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Media Conference Call on North Korea [Rush Transcript; Federal News Agency]

June 27, 2008


Washington, DC

CHARLES FERGUSON:  Well, hello.  Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations press conference call on North Korea and its nuclear programs.   

I'm Charles Ferguson, fellow for Science and Technology here at the council.  And I've been here for about four years working on nuclear issues.  And in particular, I've been focused on nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear energy topics.   

And previous to working here, I had spent almost two years working at the U.S. State Department on nuclear safety issues.  And part of my portfolio at that time was the North Korean nuclear program, in particular the KEDO project, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization project, which was active a few years ago and has since basically disbanded.   

Also joining me is my boss, Dr. Gary Samore, who is the senior vice president of the council.  And he is director of the Studies Department.  So he's director of the think tank within the think tank.  

And Gary has more than 20 years of experience working in the U.S. government on nonproliferation issues.  And in particular he worked during the Clinton administration on the Agreed Framework, developed in the mid-1990s with North Korea, and has been tracking that issue very closely since then.   

So before getting to Dr. Samore, I'd like to just set the stage, in the next few minutes, as to where we are now, why we're having this call now.  You already probably, well, we're having this call now because North Korea has taken a symbolic, somewhat dramatic step in blowing up the cooling tower for its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon which, as you probably all know, North Korea has been in the process of disabling that facility at Yongbyon over the last --  

(Audio break) -- don't know much about the uranium enrichment program.  So right now we're in a situation where we have a compromised process.  I wouldn't say compromised in the sense that it's a bad process.  But it's a process where we're taking baby steps with North Korea, in terms of getting them to continue on the dismantlement process.   

We focused now on the plutonium program, because that's where we know North Korea has produced nuclear weapons material.  According to North Korea's declaration, they've produced about 37 kilograms of plutonium.  And to put that in perspective, you could use that to make probably about a half-dozen nuclear bombs.   

So for instance, the Nagasaki bomb used in World War II used about 6 kilograms of plutonium.   

So therefore you could probably make about six nuclear bombs from the North Korean plutonium they've declared.   

Now, we're not quite sure whether it was 37 kilograms they made. It could be less; it could be more.  The estimates that we've seen in unclassified forums are anywhere from 30 kilograms to 50 kilograms. So there's a lot more verification work ahead of us over the next several months to get to the bottom of what was the North Koreans' plutonium production campaign. 

They've recently handed over to us several thousand pages of documents related to their plutonium production program.  And experts in the U.S. are scouring those documents to glean as much information as we can to supplement a nuclear forensics process in which nuclear scientists are analyzing the Yongbyon reactor and the fuel rods and the other equipment used to produce and reprocess the fuel rods to extract plutonium and try to reconstruct -- it's like archeology, trying to reconstruct the past history of plutonium production at the Yongbyon facility over the past couple of decades. 

Meanwhile, we are trying to figure out how many nuclear weapons North Korea may have made.  And what is significant is one of the gaps in the declaration is North Korea did not declare how many nuclear weapons they have made.  So this has raised some political concerns in the United States, but I would point out, from a technical standpoint, I think we could begin to bracket the number of weapons they made if we have good information on the plutonium program. 

We have two other areas of concern that are really confronting us.  One is this uranium enrichment program.  What has North Korea done in terms of trying to enrich uranium?  If you continue enriching uranium up to highly-enriched uranium forms, you can make nuclear- weapons-usable material.   

We believe that we know through the A.Q. Khan network that Dr. Khan, operating out of Pakistan, provided North Korea with information and perhaps some centrifuge equipment to enrich uranium.  It's not clear, though, to how expensive was that program, what uranium enrichment actually occurred in North Korea.  So we have kind of put that issue to a back burner right now -- not ignored it, but it's something that we intend to get to sometime in the future. 

And another remaining concern is North Korea's proliferation activities -- that is, transferring their nuclear technology and knowledge to other countries.  As you know, there is still the issue of the Syrian nuclear program, that Israel bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear site in September of last year.  There's strong evidence that Syria was getting North Korean assistance to build a nuclear reactor, very similar to the Yongbyon reactor, and that Syria may have intended to make plutonium from that reactor, although we don't have any evidence as of yet that Syria had the reprocessing facility that would have been needed to actually extract the plutonium from that reactor if it had been produced. 

So right now, we've had -- we have IAEA inspectors in Syria or just kind of finishing their up their round of inspections there. According to press reports, as you've been reading, it looks like the IAEA inspectors have really not identified anything significant as far as we know openly.  But I think it is significant, at least, they have opened the door to do inspections in Syria.  And the IAEA is pushing to get access to more sites within Syria where there might be suspected nuclear activities. 

So that, I think, sets the technical framework of where we appear to be now.  Let me turn it over to Gary Samore to give you more of the political framework. 

