The authors of the CFR-sponsoredIndependent Task Force report on U.S. Policy Toward the Korean Peninsula discuss their report, which identifies three essential elements of an internationally coordinated response to the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear development effort: first, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula; second, regional cohesion, enabled by close U.S.-South Korea relations; and, third, China's cooperation and active engagement.
This Task Force is made possible in part by generous support from the Korea Foundation.
ANYA SCHMEMANN: I'm Anya Schmemann. I'm the council's director of the task force program. And I'm very pleased to welcome you here this morning at this special event to release the report of the Independent Task Force on U.S. Policy Toward the Korean Peninsula.
Thank you for being here.
Let me just say a few words about the council's task force program before turning it over to our distinguished panel. The council gathers diverse groups of experts to tackle major foreign policy issues and provide policy analysis and recommendations.
CFR-sponsored task forces are nonpartisan, and they are independent from CFR. As you well know, CFR takes no institutional position on issues, and the task force members are alone responsible for the content of their reports.
Task force reports are consensus documents. What that means is that members endorse the general policy thrust and judgments reached by the group, but not necessarily every finding or recommendation.
Task force members are also invited to submit additional or dissenting views. You will find these at the end of the report.
This task force on Korea was launched last spring. It was chaired by Ambassador Jack Pritchard, who is here with us, and General John Tilelli, who unfortunately couldn't be here. It's directed by Scott Snyder. We're very pleased to have task force member Evans Revere join us this morning.
Task force members are listed on the back of the report. We thank them and the observers for their contributions to this project.
I'd also like to thank the Korea Foundation for its support of this project, and the Seoul Forum for International Affairs for their partnership.
Without further ado, let me turn it over to David Sanger who will moderate our discussion. Thank you very much.
DAVID SANGER: Well, thank you. And thank you, Anya. And thank you all for coming out this morning.
I'm David Sanger. I'm the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times. And it's a great pleasure to be here with so many friends and friends on the panel. I won't introduce them at length since you've got most of their biographical information.
But just to do so quickly, Evans Revere, who's down at the end here, has just joined on as a senior director of the Albright-Stonebridge Group. He had been the president of the Korea Society for many years. And I guess, Evans, when we first met, you were in the embassy in Seoul, right?
EVANS REVERE: Once upon a time.
SANGER: And Evans was one of those people who tried in vain to get me to understand Korean Peninsula politics.
Jack Pritchard, who's immediately to my left here, is president of the Korea Economic Institute and was visiting fellow at Brookings. He wrote a terrific book, which if you haven't seen, I'm sure it's still around, "Failed Diplomacy: The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb." And he really covers a fascinating period of time up through the, I guess, first term of the Bush administration.
And Scott Snyder in the middle here is the adjunct senior fellow for Korea studies here at the council and, of course, was the director of the project and the study.
I've read the study. It's really interesting. It's really provocative. And the first thing I have to say about it is, you have to commend the entire group for being willing to step in and try to find something new and different to say about what has been the most untractable problem in American diplomacy for, I guess, 60 years in just a couple of weeks when get the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.
In the interim, the United States and its allies have tried everything, from brute force to bribery to six-party talks to sunshine policies, darkness policies, and they've all had one thing in common, which is that none of them have worked. And that has taken us to where we are today.
So I thought I would just start with a few questions, and then we'll open it up to all of you.
One of the interesting conclusions that you come to in the report, a place that many American presidents have come to, which is, this can't be done without the Chinese. And yet, what the report says is that somehow attitudes have to be shifted in China so that they recognize that their long-term interest is in denuclearization, even if they are blinded by a short-term interest in stability.
You could argue that, given the large Chinese investments, even in recent times, in minerals and other natural resources in North Korea, their interest in stability has, if anything, heightened in the past couple of years. And so, Evans, let me start with you on this one. What makes the group think -- and I know that you've just been back from Beijing -- that the Chinese may be willing to move on this?
REVERE: Let me speak for myself and ask others to chime in as well, but I'll give you a little flavor of my own thinking on this, which I thin overlaps with the thinking of some of the others on the panel.
And that is to say that the Chinese, I think, are very deeply conflicted about the North Korea issue, and we've seen that played out since March 26th, the sinking of the Cheonan, where the initial Chinese reaction to the sinking of that ship by North Korea was silence, followed by an encounter between Hu Jintao and the South Korean president in Shanghai in which the Chinese, several weeks after the event, finally conveyed their condolences, followed shortly thereafter by a visit by Kim Jong-il to China. The Chinese, I think, are trying to play both sides of this game. I don't think they've given up on their fundamental goal on the peninsula, which is, to maintain stability, and they are grudgingly willing to accommodate lots of excesses by the North Koreans.
And the most recent example of that is what happened on March 26th. The Chinese have still not signed on or supported or agreed to the findings of the international panel, investigative panel that concluded that this was an attack by North Korea.
But a number of Chinese and a number of Chinese newspapers have come out in fairly stark and strident terms to criticize North Korea, criticize North Korean actions, both in terms of its nuclear developments and other developments.
So the bottom line, I think, for the Chinese is, this notion of being very conflicted. Last year, I understand, there was a fairly senior-level Chinese meeting at the end of the summer to discuss China's policy towards North Korea, in which there was reportedly a very lively debate.
