So it's encouraging.

SAMORE:  Can I say one more thing?  Just on the technical issue, I think at the end of the day, the North Koreans will allow sampling to verify their plutonium declaration because I think they probably are not worried about having the fact that they've got 39 to 40, you know, kilograms of plutonium being verified.  From their standpoint, that's not a bad thing.

They want us to know that they have a nuclear deterrent.  So it will be a question of haggling over the price and not setting a precedent that would allow us to go searching around the rest of the country, you know, looking in every bunker and cave.

So I think at the end of the day, they will allow their declaration of plutonium to be verified, and that will include access to a number of sites at the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

I think the enrichment issue and the issue of transfer will be far more difficult to resolve.  And in that respect, some of the concessions that the Bush administration made to keep this process going, I think, is going to give, is going to saddle the next administration with, you know, an even more difficult task.

GREEN:  I'm not as confident on their core samples.  I don't know.  But the reason I'm not as confident is the estimate they gave reportedly in the declaration is the low end of our public statements on how much plutonium we though they had.  And if in fact they have more, they're not going to want us to be able to prove that.  So I'm not quite as confident that they'll do it.  I certainly hope they do that.

OBERDORFER:  So you would say -- what would you think, Mike, is the -- standing from right here, today -- what do you think is the next thing that needs to be done?

GREEN:  Well, as President-elect Obama has said in his press conference, one president at a time.  I think, you know, the Bush administration should keep pushing and should use the time remaining to try to solidify consensus among the other parties that these verification procedures, not just the bilateral protocol Pyongyang apparently agreed to, but the ones that Ambassador Hill has been using.

We need to use this time to solidify agreement that that's what we need.  I think that's worthwhile.  For two, three months, it's the right way to go.  It will position a President Obama to have maximum options.

The worst thing to do would be compromise again or somehow try to, you know, declare victory.  And I don't think that the White House is going to do that at this point.  They're very conscientious about handing over the best conditions possible on all these big challenges.

OBERDORFER:  Would you like to add to that?

SAMORE:  No.  You know, I agree.  I think that the North Koreans, I think, actually understand that without some of these technical measures, sampling and so forth, we're not going to be able to verify what their plutonium declaration is.  And that's why I'm a little bit more optimistic that if the price is right they'll be willing to let that happen.

I'm less optimistic on enrichment because the only way we're ever going to have even a small degree of confidence that we have a handle on that program is if the North Koreans come forward and tell us about the magnitude of the program, location and so forth.  And I don't see any evidence so far that they're prepared to do that.

GREEN:  Putting a finer point on it -- so tactically, if you're talking about the next two and a half months, and maybe this is where we disagree, I would not pay more, I would not -- (inaudible) -- I would not, if I were the outgoing Bush administration, advocate paying more after we've already delisted them when they failed to provide the verification list.  I would not now sort of give a new inducement to get that because I don't think that will set up the Obama administration for a good position.  Maybe that's not what you mean.

OBERDORFER:  If that's the case, where we are today is likely to be where we are on the 21st of January or the 20th of January.

GREEN:  In terms of the North Korean position, yes.  But we both discussed some of the difficulties we're having with Japan, Korea and even China on this one.  So time spent on those relationships, I think, is going to be helpful to an Obama administration coming in.

OBERDORFER:  Just one more question.  Do you think at this point, given that fact you just mentioned, we need a special negotiator or somebody clearly in charge here?

GREEN:  After January 20th, yes.

OBERDORFER:  Yes, not now.

GREEN:  Along the lines we discussed, a senior person, you know, joined at the hip with the assistant secretary for Asia.

SAMORE:  And with an interagency team.  I would emphasize, again, that I think it's important that, you know, when the interagency works together well, we have a very effective negotiating capability.  Whereas the North know, their system is much more archaic, right?  You're dealing with just the Foreign Ministry types and maybe some intelligence people who are on the team watching them.  And I think that does handicap them in a lot of ways.  If we have an effective interagency team, I think we're much stronger negotiators.