GARY SAMORE:  Thanks very much, Charles.  Charles has done a good job of explaining the technical implications of this agreement. 

Let me talk about this from the standpoint of diplomatic strategy, how do we deal with countries like North Korea, so-called rogue states or countries in the axis of evil.  And I think what the agreement with North Korea illustrates is a fundamental shift in the Bush administration's strategy toward trying to disarm North Korea. After the collapse of the Agreed Framework in 2003, the Bush administration tried to orchestrate very strong economic and political pressures on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in a comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible way. 

And that strategy failed.  That strategy was not able to bring enough pressure to bear on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Instead, the North Koreans escalated the tension and ultimately conducted a nuclear test in October of 2006. 

In response to that, the Bush administration shifted its policy away from one that sought a comprehensive, immediate and irreversible disarmament to an approach that was more incremental and that was prepared to provide North Korea with political and economic benefits in exchange for limited steps the North Koreans would take to contain or limit their nuclear capabilities in the ultimate direction of nuclear disarmament.   

And as Charles has described, this current agreement completes the process of disabling the Yongbyon nuclear facility so that North Korea cannot easily produce any more plutonium and accounts for all of the plutonium that was produced at that facility in a verifiable way. In exchange, the U.S. has taken some political and economic steps of lifting sanctions under the Trading With the Enemy Act and the delisting North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which has some potential financial implications for North Korea.  

And this process, as Charles has explained, is an important step, is an initial step, but it leaves for future negotiations some very difficult issues, in fact issues that in some ways are even more challenging, the issue of -- than the issue of plutonium.  And that includes the secret enrichment program, the question of North Korea's proliferation activities, its assistance to other countries, the complete dismantlement or destruction of the nuclear facilities, and finally and most importantly, getting North Korea to give up its -- whatever nuclear weapons it has. 

These will be very tough issues.  And one of the reasons why these negotiations will be difficult is because North Korea will demand that any action it takes in terms of addressing those concerns on the part of the United States will be reciprocated by political and economic actions from the U.S. and the other countries in the six- party talks.  And those other actions will include the normalization of political relations between Washington and Pyongyang, the listing of any remaining economic sanctions, probably additional assistance in the form of development assistance, financial assistance and so forth. The North Koreans are very likely to seek to retain energy -- seek to obtain energy assistance, even the light-water nuclear power reactor.  

They may want that in return.  They've talked about the need for there to be a peace treaty ending the Korean War.   

So there will be a lot of very difficult and complicated negotiations that will intertwine these political and economic issues with the purely nuclear issues.  And my guess is that it will be difficult for the Bush administration to wrap up all of these complicated and difficult issues in its remaining time in office.  And the next administration, I think, is likely to inherit a process that has begun but hasn't been completely resolved. 

And my guess is no matter who is elected, whether Senator McCain or Senator Obama, I think they're very likely to pursue this similar strategy, this incremental quid-pro-quo strategy, basically because that's the only practical option left to us.  We can't really ignore North Korea.  We don't have the means to force them to give up their nuclear weapons.  And the only strategy that's left is one that tries to make incremental progress in terms of limiting their capability, whittling down their capability in exchange for political and economic incentives and trying to work in the long run toward complete nuclear disarmament, and in the meantime trying to contain and deter North Korea from threatening our allies with its nuclear weapons by maintaining a strong U.S. alliance and security presence in Asia, given our treaties with both Japan and South Korea. 

Now, let me just mention one more thing and then we'll open it up, which is the question of whether the approach that the Bush administration has taken with North Korea, whether that can be applied to Iran.  And I would say in some ways the Bush administration has tried to use a similar approach in the sense that the Bush administration has made clear it's prepared to engage in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and is prepared to support some incentives such as support for Iran's civil nuclear energy program if Iran agrees to substantial limits and delays in its nuclear activities, in particular in its enrichment program. 

At the same time, the Bush administration has insisted that as a condition for these negotiations Iran agree to suspend its enrichment program.  And Iran has rejected that condition and therefore the negotiations have not gotten off the ground.  In the case of North Korea, the Bush administration was prepared to negotiate without any conditionality, and at least that allowed the negotiations to get going. 

My guess is that the next U.S. administration is -- again, whoever is elected is very likely to try to find a more flexible way to begin negotiations with Iran, whether that means lifting or relaxing the condition of suspension as a basis for beginning talks. And I also think that the next administration is likely to put on the table some of the political and economic benefits that so far the Bush administration has not been prepared to offer as part of a bargain, such as normalizing relations between Washington and Tehran and lifting bilateral economic sanctions.  And if the next administration does that, it will be very much a complete replication of the strategy that the Bush administration has pursued toward North Korea. 