Now, the debate came out -- the result of the debate was that the Chinese decided to stay the course, continue to support North Korea, continue to perhaps look the other way in response to some of its excesses. But the fact that there was a debate was rather interesting. The fact that there is a faction or group in Chinese leadership that argued for a major change in Chinese policy towards North Korea, I think, is significant.
There are several newspapers, including a couple affiliated with the communist party, that have run editorials and op-ed articles that have been bitterly critical of North Korea. A number of Chinese scholars with close connections to the leadership have written about North Korea, including saying things that North Korea is a security liability to the People's Republic of China. That's a remarkable term when you think about it, and something that the Chinese would never have said five or 10 or 15 years ago. But they're saying it now.
But the bottom line is still that, despite the fact that there are different views in China, the arc of Chinese policy towards North Korea is still the preservation of stability more than anything else. And I think that is something that we're going to have to contend with.
But the fact that there is a dissenting view in Beijing, the fact that there is another group people who are willing to look at this issue a bit differently I think gives us some hope that perhaps we can continue to attack this issue with the Chinese and get them to move another few steps in a more positive and cooperative direction.
SANGER: Jack, you worked on this issue for a long time, but most famously at the end of your State Department time under the Bush administration. And you'll remember that it was President Bush who stepped out after his meeting with the Chinese leadership in Crawford and said, the United States and China were equally committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Was he fooling himself? Or did he not understand the conversation? Or was he just ahead of his time, are we moving to that point?
CHARLES "JACK" PRITCHARD: Let's see, yes, yes, no. (Laughs.)
SANGER: Okay. (Laughter.)
PRITCHARD: Great, next question!
Yeah. David, let me, if I may, just to follow that thread where Evans began, and what Evans just ended with, I think, is something very important to take a look at. We would not have have seen what we've seen recently from the Chinese, five, 10 years ago. And I would mark this back more specifically with North Korea over the last four years, beginning with the July 2006 missile launches, followed by the October 2006 first detonation of a nuclear device.
The Chinese became positively involved and engaged in this in the Security Council. Whereas we might have expected them to abstain or to oppose these kinds of actions, they signed on to 1695, 1718. And more specifically, they signed on to 1874, this latest round of international sanctions out of the Security Council, that I think hold the first and real possibility of causing the North Koreans to take stock of where things are going.
And what's key, I think, in what we would like to talk about a little bit is, where the Chinese are now, where they were literally six months ago on this issue and where we want to get them back.
And what I'm talking about is, one of the things that the administration did right early on was appoint a sanctions coordinator, Ambassador Philip Goldberg. And he made two trips to China. And the early response by the Chinese, not only having signed up and agreed to implement 1874, but they showed at least the intent of being an active participant. And I think that was all to the good. We saw a number of other countries that came forward, that were fulfilling their obligations under 1874. There were stoppages of illegal cargoes, et cetera.
And then all of a sudden, you know, the thing just kind of disappeared. The administration no longer pushed the Chinese. The coordinator was in limbo. He was assigned a new job as the INR assistant secretary.
Now we've come full cycle. There's been an appointment in the last few days of Bob Einhorn as the new sanctions coordinator. So perhaps they'll get reengaged, because this is an issue that we think requires constant vigilance and pressure on the Chinese. It is not a one-shot deal. They are not simply going to say, I see the light of day, yes, of course, denuclearization and proliferation is our first priority. That's not going to happen.
But if we can get them as fully engaged, that it may make a difference.
SANGER: Scott, in the early part of the report, you folks write that there were four significant policy options: Acquiescence to a nuclear Korea, and we're going to have this discussion later, but we could argue that basically since the first nuclear test, that has been the de facto policy of the United States; containment and management of North Korea in its current state; a rollback of the nuclear program; and regime change.
Early on, you knocked off acquiescence and regime change, the two extremes, as not realistic alternatives, and call for sort of a short-term containment and management and a longer-term rollback.
We've seen at least declared rollback policies for many years. That's what the six-party talks were supposed to be all about. How does the rollback that you're describing here differ from that?
SCOTT SNYDER: Well, I think that what we are calling upon the administration to do is to put real action and effort behind that call, to move from a rhetorical stance that talks about rollback, but also is characterized as strategic patience, to a situation where it's clear that the United States is working on a regular basis, especially in the context of trying to bring about greater regional cohesion, greater agreement among Japan, South Korea and also bringing China onboard in order to make the point that the U.S. really does want to achieve this objective of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
SANGER: So you've heard the administration say, particularly in the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking, that they would not go back to six-party talks, they're moving to a resolution of condemnation that may or may not, but probably will not have real sanctions in them. They don't see anything to discuss at six-party talks right now.
You've heard the secretary of Defense famously say, we bought that horse once, we're not interested in buying it again. So how would you suggest that they actually press for rollback? If it's not six-party talks, what is it?
SNYDER: Well, our report supports the continuation of the six-party framework. But I think that we have a different idea about how to use multiple sets of tools, simultaneously, in order to achieve that objective.
So on the one hand, as Jack said, we're calling for continued implementation of sanctions. At the same time, our report was not afraid to suggest bilateral engagement, in particular, on the missile question. And you know, that can be used for a variety of purposes. One, to communicate directly to North Korea our own concerns about this, because the missile delivery piece is really the last piece that North Korea needs in order to be able to become a full-fledged threat in the region.