OBERDORFER:  So now we have a chance to let you ask your questions and express your opinions.  Please raise your hand or otherwise signal you'd like to be recognized.  Wait for the microphone and speak directly into the microphone.  Stand up, give your name, rank and serial number and ask your question.  Declarative questions with a question mark at the end are preferred rather than speeches.

Back there -- I can't really see who it is but back there.  Yes.

QUESTIONER:  Barry Blechman with the Stimpson Center.  I mean, everything you say makes sense.  But when I look at a likely outcome, I see a dead end where we'll be in the same place January 21st, 2012, particularly looking at the way they rolled the Bush administration on delisting.  So to try to think of alternatives, the only thing that comes to mind is, can China be induced to be more helpful in this process?  You haven't really discussed it.  Could you discuss a little of China's role in the process so far and whether, in the context of a change in U.S.-China relations where we were doing something that made them happier, they might be more helpful?

GREEN:  It's a very good question.  And the answer, I think, is yes, China can be more helpful.  China has become more helpful.  I was with Secretary Powell when he went to Beijing in February 2003 to propose the six-party talks and Jiang Zemin's reaction was he said, no, no, this is a U.S.-DPRK problem, China is not associated.  And he said it three times, kind of laughed each time he said it, like who are you kidding.  You think we want to be involved in this?

And Secretary Powell said something, the gist of which was, essentially, you can talk to me about this or you can talk to Don Rumsfeld.  I mean, it was subtler than that.  (Laughter.)

And this, of course, you know... early 2003 is in the context of our buildup before the Iraq war.  And we had, let's just say, a certain amount of coercive leverage we didn't have a few years later.  The Chinese came back two days later and agreed to the six-party talks.  They wanted to do three, we then did six.

You compare that position -- China is not associated with the U.S.-DPRK problem -- with the Chinese ambassador to the UN, getting out before John Bolton in front of the cameras, calling for sanctions after the nuclear test.  It's a real (intensive ?) evolution in Chinese thinking about this problem because we forced them to be in it.  And that's one important legacy of the six-party talks.

My sense is that the Chinese became rather complacent, though, as we sort of took this on and found ways to induce North Korea on our own.  I think the Chinese can be more helpful.  They need to see a certain amount of urgency on our part.  I think, in my view, when Beijing sees that the U.S., Japan and ROK are starting to be the core of this, they tend to be more helpful.

The worst thing would be to say the Chinese could be helpful, and then just ask them.  I think you need to incentivize them in a variety of ways.  And I think they will likely do more.  It will be incremental.  They're not going to collapse this regime, but they can help.

SAMORE:  I'd just build on the last point that Mike made.  Obviously, the Chinese have become more engaged.  The Bush administration, I think, should take credit for forcing the Chinese to be more engaged in a positive way.

But at the end of the day, I think, if China has to choose between stability and disarmament, they're going to choose stability.  They're not prepared to run the risk of creating a crisis in North Korea by using their leverage against Pyongyang to force disarmament.

And I think we just have to recognize that that's a constraint that we operate under.  That at least for right now, the best we're going to get out of the Chinese is diplomatic pressure.  Some, you know, occasional -- if the North Koreans really misbehave, like testing nuclear weapons --  the Chinese will support, at least on paper, some sanctions.

But I don't think we can expect the Chinese, because it's not in their national interest, to put disarmament ahead of stability.

OBERDORFER:  You think that, on paper, is the limit of what they would do?

SAMORE:  Well, they will occasionally, I think, turn the spigot off to demonstrate their displeasure.  But I think if we've learned anything, we've learned that the Chinese really don't control the North Koreans.  And we know that, at least my understanding is, that the North Korean series of missile and, ultimately, nuclear tests was done directly against very clear Chinese pressure.  And the Chinese were very embarrassed and very unhappy, which I think helps to explain, you know, why they have supported sanctions at the U.N.

But I think the Chinese default position, as long as it looks like this issue is under control and being managed and we're in a slow, long-term process for disarmament, you know, I think they're comfortable with that.