Will that work with Iran?  Well, I think there are reasons to be skeptical, because there are so many differences between the situation with North Korea and the situation with Iran.  In the case of North Korea, they have already acquired a small nuclear arsenal, which they consider to be necessary for their survival and defense, and therefore it's easier for them to accept limited steps like the disablement of the Yongbyon facility, because they already have what they consider to be a secure nuclear arsenal.  North Korea -- in the case of Iran, they haven't reached that point yet.  They are probably years away from having a substantial nuclear weapons capability.  And so therefore it's more difficult, I think, to convince them to limit while they're still short of reaching what appears to be a strong -- you know, a goal that's strongly held by the current government in Iran. 

And the second big difference, it seems to me, is just in terms of the balance of power.  North Korea's a very small, weak, poor country, and they need the kind of economic and political benefits that the outside world is providing to them in exchange for accepting limits on their nuclear program.  Iran, in contrast, is a much bigger, richer, more powerful country, and therefore the kind of leverage that we have available in terms of offering certain inducements probably won't go as far in Tehran as it does in Pyongyang. 

Nonetheless, I do think the next administration will make more of an effort in the case of Iran to duplicate the North Korea strategy, and we'll see whether or not that will be successful in limiting or delaying Iran's nuclear -- its nuclear program. 

Why don't I stop there.  And I'm happy to -- both Charles and I are happy to respond to your questions. 

OPERATOR:  At this time we will open the floor for questions.  If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the "1" key on your touchtone phone now.  Questions are taken in the order in which they are received.  If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, please press star-"2." Again, that is star-"1" to ask a question.  

And our first question comes from Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. 

QUESTIONER:  Hello.  I wonder if you can tell me a little bit going back to the point about how much plutonium that North Koreans are declaring.  Where do you -- you said this is what they're declaring in this current declaration, the thirty -- what did you say, 35 -- 

FERGUSON:  Thirty-seven kilograms, yes. 

QUESTIONER:  -- 37 kilograms.  And have you seen the full declaration yourself? 

FERGUSON:  No, I haven't.  And also, besides there are something like 18,000 pages of documents dealing with the plutonium production program.  And even if I had access to those, with all my other duties -- (laughs) -- I wouldn't have time to go through them. But we have -- 

QUESTIONER:  No, I mean the 60 pages. 

FERGUSON:  Oh, the 60?  No, I haven't had time to even go through the 60 pages.  But yeah, I -- 

SAMORE:  I don't think that's been made public, has it?  The 60 pages?  I don't believe it's been made public. 

FERGUSON:  I haven't seen it made public, yeah. 

QUESTIONER:  No, have you seen it? 

FERGUSON:  No, I haven't seen it. 

QUESTIONER:  Oh, okay. 

FERGUSON:  But I would be interested in seeing it.  Yeah, if I get access to it, I would try to go through it, yeah. 

SAMORE:  I mean, I spoke to somebody at the State Department yesterday, and I know that they're considering making that public, but I think at this time they want to begin the verification procedures that Charles discussed.  And at some point along the way as that proceeds, they may make those documents public, but I don't think there's any -- as far as I know, there's no immediate plan to make them public. 

QUESTIONER:  So where do you get the information about the 37 kilograms? And how does that compare to what North Korea has said in the past and what is suspected? 

FERGUSON:  Well, I think that raises a very important point. And I was saying to someone a couple days ago -- someone in the press asked me a similar question.  I said, we have to be very careful as to how we manage this information.  

I'm not saying do it in a secretive process, but I think there are two points here.  One point is we need to be very thorough in how we go through the 60-page declaration and the several thousand other pages to try to develop our best estimate as to how much plutonium is made.   

Then we have to ask ourselves, once we have that, how do we communicate that to the North Koreans?  Because if we come up with a number and if we're off in that number and we come back to North Korea and say, "Well, we think it was 39 kilograms," when in reality maybe it was 50, the upper end of that range I mentioned of the different unofficial estimates, then the North Koreans could be snickering and saying, "Ah-ha!  You know, they didn't realize we got another 11 kilograms hidden away somewhere."  And you can make, you know, a couple of bombs from that.  So I think one point is we need to be careful in how we manage the information, how we communicate that to North Korea.   

And another important point is that we need to think about how to develop confidence in North Korea that our analysis of their declaration and these other documents are legitimate, and that is, it would make sense -- and maybe this is being done and I'm not aware of it -- but to have a neutral third party also look over, do a peer review of this declaration and the documents to try to make sure this is not just a U.S.-centric analysis. 

QUESTIONER:  Thank you. 

FERGUSON:  You're welcome. 

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from James Kitfield from National Journal Magazine. 