And also, the bilateral engagement piece helps motivate, I think, the other players to work together in that regional cohesion process. Under current circumstances, the six-party talks, China is really in the lead in order to try to bring people, bring the other parties back together.
But a little bit of engagement from the United States might help tip the balance in terms of providing us with options to support this process, in particular, because the six-party process really can only work if it's complemented by a bilateral engagement process as well.
SANGER: A question for all three of you. You've seen the administration talk at great length about Iran. There's been a sanctions resolution that just passed. There are sanctions to follow in just coming days from the Europeans and the U.S. in an effort to up that pressure. There are many other forms of pressure on Iran right now from very visible containment activities in the Persian Gulf, to not-so-visible covert activities, a whole range of efforts that together are supposed to add up to pressure on the regime.
Is there a similar range that you have seen the Obama administration put energy into in Korea? And if not, what explains the heavy emphasis on Iran and the comparative lack of emphasis on Korea given the fact that the Korean nuclear program is so much further ahead than the Iranians are?
Who wants a first take? Jack?
PRITCHARD: Well, you know, I think that the administration -- and obviously, I don't speak for them -- have taken a look at the two situations, and they've made a determination that in the near and medium term, Iran is more problematic. Even though the similarities and the differences between the programs are very distinct and unique, North Korea is a today problem, it is not a tomorrow problem; Iran becomes a tomorrow problem. And whether or not the administration has taken a look at this using the Gates metaphor, using the strategic patience adjectives and descriptions and decided that maybe they could make some headway on Iran whereas they cannot on North Korea, they've put their energies towards Iran.
But there is, in our opinion, a mistake here. Strategic patience, from my point of view, is an attitude, not a policy. And if you take, as we began to discuss, the question of the missile program, as Scott has indicated, you know, this is what the North Koreans, kind of the last phase of what they need to become a truly regional and perhaps a more global threat beyond proliferation.
Well, when's the last time we've had a serious discussion with the North Koreans about their missile program?
SANGER: End of the Clinton administration.
PRITCHARD: November 2000, almost 10 years. And what has happened in those 10 years? The North Koreans have proceeded with their research and development. They've had in the last couple of years additional tests to refine that capability. They're not there yet, but they're going to continue on that way.
So unless we're engaging them across the board on all these issues, on a today basis, an urgency basis, we're going to find that North Korea and tomorrow's threat is far greater than Iran.
REVERE: Let me, if I could, just add a couple of thoughts there. I'm not here to explain or defend the administration's policy, but if I were, one of the points that I would add is that, if you look at North Korea, its ideology, its system, its appeal, if you will, in the region and beyond, the North Koreans can't sell their product anywhere, if you will, in terms of their ideology or their system, their economic system, their political system, in sharp contrast to Iran which has a following in the region and whose followers in the region can do damage to American security interests and the interests of our allies and partners.
But another factor, I think, the throw in here is that if you look at North Korean behavior since the late summer of 2008, the North Koreans have done a masterful job of undermining their own position, isolating themselves and pushing themselves into a corner by rejecting the deal that was available to them at the end of the Bush administration, by rejecting the outreach from the Obama administration, launching a missile, conducting another nuclear weapons test. the incredibly over-the-top escalatory rhetoric. And the response to many of things, of course, as Jack pointed out, were some additional, very tough, unprecedented U.N. Security Council sanctions on them.
And now we have the Cheonan. And so to a very interesting degree, the North Koreans are doing some interesting heavy lifting for us by further isolating themselves and further highlighting the fact that they are not a player to be reckoned with except in this area of proliferation. But it's on this area of proliferation that I completely agree with my colleagues here, is, we have adopted what I think is a rather passive approach towards the proliferation issue. And I think we need to light a fire under our approach and make it a much more active approach.
SNYDER: Let me add one thing on this, because I think there's probably greater consensus from our task force members that in order to achieve denuclearization, some sort of leadership change in North Korea is going to be necessary, than there was for the full recommendations in the report.
The question becomes, what are the tools available. And we determined that an overt regime change policy led by the U.S., externally driven, really could not be successful in this region.
But we do have in the report, suggestions about how to promote internally driven changes that could result in the possibility of a change in leadership. And there, we're really talking about, how do you relieve North Korea of the isolation that has enabled this regime to exist in the way that it has? We're really talking about, in particular, nongovernmental engagement policies that can help bring North Koreans out in order to hopefully go back and help the change makers within their own system.
SANGER: Well, I thought one of the interesting elements of the report was that you are calling at various points for heavier-duty sanctions, but also exceptions to these sanctions of the kind that you've just described. But just before we open it up, let me just press all three of you on one last question, which is, if you're North Korean and you look at the pattern of activity in the last couple of years, and you say, what have we gotten away with, what have we not been punished for, there's sort of an interesting list, starting with the reactor in Syria.
I mean, if you consider that if our biggest concern is proliferation, if the North Koreans were caught building a replica of Yongbyon in Syria, the Syrians paid a price. The reactor went up in flames one night, thanks to an Israeli raid on it. But apart from the North Korean workers who we believe were in the reactor construction site that day, there was never any attempt to bring the North Koreans to the U.N. or anything like that. Similarly with the rumors -- so far, still rumors -- of nuclear cooperation or some form of arms cooperation with Myanmar.