Their big concern is North Korean survival.  The North Koreans do not want to see the North Korean regime collapse.  And they're hoping that over the long term --

OBERDORFER:  You mean Chinese.

SAMORE:  I mean Chinese are hoping that over time the North Koreans will find a way to reform so that they can survive.

OBERDORFER:  Okay.  Yes, Herb.

QUESTIONER:  Herbert Levin.  Sorry to get ahead of you, Congressman.  (Laughs.)  First, an observation, then a question.  The observation is, why, instead of searching for special emissaries for North Korea or Iran and getting in an argument with Brzezinski as to whether they should sit at OEOB or State Department or someplace, why not revive ACTA, not have to go to the Senate for approval of every high-level negotiator and have a staff that has some dedication and has to be interagency and be much less ad hoc?  So that's really my observation.

OBERDORFER:  Sounds like a question to me.  (Laughs.)

QUESTIONER:  Actually, it's -- (inaudible).  You know how those things work.  And the second is I really don't know how you can expect the Iranians and the North Koreans on one hand, the Japanese allies on the other hand, to have enormous confidence in American policy in this area considering the total dive that we took with India where we give them everything they want to build up, all these capacities, and they have endless ability to make more nuclear weapons.  So I'm wondering how you get any confidence, either from adversaries, negotiating adversaries, or allies, like Japan, considering our surrender on India.  Thank you.

OBERDORFER:  So what about that?  What about the impact of the Indian --

SAMORE:  Well, you know, I think the Indian deal has given the North Koreans a good talking point, which they're using.  And when I was in Beijing two weeks ago, I got this question from some Chinese experts.  And you know, I think it's very easy to answer.

India is not North Korea.  India is a big, important democracy.  North Korea is a small, insignificant dictatorship which is an enemy of the United States.  We're not going to treat an enemy of that character the same as we treat India.  And I think most people understand that, you know, we treat countries differently depending upon how important they are and depending upon their relationship to us.  I think that's something the Chinese get.  That's very practical.

GREEN:  I don't think international norms have terribly much affect on North Korean thinking about their nuclear weapons, frankly.  And you know, even after -- I was quite involved in the U.S.-India nuclear deal -- and even after we did it and I left government and met with North Koreans in New York, they didn't even raise it.  They started raising it because certain academics asked them to ask me, well, what do you think about the India deal?

To the extent they've talked about other models in the past with visiting delegations or U.S. officials, it's been Pakistan, not India.  In other words, don't sanction pressure too much.  So I'm not sure the India deal has much affect on North Korea's strategic trajectory on this at all.

In terms of ACTA, you may be right.  But if I were President-elect Obama, I would not try to reorganize a national security bureaucracy while we're in the middle of two wars and numerous crises.  So it probably won't happen.

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike.)

GREEN:  Of course not.

OBERDORFER:  I don't know if you heard that question.

GREEN:  Would I give Iran a nuclear deal?

QUESTIONER:  (Off mike.)

GREEN:  Yeah, I mean the Indian deal.  That one's easy.  Of course not.

OBERDORFER:  Congressman Solarz.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you, Don.  Steve Solarz.  It appears we have three main objectives vis-a-vis North Korea -- getting them to continue the dismantlement and disabling of their Yongbyon reactor, which could cap their plutonium program; secondly, getting adequate verification which would enable us to deal with the concerns about their HEU program; and finally, getting them to disgorge the nuclear weapons they already have.

We're making progress on the first.  But if it should turn out that we're unable to achieve satisfaction on either verification or getting them to give up the nuclear weapons they have, would it be your view that at that point we would be better off pulling the plug on the process, trying to go for very serious sanctions, in which case they would undoubtedly reconstruct Yongbyon?  Or would you say, even if we can't get satisfaction on verification and giving up their nukes, we should continue the process and continue to pay the price we're paying now in terms of heavy oil and other measures in order to make sure they don't restart Yongbyon?