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, Gary, you know, all of this is coming on top of a speech that McCain recently made where he embraced a lot of the suggestions that Kissinger and Perry and Nunn did on sort of rethinking the American nuclear posture and very much sort of looking towards, you know, reinvigorating the nonproliferation treaty.  And if you read that and what it suggests, it seems to be repudiation of sort of the Bush policy that it adopted towards nonproliferation, focusing on rogue states and trying to coerce them.  This seems to be yet another step where the Bush administration kind of reversed itself. 

Could you just talk for a second about what you think we've learned in the last four or five years that's going to inform the next administration about how to deal with this problem going forward? 

SAMORE:  Well, what I would hope that we would learn is to be realistic in our policies.   

I think the Bush administration was of course correct in making the decision that it would be desirable to disarm North Korea comprehensively and irreversibly.  But unfortunately what they didn't calculate accurately is, what was practical?  And I think it was based on a lot of misconceptions and miscalculation about the weakness of North Korea, the ability to cause regime change through the use of economic sanctions.   

And also I think it miscalculated the extent to which other countries in the region, particularly China and South Korea, would be prepared to go along with a strategy of extreme pressure, to force the North Koreans either to disarm or face the risk of regime collapse. Because in the case of East Asia, both the Chinese and the South Koreans are more important at this time in preserving stability than they are in forcing North Korea into a desperate situation, where it might take provocative actions.   

So it seems to me, the lesson for all of us is that it's one thing to identify a desirable objective.  But we also have to identify objectives that are -- that can actually be achieved with the tools and instruments that we have available.  And a good policy is mixing, you know, the desirability of objectives with the practicality of objectives.   

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Howard LaFranchi from Christian Science Monitor.   

QUESTIONER:  Yeah.  Thanks.   

Now, as you've said, no one's -- no analysts have seen this declaration, the 60-page declaration.  Are we pretty much assuming that there's not going to be any other -- any surprises in there?   

I mean, do we know enough already to -- is this declaration not going to tell us anything surprising or that we might not have anticipated about the plutonium program, North Korea's plutonium program, up until now?   

And then secondly, how or when might we start getting information -- or what will be the next steps in terms of getting information on those two points that you said -- you noted were left out of here, that being proliferation and the uranium enrichment program? 

SAMORE:  Right.  In terms of the surprises, I would say that there has been a debate over the last two decades in nonproliferation circles here in the United States as to what were the plutonium production campaigns in North Korea.  Did the North Koreans start extracting plutonium from Yongbyon reactor in the late 1980s?  Was that the earliest time we believe they did that, or did they do the first significant campaign in the early 1990s or later?  And I think, really, the debate is of late '80s versus early '90s.  And you say, well, what's the big deal?  And I think the big deal is, if they did a campaign in the late 1980s -- which there's some information they may have done that -- then there may be some plutonium they stashed away. 

And so that's why I think it is smart to get a third party, to get independent reviewers to look at the declaration to see if it says anything about the details of the plutonium production campaigns, whether it started in the '80s or the '90s, and what kind of campaign they did in the last several years once they broke out of the Agreed Framework.  So I think there were kind of three crucial periods of time of when they were making plutonium, and there could be some interesting surprises and interesting information that comes out of that declaration. 

And then to your second point, this is going to be extremely difficult.  And having, you know, dealt with the North Koreans a bit, and having made one trip to North Korea at the end of 2000 and just dealing with nuclear safety issues with them -- which is relatively minor compared to nuclear weapons issues -- you know, they don't want to do anything unless they're getting something in return.  It very much is action for action, tit for tat. 

So we need to be careful we're not giving away all of our leverage before we get to the bottom of these very -- other important proliferation issues I raised:  the dealings with Syria, perhaps other countries and this uranium enrichment campaign. 

So maybe Gary has some insights about what leverage we have remaining to try to extract that kind of information. 

SAMORE:  Well, I would add, I think the North Koreans feel they're in a very strong bargaining position, and so I think they will try to strike a very hard bargain, what they would expect in return for admitting and giving additional information about their enrichment activities and especially their proliferation activities.   

Now, there's suspicion that they may have provided assistance -- in addition to Syria, which we now know about, there's suspicion they may have provided nuclear assistance to Libya and Iran, among other countries.  And in those cases, North Koreans want to retain a good relationship with those countries that sometimes provide them with oil and other, you know, necessary -- other necessary commodities.   

So I think it'll be very difficult to get the North Koreans to acknowledge their proliferation activities unless we can we develop, you know, separately a strong, you know, basis on which to make accusations.  My guess is that that's the kind of thing that they will probably be comfortable denying until the very end. 

QUESTIONER:  Thank you. 

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Andrew Sidones (sp) from (affiliation inaudible). 

QUESTIONER:  Hi, thank you.  I'm wondering if either of you could give your opinion about what this does to U.S.-Japanese relationship, the removal of North Korea from the terrorism list, whether this is something that will cause a significant rift and if it would be repairable.  Thanks. 