So what in this report would change the reaction to what has concerned the U.S. most, which is the proliferation threat?
PRITCHARD: Well, let me piggyback on that, because this is, you know, just a pet peeve of mine. That you know, while in government during this, you know, the 9/11, post-9/11 environment, had you asked me, are you concerned about North Korean proliferation, the answer would have been no, I'm not. The message is very clear with the North Koreans. They've watched what the United States has done with regard to Iraq. They understand what we're doing in Afghanistan. They've reacted in very defensive manner in terms of, you know, their leader was off hiding for a while. They understand the consequences.
Well, unfortunately, I was correct. They do understand the consequences, and they've made the calculation that there were none, and that allowed them to move forward in this period of time where they ought to have been thinking not twice but thrice about whether or not they would have cooperated with Syria. They were caught, and there were absolutely no consequences.
SANGER: In fact, you've never really had an American acknowledgment that it was North Korea other than the release of the photographs.
PRITCHARD: To a degree. But you know, we're even worse in that in terms of the negotiations and the six-party talks. We very consciously said, let's not deal with that, let's give the North Koreans a pass, because it will upset the six-party talks at that point in time. Absolutely the wrong thing to do.
You know, so what I would hope is, by this holistic approach and hopeful pressure and cooperation on the Chinese side, if you can put in place the full measure of the implementation of 1874 along with the other things that we're calling for, it should give the North Koreans pause to take a look at where they're headed, not what the damage is today, but what it's going to be in the next few years as they factor in the succession issue, the things that they want to accomplish by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-song. And hopefully in that environment where we're actively shaping it to our benefit, there can be some movement in this positive direction.
SNYDER: You know, Cheonan issue occurred too late for us to deal with in this report, but I think that there is a linkage between this issue and the broader issues that we were trying to deal with on denuclearization, and that is the question of, how do you hold the state, that has considered itself to be exceptionalist in the system, to account?
And so what we really try to explore is a range of measures that could be handled collectively within the international community and particularly within the region in order to achieve that objective of bringing North Korea to account.
SANGER: Evans, anything to add on this point?
REVERE: I would only add, in reference to the Cheonan incident, think about this. Where were we in February and March of this year? There were serious indications that the North Koreans might be on their way back to the six-party talks. The Chinese were pushing hard. The Chinese had a number of ideas in play to restart the six-party talks. We were seeing signals from Washington about a willingness under certain conditions to get back to the table. And then March 26th happened.
And one has to wonder, what was going on in the minds of the North Koreans, who, at the same time, were talking to the Chinese about a possible visit, since fulfilled, of Kim Jong-il to China?
And literally as they were talking to the Chinese about that visit, as they were talking about the prospect of coming back to the table, they launched this attack and sunk this ship, sinking at the same time prospects for the renewal of the six-party talks in the near term.
To me, this suggests this is going to be a pretty hard problem to overcome in terms of trying to get back to the six-party talks and pressing this agenda. Because I suspect that for largely internal reasons, and we can talk about that perhaps a little bit more in the Q&A period, there are some political drivers of North Korean behavior, that are connected with the succession issue, that have caused them to behave in this particular way, caused them to reject the possibility of a restart of the six-party talks in the near term and caused them even to create serious headaches for their neighbors the Chinese.
But these internal drivers are something that we're going to have to keep a very, very careful eye on, because all politics are local in North Korea. And all politics, I think, are succession-related.
SANGER: Well, with that, let's open up to all of your questions. I think there are some microphones around. When you stand up, please tell us who you are and actually ask a question that's a question.
QUESTIONER: Hi there. Thanks for your comments today. Ella Gudwin with AmeriCares. And I wanted to follow up on the topic of exceptions to sanctions and nongovernmental engagement.
We are actively engaged in sending medicines and medical supplies to North Korea to eight hospitals and clinics, including the Pyongyang University hospital and several pediatric hospitals. There are lots of other NGO actors working as well, and also university engagement.
So can you just talk a little bit more about that and where NGO engagement fits strategically or other track-two diplomacy activities fit strategically relative to the U.S. policy and how the U.S. government, what the perspective of the U.S. government is on the utility of that?
SANGER: Scott, do you want to do that?
SNYDER: Yeah. I think that one of the failures or challenges to the NGO community related to U.S. policy toward North Korea over the course of the past two years has been that the level and capability of engagement have been constrained by shifts in the political winds. And so in the report, we try to address this. We suggest really that certain types of NGO activities should be depoliticized, should be separated from the political process, in particular the visa issuance issues that have constrained the ability of North Koreans to come here at the invitation of NGOs.
We also talk in the report about the likely need for continued humanitarian assistance and the desirability of the U.S. continuing to insist upon North Korea meeting international standards for monitoring in that regard.
And in particular, we want to see humanitarian efforts that don't advantage the DPRK government or disadvantage the markets as that process goes forward.
QUESTIONER: Jerry Cohen from NYU and the council.
I'd like to follow up on that. Twelve years ago, the council brought the North Korean delegation to the United States. They spoke at the council in New York and Washington. Vice Minister Kim made a pretty good impression. They surprised us by offering to sign a cooperation agreement for exchanges with the council. The council turned them down. Leadership thought that this would upset the Congress.