SAMORE:  Well, you know, it's a very good question and probably a choice we'll face.  And you know, my view is that the second route, the hard route of sanctions would be fine if you have a reasonable expectation of success and you're prepared to pay the risk and the cost.  And I don't think we are.

I don't think we have a reasonable expectation of success because I think, at the end of the day, the Chinese and the South Koreans want the north to survive.  They're not prepared at this point to pull the plug.  Maybe they'll change their view in the future.  But right now, they're not prepared to run the risk.

And from our standpoint, we've got many more urgent and difficult problems to deal with, especially in the Middle East.  And so for me, managing the North Korea problem, if it means capping it and not necessarily making progress toward disarmament is better than trying to force the issue and dealing with the potential consequences which could be war.

I mean, at the end of the day, at some point, I think, the North Korean regime is likely to fade and collapse.  So our game is to sort of manage this process until it eventually disappears.

OBERDORFER:  We've been saying that for half a century.

SAMORE:  Well, and it may take that long.  I mean, they have remarkable resilience.  But it's not a successful system.  I mean, if it weren't for the external assistance they receive, I don't think they would survive.

And you know, let me just, you know, say one more thing.  I think we can negotiate a disarmament agreement with North Korea in the sense that you would have an agreement on the ultimate objective, what they would do and what we would do, and steps along the way.  But that process is going to be stretched out over years.  And the North Koreans will, at every stage of the way, they will try to get more payment and do less.  And if it looks like we're actually reaching the end goal, they will either cheat or renege on the deal.

So it's not that we can't get an agreement with the North Koreans.  The question is whether they'll actually carry it out.

And the lesson from the agreed framework, if we can go by that one, you know, sort of piece of evidence, is no.  We had a long-term disarmament deal.  As we were making progress toward achievement, the North Koreans decided to cheat.

GREEN:  I think there's a trap that strategically we slip into or have slipped into since 1994 when it appeared that the Clinton administration was going to go to war, essentially, was going to use sanctions and risk war because of the activation of Yongbyon facility.  And ever since then, we -- and I say all of us, collectively -- I think slipped easily into this binary choice.  We either negotiate with them or it's war.

And for the reasons Gary said, given that choice, we're always going to fall into the let's-keep-negotiating-with-them mode.  And I think we have to -- and I hope the Obama administration breaks away from that kind of binary thinking and thinks a bit more in terms of a rheostat, you know, that we have to have a combination of negotiation but we also have to have defensive measures.  We have to have some evidence there will be consequences when North Korea cheats.

We need to be, simultaneous to our negotiations, containing or strengthening our ability to contain the possibility of transfer.  Seventeen Eighteen had within it various measures that the member states were supposed to take to scrutinize shipments from North Korea, to do other things that we should be doing.  And you know, these are not necessarily all sanctions even.  But I think we need to take those defensive measures.

We also need to take  very, you know, clear steps in terms of defense and extended deterrence to reassure our allies.  Because if we fall into this trap, you know, we're going to choose every time because we have so many other pressing issues, we don't want war, let's just give them what they want.  And that will erode our ability to get anything done with North Korea.  It will erode our position in Northeast Asia because the Japanese, Koreans and now, increasingly, the Chinese will question our seriousness.

So  "rheostat" is how I would think about it.  And that does not necessarily mean, you know, a kind of on-off switch where we're looking at either war or negotiations.

OBERDORFER:  Next question.  Yes, back there.  You -- sorry, no, right behind you.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  My name is Jared Genser.  I'm a term member of the Council.  Just a question about an issue that hasn't been discussed here, although I guess it relates to the third part of the title, which is dealing with North Korea, which has to do with the human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea where the North Korean people suffer probably more than virtually any other in the world today.

My question is about the North Korean Human Rights Act which has created a new position when it was just recently reauthorized, elevating the special envoy on human rights to be an ambassador-at-large.  And I'd be interested in the panel's views on how, if at all, the question of the suffering of the North Korean people is going to be raised in the six-party talks, through the working groups or otherwise in the context of U.S. foreign policy.