SAMORE:  Well, it's a very, very good question because the country that is the least comfortable with this agreement is obviously Tokyo.  And the United States tried very hard, as I understand it, to accommodate Japan, especially on the issue of abductees, the Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents. 

And I was in Tokyo not too long ago.  And a Japanese official told me that what the Japanese government was looking for was a North Korean agreement to resume the process of bilateral discussions, between North Korea and Japan, on the abductee issue.   

And those talks started recently.  And I'm sure that was the result of U.S. pressures, saying to North Korea that that was a necessary condition for moving ahead with the overall deal. Unfortunately there's been, as I understand it, very little progress in those talks between North Korea and Japan.   

North Korea continues to deny there's any additional abductees; no additional information, anybody who was ever kidnapped is now dead. And the Japanese government believes that there were additional people, and that North Korea is hiding things.  And that's a very, you know, difficult issue.  So on that score, I think, there is some unhappiness, you know, in Tokyo.   

The other issue, which is very difficult for the Japanese, is that the current approach by the Bush administration means that North Korea will, at least for the time being, retain a small nuclear arsenal, until nuclear disarmament can be achieved.   

And the Japanese naturally see that as a direct security threat to them.  And they're nervous.  Some Japanese officials and experts are nervous, that the U.S. will in the end accept North Korea as a nuclear country and not try to achieve complete nuclear disarmament.   

I don't think that's true.  I think the U.S. will maintain the objective of nuclear disarmament.  But unfortunately I think that's likely to take some time to achieve.   

And in the meantime, I think, it's important that the U.S. and Japan take the necessary measures to reassure the Japanese government and people that the U.S. nuclear guarantee, and that the U.S.-Japanese security relationship, is strong and can deter North Korea from threatening or using nuclear weapons against Japan.    

And I know that the Bush administration has tried very hard to do that.  And I think this is something again that the next U.S. administration will face, the need to make sure that Japan does not feel that the North Korean nuclear threat compels Japan to leave the NPT and build its own nuclear weapons.   

OPERATOR:  As a reminder, if you'd like to ask a question, it is star-one on your touchtone phone now.   

We have a question from Massimo Calabresi from Time magazine. 

QUESTIONER:  Massimo Calabresi.  In the past -- this is for both of you, I guess.  In the past the Bush administration has said that the agreement they were pursuing was better than the Agreed Framework because it wasn't just going to freeze Yongbyon, it was going to destroy it.  As far as you can tell, did they get that?  And can you be explicit about the means of knowing that they've destroyed it?    

And then two other quick ones.  In the larger picture, delisting has been out there forever.  How does what the administration got for delisting compare with previous offers, Albright's offers in '99 and so forth?   

And on uranium, you both seem convinced that there is a uranium program.  If you are, why?  And what's the best intelligence on -- is there still some question about whether that program actually exists or not? 

SAMORE:  Well, let me take a crack at those and then I'm sure Charles will want to add something as well.   

On your first question, I think the Bush administrating has achieved an additional measure beyond that the Clinton administration achieved in terms of Yongbyon.  Under the Agreed Framework, the Yongbyon facilities were frozen pending the point at the agreement when they would be ultimately destroyed.  The Bush administration has gone further than that in achieving, if not complete destruction, at least a very, very substantial disablement, which would make it difficult and time-consuming for the North Koreans to resume production.  So I think in that sense the Bush administration can claim that they've gone a step further. 

The difference, of course, is that the Agreed Framework laid out a comprehensive and very detailed long-term plan that ultimately ended in nuclear -- complete nuclear disarmament.  The Bush administration's approach has been more step by step.  They don't really have an over- arching detailed plan.  And so it means the negotiations have a somewhat different character.  You'll remember that the Agreed Framework took about a year and a half of very intense negotiations to complete the entire agreement.  What Chris Hill's been doing is much more sort of on-the-fly sort of, you know, interim agreements, each one taking a little bit shorter to negotiate. 

And so that creates a somewhat different, you know, context.   

But I think the overall thrust is pretty much the same.  I mean, the overall strategy is the same, even though the details are somewhat, and tactics are somewhat, different.   

In terms of your second question, I'm absolutely convinced that there was an enrichment or is an enrichment program.  It's based on two very solid pieces of evidence.   

First of all, we know, and I think this is very clear from public evidence, that Pakistan provided North Korea with centrifuge technology and a couple of sample machines.  And this is even publicly acknowledged in President Musharraf's autobiography.  So we know the North Koreans got a starter kit, in terms of the basic blueprints and a couple of sample machines.   

But secondly there's very good evidence in the public record that North Korean agents tried to buy large quantities of specialized materials and components, which could have been used to produce a large number of centrifuge machines.  And I think that's compelling evidence that they were seeking at least to start a substantial enrichment program.   