What should the council do now to follow up the NGO opportunities that may or may not exist?
PRITCHARD: Let me -- Jerry, thanks very much for that question. I remember that. We were probably -- the way those things usually happened then, we were in the midst of the negotiating with the North Koreans in New York. And part of the deals were that occasionally somebody else would help sponsor a trip if only the North Koreans would then go talk to different groups. They did it with the Stanley Foundation and others. And I know they came here and talked with you.
I think the situation has changed where the North Koreans then were looking at, towards the end of the Clinton administration, a positive glide path and where things may be going. And they were far more open to what they had suggested to you.
What we found in the intervening years is, other organizations, as an example Stanford has tried to do exchanges with the North Koreans, and the North Koreans themselves have been very, very reluctant about this.
And so I think we're going to have to cycle through this a little bit more. There will come a time when the North Koreans see it in their interest and will become more open to that. And so I think if we are following the path that Scott has laid out and what the report has laid out, it's going to be somewhat incremental.
But from our point of view, if you can get these non-nuclear technicians or just folks that we're not concerned about into the United States, in exchanges, see what's going on, the better we are, the better they are.
You know, one of the things that has always bemused me was the initial attitude of the U.S. government towards the Kaesong Industrial Complex. When that concept came up, I thought, what better way, you know, if the goal is to hire thousands and thousands, up to, at some point, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans to work in a South Korean environment with South Korean facilities and managers, having additional food pay, medical attention, all of that stuff, you know, multiply that times your family members, who you're going to talk to and all that, how much that would have done to undermine confidence in what the regime was doing for itself.
U.S. government didn't see it that way. We had a member of the administration that called that slave labor and we ought not to be supporting it. Missed the boat entirely.
But I think if we can move back into that environment where we're not concerned that we're propping up a regime or we're assisting or undermining, as Scott puts it, market conditions that may be developing in North Korea, we ought to be pushing that.
REVERE: Could I just add two quick points to that? One of which is, if you look at the recent Cheonan incident when things were spinning were spinning in a very, very disturbing direction a few weeks ago, the break on both the South and North that prevented things from going off the cliff, if you will, was interestingly enough the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Both sides blinked, because they realized they were getting to the point where the last piece of cooperation between North and South was about to fall apart, and both sides about away at that point, interestingly enough.
So it had not just the role that Jack suggested, but another interesting role in diffusing, to some extent, this crisis, even though we're still in the midst of this crisis.
The other point that I would make is that one of the least favorite words of the North Koreans vocabulary is "change." And one of the most important projects, if you will, for us, individually and collectively, as we deal with North Korea is to try to transform their way of thinking, their way of looking at the world. There is no better and cheaper and more efficient way to do that than expose their scholars, their experts, their engineers, their technicians to other ways of looking at the world and other ways of thinking.
It is a worthy investment, and it's one of the highlights, I think, of this report, is the focus on bringing about this sort of transformation that we seek through this mechanism.
SANGER: Not an easy thing to do in a country that's got two radio stations on the dial when you spin.
REVERE: All the more reason to do it.
QUESTIONER: Nick Branch with (LUSAD ?).
I wonder if the panel could tell us why they think the North Koreans sank the Cheonan.
SANGER: Any volunteers here? (Laughter.)
SNYDER: Why did the North Koreans sink the Cheonan. There are several different reasons that have been posited, speculated. One is that it was in response to a conflict that occurred last November in the same area, where a North Korean ship sank and there was a loss of life. There's also a lot of speculation connecting this to the succession process, that this might be considered to be a kind of hazing right of initiation for new designated North Korean leaders to engage in some kind of, you know, incident internationally that challenges, in particular, South Korea.
I actually think that one of the main reasons for this was that the North Koreans realized that South Korea was kind of moving forward without the North in its own diplomacy, and it was essentially a signal to the South, don't leave us behind, don't think that you're going to be able to pursue your global agenda without dealing with us, you have to either continue to provide the same kind of structured relationship, including payments that had existed for the past 10 years, or you have to find some other way of engaging with us at a higher priority than the current South Korean administration has engaged.
PRITCHARD: If I can piggyback on that, if I may. I kind of think it's a combination of two things, but let me lay the groundwork. As you all know, Kim Jong-il had a health incident in August of 2008, which we believe was a stroke. I think from that point on, the North Koreans had become very defensive. They are not in a position to compromise. There is a vulnerability going on there as they seek to put in place what they have not formally had up to now in a succession plan.
So their ability to walk back, their ability to blink, their ability to compromise, their ability to finalize an agreement at the end of the Bush administration, all of which fall into this, we cannot internally be seen weak.
And so when this incident that Scott referred to on the 10th of November of 2009 occurred, I think the North Koreans were in a position of, all right, we have got to respond to this, we're going to do it partially, it is a reflection of our strength, the potential for the regime continuity.
And so, you know, what we have seen before in 1999 and in 2002 in the same area, was exaggerated because of the internal situation with North Korea, and thus leading to a disproportionate response, a retaliation of a deliberate and murderous magnitude.
SANGER: There was a hand right over there -- sir. The gentleman right behind you.
QUESTIONER: I'm Don Zagoria from the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. This has been a very good discussion.