GREEN:  My view on this one is we should never be silent about North Korea and human rights abuses in the thought that that's going to help us with nuclear diplomacy.  I think we need to, essentially, condition the North Koreans to understand that we will not pull punches on this one for a whole host of reasons.

You know, one reason is we have the abductee issue with Japan, which is obviously an emotional and political issue for the Japanese.  But we promised in 2003 in the terrorism report of the State Department we wouldn't delist North Korea without progress on this issue.  And we haven't had progress.

So it goes to the heart of our overall credibility with Japan.  We need to keep that one.  That's one reason.

I think if in fact we are going to credibly move toward a more normal relationship with the DPRK, we're going to have to bring along a lot of constituencies in the U.S. Congress and in the American public.  And you can't play catchup on an issue like this later on in the process because you'll do far more damage if you suddenly raise it at the moment we are trying to achieve a breakthrough.

So I think, essentially, we need to keep this going.  I think the human rights envoy can be a critical part of that.  The north Koreans need to understand that this is someone who is speaking for the president and in concert with whoever is doing the nuclear negotiations.

OBERDORFER:  How do you square that with delisting -- (inaudible)?

GREEN:  Well, as a legal and technical matter, the State Department determines which countries are engaged, you know, deserve to be on that list based on their activities with respect to terrorism.

And in 2003, you know, the administration's determination was that we could not say specifically that this abductee issue was terrorism for the purposes of the list but that, as a policy matter, we were linking them because it was close enough, that it would go to the credibility of North Korea's other steps.  That basically was how we did it.

And it was to back Japan up at a time when they were, I mean, when there were obvious domestic concerns about this issue in Japan but also, frankly, it was one more step to demonstrate to our Japanese allies that we're watching their backs because this was a new world when North Korea was breaking out.  And we felt we had to be attentive to that.

And I, frankly, think we've paid a real price by delisting without insisting on more progress.  You know, we never felt that this had to be resolved as an issue.  The question was progress.  We needed Japan to tell us what constitutes progress.  And frankly, in that sense, the ball is in Tokyo's court, and they really need to do a better job defining, you know, their road map on this.

But the complete decoupling was so abrupt and after a North Korean nuclear test that three years ago we would have all said is a red line that changes Northeast Asia forever.  And I think we've paid a price with Japan for that that's going to have to be, and I think for an Obama administration... some repair work is going to have to be done.

SAMORE:  And I would just add to that, what I've been told by Japanese officials is that they were prepared to accept our decision to decouple delisting from the abductee issue as long as we got a really solid verification deal.

And what happened was the Bush administration didn't get a solid verification deal, and they decoupled at the same time.  So clearly, doing the repair work with Tokyo is going to be very high, you know, on the list of the new administration's Asia objectives.

OBERDORFER:  Next question.  Yes.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  I'm Vaughan Turekian from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Just a quick question.  Now Vice President-elect Biden said within six months, this president will be tested.  Everyone looked at the Middle East and maybe Russia.  Should we be looking at North Korea?  And what would that look like?

SAMORE:  You know, I think it's possible.  I mean, I actually think the North Koreans are pretty comfortable.  I mean, I think the situation they're in now is one where they feel like they've successfully forced the Bush administration to back down.  They're expecting the Obama administration to continue the policy of diplomacy.

So I mean, the one thing - they're hurting, of course, as they always need food and heavy fuel oil and so forth.  So there might be some temptation in Pyongyang to cause a crisis in order to, you know, get more of the things they need to survive.

But I don't sense that there's a real sort of urgent feeling in Pyongyang that they've got to cause a commotion.  Especially, again, if the Obama administration comes in and signals that it's willing to continue this process of negotiation, the North Koreans might be content to continue to play that game.

I mean, I could be wrong, of course, but, you know, I think we have to sort of accept that, at some point, the North Koreans may decide to walk away and test again.  And you know, from one standpoint, the more they test, the better.  You know, use up their plutonium.  (Laughter.)