What we don't know, as Charles said, we don't know the status of that program.  We don't know where it's located.  And so as a consequence, there are a great many uncertainties.  And I think the, you know, the issue in the course of the negotiations, with the North Koreans, will be how to eliminate or at least reduce those uncertainties.   


FERGUSON:  I agree with everything Gary said.   

Let me just briefly add, in terms of the uranium enrichment program, that there was a recent press story that in these 18,000 pages of documents that were handed over, there are some indications that there are uranium enrichment contamination in those documents.   

Now, here again as I said answering another question, I think it would help tremendously to have third-party verification of that contamination.  But if that is true, that's another piece of evidence that the North Koreans did have uranium enrichment somewhere.   

Now, you know, you have to trace down the possible scenarios. Was it just something that was on equipment that Pakistan provided to them -- that contamination?  Or was it actual enriched material that North Korea produced?   

But I think if that pans out, that piece of evidence, that, you know, thinking like Sherlock Holmes, that could point to where the uranium enrichment facility could be located.  Perhaps it was located near where or the same location where they were keeping the notebooks, the records of the plutonium program, at Yongbyon.   

So you know, it could be almost literally right under the noses of the U.S. experts and the IA inspectors who are dealing with the disablement of the Yongbyon reactor.   

And I completely agree with Gary that the Bush administration has achieved more than the Clinton administration in terms of really doing a substantial amount of disablement of that facility. 

QUESTIONER:  I'm sorry, could you go over again where that contamination was and what we know about it so far? 

FERGUSON:  Well -- and this is just coming from a press report -- I think it might have been in The New York Times just a while back -- saying that there was some evidence that in these 18,000 pages of documents that North Korea handed over detailing the production history of the plutonium production campaigns, that there was some contamination detected, and apparently this contamination was of enriched uranium. 

Now, I don't know how enriched or how much material, but at least there's some indication.  And like I said, we need to investigate the story further to get confirmation.  And it would help, I think, to get a third party to have access to these documents to do a separate laboratory test to try to figure out what actually the contamination consists of.  But if that's true, it would indicate that the North Koreans did have exposure to enriched uranium. 

And as far as we know, you know, prior to the suspected activity that we believe that Khan had given them -- as Gary said, a starter kit -- North Korea did not have any enrichment program on their own, any indigenous program.  So we believe, based on the evidence that has been openly reported, that Pakistan did provide some assistance, but we just don't know the extent of it. 

QUESTIONER:  Can I -- also, just following up on the delisting from the state sponsor of terrorism list -- that you can only do it once, especially because there hasn't actually been an example of them sponsoring terrorism since 1987.  Given that you can only do it once, was this the right moment to play it?  Just, in your opinion, did they get what, you know, what they should have for that chip? 

FERGUSON:  Well, I mean, you know, the state sponsor of terrorism list is a very political list in my opinion.  And you're absolutely right, there's no evidence North Korea sponsored terrorist activity since 1987, some 20 years ago. 

So in some respects, from a technical standpoint they should have been taken off the list a long time ago.  However, you know, there are political reasons why we kept them on that list.   

But as Gary mentioned in his opening remarks, that we still have a number of other sanctions that apply to North Korea because they conducted a nuclear test in 2006, because they have done other activities.  So they're not out of the woods yet in terms of trying to bring them back into the international fold and having full financial and diplomatic relations with them.  This was just one important step in many steps yet to come. 

SAMORE:  If I could just add to that, the most important sanction that's being lifted by removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is that the U.S. is no longer legally required to block financial loans and assistance to North Korea from the international financial institutions, like the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank.  So North Korea is now theoretically eligible to receive assistance from those institutions.   

But if we learn, you know, 45 days from now that the North Koreans lied and cheated in their plutonium declaration, there's nothing that prevents the United States as a matter of policy from blocking loans in the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.  So from that standpoint, some of the -- you're right that we can't -- it would be difficult to put the back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, but the actual sanctions that are lifted, we can reapply them as a matter of policy even if we're not doing it as a matter of law. 

QUESTIONER:  Great.  Thank you very much. 

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Michael Smith from freelance. 

QUESTIONER:  I'm sorry, I had you muted.  My curiosities are centered in the A.Q. Khan ingredient in this matter.  And efforts to confirm the veracity of the documents which are presented to the United States and the international community through this deal, will there be a renewed effort to gain access to A.Q. Khan to try to get a sense of the extent to which he really may have been involved with this in ways that we have not discovered thus far? 

FERGUSON:  Well, and you're raising this in light of A.Q. Khan coming out recently and talking to the press and complaining that  President Musharraf reneged on what he thought was the agreement they had back in 2004.   