I'm delighted to hear that the council is recommending a reexamination of our visa policies. Actually, the North Koreans accepted -- (Kim Ki-won ?) was prepared to come to New York for a track-two meeting that we've been running for the past six years. He was prepared to come in March, but was unable to get a visa. This was actually before the Cheonan.
I'd like to ask the panel, what do we do now since it's clear that the Chinese are not going along with U.N. sanctions, the South Koreans are sending people over here to try to figure out from us what we think the strategy should be now?
So I would just like to know what your recommendations would be and the likelihood that our efforts to get some sort of action at the U.N. do not succeed, or even if they do succeed in some form, what do we do then?
SANGER: Volunteers on this one? Evans?
REVERE: I was going to defer to Jack on this one. (Laughs.)
SANGER: Oh, okay.
PRITCHARD: Well, let me start.
REVERE: I may chime in.
PRITCHARD: Yeah. And I think we can all have a part of this.
You know, what we're hoping for is, one, there's been a characterization, we've done it and others have picked on, that the administration has been half-hearted in this approach to North Korea. And I think that's accurate.
But I would also say that when they were engaged they were wholehearted. They just haven't been engaged. And so the combination of one plus zero is kind of a half, in our opinion.
So we're looking for a more holistic, more robust approach. You know, you're talking about whether or not the U.N. Security Council succeeds in condemning or doing whatever, some type of action, holding North Korea accountable. And I think what we suggest, and there's even a line in this report, is, failure to do so, in this case, failure for China to step forward and to recognize what North Korea has done on a deliberate basis and to hold them accountable, we need to hold the Chinese accountable by saying, what you're doing is validating the actions of North Korea, you are validating North Korea's desire to be a nuclear weapon state.
And so it is not a one-shot deal. It is a continuous -- the words that Scott has put in the report -- continuous pressure upon all elements of the system to make it work. So it's not -- yes, are we going to have failures? Of course, we're going to have failures. Is it going to be ideal coming out of the Security Council? Probably not. Will it be sufficient? Well, I hope so. And if it's not, we don't give up. And the administration uses all of its available tools tightening the international sanctions under 1874, promoting nongovernmental activities, anything that we can do, but on a continuous basis.
REVERE: I think, if I could just add to that, this is a pretty critical test of China here. As I suggested earlier, this attack was planned and carried out as the North Koreans and the Chinese were discussing Kim Jong-il's visit to the PRC.
And I said to my Chinese friends most recently in Beijing a few days ago, think about this from your perspective. Your neighbor, your ally was planning this attack, carried it out and believed that, regardless of how horrific this attack was, you would still welcome their leader in your capital, and you did. And how does that look to the rest of the international community? And that argument struck a real cord with a number of my Chinese counterparts who were clearly upset having been put in this position by the North Koreans.
But we need to keep up the pressure on the Chinese, I think. The Chinese have an interest in sending a message, directly or indirectly, to the North Koreans that this sort of behavior is beyond the pale.
But beyond that, I think we will get something out of the U.N. Security Council. I think it will be short of another whole set of sanctions and measures against North Korea. It may be some sort of hortatory statement, but that's okay.
But then, your question, Don, is a good one. Where do we go from here? I think the critical thing is to use all of the tools that we have available to demonstrate clearly to the North Koreans that, a, something needs to be done to compensate South Korea for this sinking. There's precedent for this, by the way. The North Koreans sending via the Chinese, for example, a message of apology that somehow they've stepped over the line.
But beyond that, I think it's going to be very, very critical for us to use all of the tools that we've suggested in this report to both put pressure on the North Koreans, to demonstrate that their more egregious behavior is unacceptable, but to also keep the door open in the event that they agree to come back to the table.
SANGER: Evans, what we were hearing from the North Korean representative at the U.N. yesterday sounded somewhat short of an apology to me.
SANGER: Senator Brademus.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. John Brademus.
Years ago when I was living in Washington, I knew a young Korean who was a fairly visible character around Washington named Tong Sin-park (ph). Have you ever heard of him? And do you know what's happened to him?
PRITCHARD: Yes, and met him. Yes. I last saw him in 2003. He was having a meeting with the assistant secretary for INR, for which I had tried to get the meeting canceled based on his past activities, but failed. But I have not heard his activities for the last five or six years.
SANGER: He's moved out of the very lovely house in which he conducted so much entertainment during the time that you were referring.
SNYDER: I don't know the answer to that. I don't know. I don't know if he -- I have not heard of him being around Washington in recent years.
PRITCHARD: I think he's probably back in Korea.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Carol O'Cleireacain.
You tantalizingly said that in the Q&A we'd talk about the internal politics, that being all the politics that matters. So I'd like to ask you about that. It's particularly opaque to those of us who are not steeped in what goes on in Korea to read these little snippets in the paper about 80-year-old men just either falling off the earth of dying mysteriously. So could you please take us through a little bit of what you see to be the succession challenges, and whether outside forces are having anything to do with any of it.
REVERE: It's also opaque for those of us who have been looking at it for 40 years.
I was remarking before we came into the room here that you have to work really hard to have a traffic accident in Pyongyang at midnight, having been in Pyongyang at midnight on many an occasion. But somebody in the leadership managed to have one.