I mean, at the end of the day, you can't allow the North Korean threat to be so frightening to you, you're prepared to pay any price to keep them at the table.  You've just got to be willing to accept that they may misbehave, as they've done in the past, and, you know, we'll try to, you know, take advantage of that to increase pressures on them.

OBERDORFER:  Do you think it's important to signal in this period before January 20th, or is it possible to signal in this period before January 20th, in a credible way what the attitude of the administration coming in is going to be about some of these matters regarding North Korea?

SAMORE:  Well, I don't think the Obama team should signal while they're not in office what their intents are.  But I think the North Koreans are sophisticated enough to understand that the new administration coming in is likely to pursue a similar policy.  There's not likely to be a dramatic shift in policy one way or the other.  So I don't actually see that as being necessary.

GREEN:  Although in some ways, it's like a football game, and the coach is blowing the whistle, and it's halftime, and our side's off changing teams, and the coaches are deciding who's going to play what positions.  The North Koreans are still on the field, and they keep pushing the ball, you know, five yards, 10 yards towards our goal line.  And the Obama team is going to run on the field and say, wait a minute, we were on the 30-yard line three months ago.

So I agree with Gary.  I don't see how a transition team can signal.  But I think there are things the Bush administration can do to make it clear that certain principles won't change.  That's why I think the verification piece should be a focus over the coming months and really getting the allies to lock in and agree and the Chinese and Russians.

SAMORE:  You know, but I would just say, as long as they're not producing more plutonium, a six-month hiatus where not much is happening doesn't particularly disadvantage us.  I mean, we can afford to wait six months and then pick up where we were.

GREEN:  I think that's right.  I suspect one reason that the extremely watered down verification protocol was accepted in the end, I suspect the calculation was if we don't do it, they'll reprocess plutonium and there will be one more bomb's worth when the new team comes in.

You know, we've paid, I think, in terms of our credibility, a pretty big price to avoid that.  But you know, at this point, we are where we are.

OBERDORFER:  We've got a few minutes left.  We're going to have, I think, maybe time for two more questions.  Let's make the questions sharp and short and the answers accordingly so.

Chris, you've got your hand up.

QUESTIONER:  Thanks very much.  Chris Nelson, The Nelson Report.  An easy one is, let's nominate Congressman Solarz to be the coordinator.  (Laughter.)  I'm sure he'd be thrilled with that.

SAMORE:  No, I've probably said too much to have him to be interested.  (Laughs.)

QUESTIONER:  I did have, obviously,a serious question, too.  The more you listen to this stuff -- and we've all been talking about it in this room for 15 years probably -- the more what I'm hearing you're saying but not dealing with is, yeah, they've got a bomb, yeah, you know, they're happy with the current status quo, yeah, they're going to keep bleeding us for this and that, so let's keep that going to see if we can eventually get what we want.  But what we're not talking about, coherently, I don't think, is the proliferation risk.  Isn't that actually the number one thing?  And isn't that what we should be putting as number one when we go and confer with Japan and China?  You know, it isn't sort of on the list, it's THE thing, isn't it?

SAMORE:  Well, I think it's a very good question.  You know, I've always said -- I mean, years ago, I've always said I was much more worried about North Korea providing nuclear assistance to another government as opposed to providing nuclear weapons or material to a terrorist group.  Because I have always had the sense that the North Koreans understand that if they provide weapons or materials to a terrorist group, which then uses it against the U.S. or U.S. allies, I think they understand the simple concept of deterrence, you know, and revenge.  And they understand that they would be held accountable.

But they have an ongoing relationship with governments, like Syria and Iran in the missile area.  And I always thought it was plausible that that would bleed over into a nuclear relationship.

I think the Israeli bombing of the Syrian facility was a very salutary message.  I'm happy the Israelis did it.  I'm happy the international reaction was very quiet.  I think it sends a good message to the North Koreans and to their potential customers that if they engage in secret nuclear cooperation and try to build secret nuclear facilities, those are legitimate military targets, and they should expect to be bombed.