Khan said it was his understanding at that time that he was not going to be placed under indefinite house arrest, that he wants to be a free man.  He wants to clear his name and his family's name.  He's saying, you know, don't blame him.  He was just a middleman in terms of giving people who asked him -- countries who asked him information, but he said he wasn't running this extensive, elaborate nuclear black market that we all think he was running.  And we all have evidence that he was running this.  And we had -- our own CIA had a double agent there, one of Khan's men was giving the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency information about the network. 

So I think the reason Khan is speaking up now is because the Pakistani government is weak.  President Musharraf has lost a lot of power.  The coalition government in Pakistan is in turmoil.  So Khan saw his opportunity to speak up.  

Now, does that mean we can get access to him?  I think not.  The way, you know, I read what's going on in Pakistan, they're not yet -- I don't think any political party there wants to give up their national hero and have him subject to what they would consider interrogation and, you know, somehow we're trampling on their sovereign rights.   

So maybe Gary would have anything to add to that. 

SAMORE:  Well, I'll just add a little bit.  I think Khan's recent public statements was basically a complaint that all of the nuclear transfers were being blamed on him when, in fact, others were involved.  And my guess is that in the case of North Korea Khan was not acting on his own.  Khan was acting, you know, as part of Pakistani government policy, to provide nuclear assistance to North Korea in exchange for the note on missiles, which the North Koreans were prepared to transfer to Pakistan at that time.  And there's other evidence to suggest that, you know, very senior Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at the time, was involved in these transfers. 

But I completely agree with Charles that we are not likely to have an opportunity to -- we, that is to say, the U.S. government is very unlikely to have an opportunity to interview A.Q. Khan anytime in the future, precisely because the Pakistani government does not wish to have Khan, you know, repeat or provide evidence to back up the charge that in some cases, such as North Korea, the nuclear transfers were actually a matter of Pakistani government policy, rather than a rogue scientist. 

QUESTIONER:  Now, beyond that, on the black-market side of affairs, is there any effort under way to confirm that North Korea's prospective enrichment programs are not benefiting non-state actors' agendas possibly through wholesale of those products?   

FERGUSON:  Well, I'm aware that at the International Atomic Energy Agency, there's a very small group of analysts, and we're talking only about a handful of analysts, and I think some of them aren't even working full-time on this issue, but at least a beginning for the IAEA to start analyzing nuclear black-market activities.   

And I think part of that is to look at what North Korea may be doing, may have done, in terms of using the black market, what other countries may be doing or could do, and to use data mining techniques and other new techniques, to try to uncover these kind of transfers going on that are strictly outside government-to-government exchanges.  

And it's a start.  But I would say that we need to do a lot more. We need to devote a lot more resources at the IAEA, and in U.S. government and other governments, to try to uncover nuclear black markets.   

QUESTIONER:  So in other words, we're removing them from the state sponsor of terror list.  And yet we're not doing much in the way of confirming that they are not in fact currently utilizing their nuclear capabilities to sponsor terrorism.   

SAMORE:  Well, obviously we have no information that they are.  The question as Charles, you know, correctly identified is, you know, how do you find out something when you don't have any information that it's happening?  (Cross talk.)  And we don't have any information, as I understand it, that North Korea has provided assistance to non-state actors.   

Obviously we know that they've been involved in providing nuclear assistance to other governments, Syria being the prime example.  And in the declaration, according to Steve Hadley, the North Koreans claim that, you know, they're not doing it now and they won't do it in the future.   

But you know, and as far as I know, we have no evidence that confirms suspicion that they're providing nuclear assistance to other countries beyond Syria.   

But this is an issue which is being kicked into the next phase of the negotiations.  And as I suggested, that it would be extremely difficult to get the North Koreans to acknowledge -- if, in fact, they are providing nuclear assistance to other countries or even to terrorist groups, it will be very difficult to get them to admit that. 

QUESTIONER:  Okay, thank you for your time. 

SAMORE:  Thank you. 

FERGUSON:  You're welcome. 

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. 

QUESTIONER:  Hello.  This is Viola Gienger again.  I just wanted to go back to the question of the uranium traces on the documents.  That was in an article in The Washington Post within the past week.  And I was wondering, can either of you speak to the technicalities of that?  I mean, how likely is that to be the case, and how plausible is that?  I mean, these were copies of documents. 

SAMORE:  That's right. 

QUESTIONER:  And do you know anything about the trail of how they came about, where they came from and so forth?  And just getting back to the -- I still wasn't clear about where -- what's the basis of the 37 kilograms of plutonium that you're talking about. 

SAMORE:  Why don't you take the first, Charles -- 


SAMORE:  -- and I'll take the second. 

QUESTIONER:  And sir, can you identify yourself before you -- each time before you talk, because sometimes it's hard to distinguish your voices.  (Chuckles.) 

FERGUSON:  I'm sorry.  Yeah, in fact -- okay, I'm Dr. Charles Ferguson.  I'm actually trained as a physicist and as a nuclear engineer, and I actually spent a couple summers working at Los Alamos National Laboratory.   