Odd things are going on, but I think you have to go back to the summer of 2008 and take a look at what we now know was happening then in terms of the health crisis of the leader, but also then track, you could graph these two things in an interesting way, track North Korean rhetoric, North Korean positions in the six-party talks, North Korean position on verification, the outreach of the Obama administration, the rejection by the North Koreans of that outreach, the missile test, et cetera, et cetera.
All of these things were happening in a very interesting arc back then. And it is now fairly clear in retrospect that the North Koreans were dealing with not necessarily a succession crisis -- I don't use that word -- but a very complicated political situation in which you didn't have, as they had during the transition from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il, a 25-year period of on-the-job training. They had maybe 25 weeks or so in terms of their thinking back then. This was a very serious health crisis for Kim Jong-il.
And so there was a lot of action happening in terms of the internal political dynamics to prepare the game plan, to get all of the necessary elements of their bureaucracy, the security services, the military, et cetera, et cetera, onboard for the game plan. And all of this was done in a very compressed timeframe.
And so it was putting, I think, a lot of strain on the system. And it was causing them to be extremely defensive, as Jack suggested earlier. But it was also contributing to this ratcheting-up of the rhetoric, this sort of macho posturing that we were seeing.
And interestingly enough, when Kim Jong-il appeared in the spring and summer of 2009 and seemed to have recovered somewhat, look what happened to the rhetoric and the bombasts, the level went down again. So the ebb and flow of North Korean external behavior, North Korean rhetoric and North Korean actions, I think, to a large degree can be tracked to internal developments largely related to the health of Kim Jong-il, but also, to a large degree, to the ongoing succession process.
And let me just stop there, and maybe others want to pick it up.
PRITCHARD: Let me give you a little bit of the specifics that you can maybe watch as David reports on it.
The North Koreans, as Evans said, lacked a succession plan. And I think that what they've done is to come to terms with a short-term and maybe a medium-term plan, and that has evolved around Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law, in my opinion.
A year ago, they placed him -- they changed the constitution. They changed the structure of the National Defense Commission. This is the governing body, if you will, of North Korea. And they placed the brother-in-law on there. And so now you have a Kim family member, other than Kim Jong-il, who's the guy who will die at some point in time, there to watch out for the family interests.
Jang Song-thaek, the brother-in-law, has had a very storied career where on two occasions he himself has been purged and brought back. He has been rehabilitated. He's now at the point where he's the single most trusted adviser, if you will, and so he's there.
On the 7th of June, a little over a week ago, he was elevated to one of the vice chairmen of theirs. So in my opinion, they've now put in place what they believe to be the mechanism for a succession should occur. You know, the focus is on the third son, the youngest son, Kim Jong-un, around 27-years old. The idea that this guy could just come in and take over and have the allegiances of these 80-year olds and all these generals is a little bit of a stretch. So I think the concept is that the brother-in-law will exert power, you know.
There's a possibility he could take power, but what the plan, I believe, is, he will exert the power to protect the youngest son until he has his own following and credibility and can rule on his own. So I think that's what they put in place.
And there's a little bit of a sigh of relief in North Korea that there is some plan in place.
SANGER: For all of us who have studied regency operations from 3(00) or 400 years ago, it lives in one country.
REVERE: It also helps that the brother-in-law's brother is the corps commander of the forces that are responsible for the security of Pyongyang.
SANGER: Helpful, yeah.
REVERE: Keeping it in the family.
SANGER: We only have a few minutes. What we're going to do is just grab a couple of questions in succession and try to do a lightning round of answers.
There are two right back here.
QUESTIONER: Herbert Levin.
When the North Koreans attacked South Korea, the Chinese were very surprised. And when the North Koreans went south of the 38th after they had driven us down, the Chinese were amazed and horrified. When the North Koreans blew up the South Korean Cabinet in Rangoon, I was with the Chinese, and I can say, they were really surprised.
My point is that that's a longstanding relationship. And to say now, you know, you really have to get the Chinese to knuckle down on these people is a little bit of escapism. I put that with the regime change, as not a real alternative.
But my question is, the North Koreans will invite you to lunch a few blocks from here, and you've got a new photo in your FBI file. Why don't we have an embassy in Pyongyang? Why do we continue to think that they must earn this by good behavior when it obviously would be so advantageous to be there?
Now, if one goes there and talks to the Chinese embassy and the Russian embassy, they say how little they have to do, but it would be nice to have some Americans there with little to do.
SANGER: If you would hand the microphone to your neighbor right there. We'll do two questions at one time and see if we can --
QUESTIONER: K.T. McFarland, FOX News.
Could you elaborate on this last question. What's the Chinese thinking, the short, medium and long term, on how to deal with North Korea?
SANGER: Okay, two China questions together.
REVERE: Could I start? One of my previous hats that I wore back in my State Department days was, I was supposed to open up our mission in Pyongyang. And I guess the North Koreans saw me coming and changed their minds.
We visited, we had an agreement with North Korea to open up liaison offices. I was up in Pyongyang on several occasions back in '97, '98, almost literally measuring the curtains for the facility to open. It was the North Koreans that changed their minds about this. They refused to continue the discussion, the technical discussions that we had relating to the opening of that facility. They declined to allow us to support that diplomatic mission in a way that we had proposed to support it. It would have been a fairly straightforward thing; they refused, for their own reasons, and it's still not clear what those reasons were.