If you think about who the potential customers are for the North Koreans, there are not that many.  I mean, it's mainly in the Middle East.  And there are very few Middle East countries right now pursuing nuclear weapons programs except for Iran.  So I think we have to keep an eye on that.

But to me, whatever the North Koreans -- you know, we're never going to be able to verify, through cooperative measures, that they're not providing assistance to somebody else.  And whatever assurances the North Koreans give us are worthless.

So at the end of the day, the only way to protect against a proliferation risk is by watching what they're doing and being prepared to take action if we find out that they're providing assistance.  So to me, that's much less of a diplomatic issue.  I mean I don't think there's a diplomatic solution beyond something that's very cosmetic.

GREEN:  The North Koreans, about two and a half years ago, had in KCNA an editorial saying that the Americans seemed to appear worried about proliferation of transfer of our nuclear deterrent.  We are prepared to enter into arms control negotiations with the United States as a fellow nuclear weapon state.  And there you have the essence of what they're after, I think.

If we, as a matter of policy, were to say our top priority is proliferation, it would only reinforce concerns in the region that we're willing to have a nuclear-armed North Korea in their neighborhood to prevent Israel or the U.S. from being threatened by a transfer.  We wouldn't be helping ourselves.

And yet, it is a very serious threat.  I think where the North Koreans want to end up -- we're always speculating, but looking at their history and looking at the declaratory stuff coming out of Pyongyang -- I think they want to be an acknowledged nuclear weapon state with the option to transfer from which they can get two things -- negotiating leverage in other areas--or cash--and to threaten us with horizontal escalation.  At the end of the day, you may be able to obliterate us, but you'll never know if we can get a nuke to one of your adversaries.  And I think it's a very logical, strategic outlook for them.

I think they want to continue moving towards the goal of mounting nuclear warheads on Nodong and Taepodong missiles.  They're very far away on Taepodong.  We don't know how close they are on Nodong.  I think that is where they want to end up because it gives them the kind of negotiating leverage and deterrence to extract things from us and the Japanese and others that they found already in this process they can get by just moving in that direction.  And I suspect they will look for opportunities to technologically move closer to that.

So from my perspective, missile tests, nuclear tests, these are not reactions to sudden disappointment with the United States.  These are opportunities that the North Koreans have looked for to take advantage of some diplomatic confrontation, to take a diplomatic position, send a message and move one step closer to where this whole vector is going, which is nuclear weapons on ballistic missiles.  I think that's what they're after because that is the ultimate guarantor of regime survival.

And so I think we need to think very carefully about things like letting the Syria issue go.  I think, even if it created a crisis, we're sending them a signal each time about how serious we take these things, whether or not there are consequences.  Israel bombing the facility, in my view, was necessary but not sufficient to send that signal.

We need to think about what deterrence and dissuasion messages we're sending about some of these things, both to North Korea and to our allies.  So that's sort of how I would put it.  And that's why I think we need to be serious about some of these 1718 Security Council resolutions and other things because it shows we're serious about the whole range of threats.

OBERDORFER:  I said we'd have one more question, but we've basically run out of time.  Sorry.

I just want to ask our two presenters here whether there's anything else they want to say as we wind up this meeting.  Or do you think you've said it?

GREEN:  Well, let me just thank everybody for coming.  I've really enjoyed the questions, also appearing with my colleagues here.

OBERDORFER:  It's a great pleasure?

GREEN:  I felt at the NSC like I worked with Gary Samore because the White House switchboard never changed the little LED readout on his phone.  So whenever I got a call from Bob Joseph it said "Gary Samore."

SAMORE:  (Laughs.)  I didn't know that.

GREEN:  So for five years, I felt like we worked together.

SAMORE:  I'm not sure Bob would be happy.

GREEN:  No.  He tried desperately to change it.

SAMORE:  Well, you know, if I go back it will still be there.  (Laughs.)

OBERDORFER:  Well, on that note, I want to thank our two presenters and thank all of you for participating.  (Applause.)









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