So I -- I'm not saying I'm a deep expert on the, you know, experimental side of nuclear physics, but I understand that, based on my study of physics and nuclear matters, that things like uranium, plutonium, those types of chemicals can migrate.  And if the North Koreans weren't careful in sealing off rooms where they were holding plutonium or enriched uranium, that this -- these materials could have migrated through air ducts and other types of cracks and crevices and could could seep into various materials and documents. 

So you're correct to point out that, as the story in The Post said, these were copies of the originals.  So it indicates that, you know, the contamination -- well, where North Korea kept -- made the copies or kept the copies before they handed over to us could have been the same room or an adjacent room where there was enriched uranium, and we still don't quite know what the source of that enrichment was.  It could have just been contamination that was on the starter kit of the centrifuge equipment that we believe the Khan network or Pakistan actually delivered to North Korea, or it could actually have been enriched uranium North Korea itself made once they got the starter kit or once they maybe made some of their own centrifuge equipment and did some enrichment activities. 

Now, you know, the contamination is probably such that you're hard-pressed to figure out exactly how much enriched uranium North Korea has or may have made.  It's just an indicator at this stage. But it's something we need to follow through and it's something that I think we could -- certainly will go back to the North Koreans and say, you know, we do have some evidence that -- additional evidence that you did some enrichment activities or you had exposure to enrichment activities. 

SAMORE:  Just -- on the 37 that Charles mentioned earlier, the North Koreans have provided us with copies of the operating records at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and the reprocessing facility. And if you add up all the plutonium that is claimed to have been produced from those operating records, it's about 37 kilograms of plutonium.  So that 37 number comes from, as I understand it, these operating records.  And the issue is going to be whether the U.S. forensic measurements at the facility, which will include samples taken at the reactor, at the reprocessing facilities from nuclear waste sites and so forth, whether that forensic evidence will correspond to the number that is derived from the operating records. 

QUESTIONER:  Thank you. 

FERGUSON:  And, I mean, let me just add.  You know, I think if the North Koreans allow the U.S. scientists to take the steps they want to take, to take the measurements they want to take, I do think it's possible to achieve pretty good confidence that the number is in the right ballpark.  But my guess is that there's very likely to be some small discrepancy. 

I mean, if you think about operating records, there would easily be some mistakes that were made along the way.  So maybe the actual amount of plutonium they produced was not 37, maybe it was 38 or 36. And the forensic measurements that I discussed, they're not absolutely perfect.  They're also going to have a certain range of uncertainty. 

So I don't think we're going to end up with an absolutely, hundred percent, iron-clad guarantee that 37 is the right number.  But I think we -- if the proper tests are taken and the North Koreans allow those measurements to be taken, I think we'll end up with a number that's within a pretty narrow range of maybe one or two kilograms, one way or the other. 

FERGUSON:  Yeah, I think Gary hit on a very important point there.  If we can get certainly within a bomb's worth of plutonium -- if we have confidence that the uncertainty is less than, say, you know, four kilograms of plutonium -- as I mentioned at the very beginning, we know that the U.S. plutonium bomb used in World War II against Nagasaki used about six kilograms of plutonium.  That's for a first-generation weapon.  If a country has some sophisticated knowledge of how to make more advanced nuclear weapons, it's conceivable they could use as little as three, four kilograms of plutonium. 

So, you know, Gary's right.  If we can get the measurement within a few kilograms of plutonium, we can probably live with that.  But if the uncertainties are greater than, say, four or five or six kilograms, then I think we have a problem. 

SAMORE:  And just to add one more thing, I'm skeptical that this final verification process can be completed within the 45 days. I'd be interested in Charles's view, but as we all know, the president's decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism takes effect in 45 days, which allows for a congressional review.  I doubt that we'll have a final answer, you know, in that period. 

Charles, what do you -- 

FERGUSON:  I doubt that as well.  And I was -- I think I said to VOA a couple of days ago, I said this is probably going to be several months' worth of verification. 

But even just looking at the declaration, 60 pages, I think Gary's right.  It's going to be more than a month-and-a-half.   

It's, you know, I think, we'll get a good first-order feeling of whether it's right or not.  But I think we're going to have to investigate it very thoroughly.  It's going to take more than 45 days.  

OPERATOR:  As a reminder, if you'd like to ask a question, that is star-one on your touchtone phone now.   

There is no questions at this time.   

FERGUSON:  Maybe we answered all your questions.   

(Cross talk, laughter.)   

SAMORE:  Everybody enjoy the weekend.   

FERGUSON:  Yes.  So we'll keep following this issue of course.  If you have any additional questions, you know how to reach us here at the council.  Thank you for attending and your questions.   

SAMORE:  Thanks, everybody.  Bye.   











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