But in any event, that's where we are.
In response to the question about current Chinese thinking, I take your point that the Chinese, that asking them to do what for them is the impossible is, for us, impossible.
But let me just share one very brief vignette with you. I was at a meeting in Washington a few weeks ago in which there was a fairly senior Chinese military officer at the table. And he was going on at great length about the obscurity of U.S.-ROK security relations and how China was concerned about the U.S.-ROK alliance relationship and its implications for stability in Northeast Asia. He was being very critical about the lack of transparency in the U.S.-ROK security relationship.
And I said, well, with all due respect, you have a security alliance with North Korea. You have a treaty relationship with them. None of us in this room -- there were a number of experts in the room who have looked at these issues for many years -- none of us know what that relationship calls for. Can you please explain it to us? What are your obligations in the event of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula?
And his response astonished me. He said, you're the first person ever to ask that question. And he said, let me give you an answer. He said, I can't tell you what our obligations are and what the relationship is, let me tell you what it is not. He then proceeded for the next three or four minutes to give a list of all of the things that China would not do and does not do in terms of its support for North Korea. It was a remarkable list.
And at the end of the list, he was talking about, we don't exercise together. We don't do joint logistics. We don't plan. We don't cooperate, et cetera, et cetera. Right down the list of what you would expect an alliance relationship to be all about, and he said, we don't do any of that.
And then at the end of the presentation, he leaned over to me, winked, and said, I think you get my point.
SANGER: Great. And we'll just do one more, one or two more questions, and then we will -- do we have anybody else?
Sir. Oh, I'm sorry, Anya? We'll do the two of you.
QUESTIONER: Jeff Schaeffer.
You have talked about the need to engage bilaterally and use all of the instruments we have. I haven't had a chance to read the report yet. But would you highlight what the instruments are that might actually make a difference? Because it seems to me that the points of leverage really are defined.
SANGER: Anya, do you --
SCHMEMANN: I just wanted to invoke our other chairman. If General Tilelli were here, he would speak to the very strong U.S.-South Korean alliance. He would also praise a very close U.S.-South Korean coordination in the wake of the ship sinking. So I wonder if you could just say a very quick word about the U.S.-South Korean relationship and also prospects for the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement. Thank you.
SNYDER: Well, there are a number of instruments that we point to. The broader framework is really, and I think this kind of summarizes the entire discussion, you know, North Korea has really been the catalyst for promoting greater collective cooperation in this region over the course of the past two decades. And so really, the question is, are there new ways that we can leverage it, both in terms of specific tools for coercive pressure, sanctions implementation, increasing Chinese capacity to do export controls, that kind of thing, plus dialogue, not just with the North Koreans? But also another thing that we emphasize in the report, that we haven't really discussed, is the need for a U.S.-China strategic dialogue about the future of the Korean Peninsula, which is really designed to expand the scope for potential cooperation and engagement with China on some of the specifics related to how do we promote transformation in as stable a manner as possible.
SANGER: Anybody else on --
REVERE: Well, I was only a lowly staff sergeant and not a general, but maybe a former colonel will have a few things to say about the U.S.-ROK alliance relationship.
But I have been extremely impressed at the seamless cooperation between the U.S. and the ROK in the aftermath of the Cheonan incident. And going back to the very beginnings of this administration, I think one of the hallmarks of this administration's handling of the Korean Peninsula is the extent to which we have put our alliance relationships first, not only with Korea, but with Japan as well out in the region.
And that is a far cry from some of the difficult moments that we had in those relationships in the previous administration. And I have been extremely impressed with the closeness and the cooperation between Washington and Seoul, whether it be on North Korea, whether it be on the Cheonan.
And I am hopeful that we will add to this level of cooperation, the passage of the ROK-U.S. free trade agreement later on this year. And the onus quite frankly is on us more than it is the Koreans here. This agreement has been in place for a while. It needs only to be ratified. It would be a major boost to our partnership with South Korea. It would be a pretty significant boost to both economies. And it's something whose time has come, and I hope the U.S. administration will get on with it later this year.
PRITCHARD: Let me, Jeff, to your point. I think one of the things that this report and this task force took a look at is, we have been very reactive to North Korea. We need to stop that. We need to probably put a pause on strategic patience and become more proactive, using the tools, however limited they are, in a holistic approach. That's number one.
Number two, on the KORUS FTA, you know, just to put this in perspective, in two weeks, we will mark the third anniversary of the signing of the KORUS FTA without any movement or leadership by the White House. It is time to do this. It is the right thing. It fits with President Obama's requirement for additional jobs. You're not going to get those unless you do something along this line. Of course, FTA will do that.
In addition to that, not because of this, but in addition to that, it sends a signal to our very strategic partner, the South Koreans, that we have a complete relationship with you. We see value, not only in our security relationship, but our economic relationship. We are on the right track, as Anya pointed out and as General Tilelli would say, in the way that we're dealing and working with South Korea. Let's take advantage of that, and let's move to the next level.
SANGER: Well, the council has enormous strategic patience when turning out these reports, except with moderators who allow the discussion to go beyond the assigned time. And for them, there is, you know, no doubt time in a North Koreans gulag or something. (Laughter.)
So I will end this here with thanks to all three of you and all of you for coming.
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