[Updated below: Today,embarks on the process of throwing away most of our diplomatic leverage against in exchange for a declaration that’s incomplete, incorrect, and unverified. Those who rightly criticized for appeasing North Korea after the 1994 Agreed Framework should be honest enough to admit that Bush’s eleventh-hour grasp at a diplomatic legacy is probably even more dangerous.]
[Original Post, 24 Jun 08] In a speech at the Heritage Foundation last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reported that North Korea’s nuclear declaration is imminent again.
Or not. North Korea was supposed to begin “discussing” the full disclosure of its nuclear programs and weapons by mid-April of 2007. The full written disclosure was due during a subsequent “implementation phase,” though there was no deadline. In November, the North Koreans handed chief U.S.
negotiator appeaser Chris Hill their idea of a declaration, but it was apparently so deficient that Hill told a little white lie and denied having received it. A deadline was set for the end of 2007, when the declaration was imminent until it wasn’t. It was briefly imminent again in January and in April.
This week, as Rice heads for Seoul and Tokyo, the declaration is rumored to be imminent again. It might coincide with an expensive act of what proliferation expert Henri Sokolski calls “nuclear theater” — the demolition of the Yongbyon cooling tower on live TV. (It will cost us, of course.) There is even talk of Rice visting Pyongyang.
If you’re a superficial observer of this illusion — I’d say that describes AP correspondent Matthew Lee pretty well — you will believe. And ironically, that belief will find its widest acceptance among those who are usually Bush’s harshest critics.
False, Late, and Incomplete
But if the North Koreans finally do hand over their “disclosure,” we know it will be incomplete and incorrect. Our negotiators let the North Koreans know at the beginning of this year that we were willing to accept an incomplete declaration. Full disclosure has since been renegotiated down to a disclosure that essentially covers one worn-out 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon that age, overuse, and shoddy concrete disabled with greater speed and efficiency than our finest diplomatic minds could.
Absent from the declaration will be North Korea’s other, larger reactors, its proliferation activities, its uranium enrichment program, its completed fissile material, or its completed nuclear weapons. That’s not much of a declaration, and honest observers and experts of most partisan persuasions are in uncanny agreement about that:
“We appear ready to accept considerably less than the original agreement,” said Michael Green, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Bush administration National Security Council official. “It appears that there have clearly been some corners cut. Acknowledging U.S. concerns about the (uranium enrichment) program, or proliferation, is not a declaration,” he added.
Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst and Korea expert now at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said the administration appeared upbeat about the declaration and welcomed movement on ending its plutonium program. “Any progress on getting North Korea working towards plutonium denuclearization is all to the good,” he said, but he added Pyongyang should not be allowed to “skate by” on giving information about any uranium and proliferation programs. [Reuters, Arshad Mohammed and Susan Cornwell]
Quid: What the North Koreans Will Do.
North Korea’s Existing Nuclear Weapons. North Korea will not disclose how many completed nuclear weapons it has, what their yield is, or where they are. Not now, and if listen to what they’re saying, not ever.
Ditto. The North Koreas won’t have to tell us how much reprocessed plutonium they have ready for molding into nuclear weapons, or for resale to the highest bidder. Maybe this fall , maybe never. [See Update 1 below. The North Koreans are expected to disclose some amount of plutonium, although that amount is likely to be several bombs short of our own estimates. Regardless of the amount, it will be unverifiable for the foreseeable future, and the North Koreans say they’re keeping it.]
Other Reactors. I’ve been suggesting for months that disabling the 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon would mean very little if the North Koreans are almost ready to start up a 50-megawatt reactor next door. Judging as best I can from these Google Earth images I downloaded recently, the 50-megawatt reactor looks finished, but a 200-megawatt reactor 13 miles away appears to have a way to go yet. North Korea isn’t disabling either of these reactors.
Proliferation. As with its uranium program and fissile material, North Korea admits nothing, and we all “sidestep a dispute over how much detail North Korea must provide about any past uranium enrichment-related activities and its involvement in a mysterious Syrian facility. That facility has become more mysterious this week following a report by that notorious neocon mouthpiece, Der Spiegel, that the North Koreans weren’t just helping Syria get The Bomb, they were also helping Iran:
The weekly said the Syrian site at al-Kibar was used to produce nuclear material the Iranian regime needed to make a bomb. North Korean scientists worked alongside Syrians and Iranians at the site, where a reactor was being built to produce weapons-grade plutonium, Der Spiegel quoted the intelligence reports as saying. The report said Iranian scientists had made progress in enriching uranium but had no experience with plutonium and sought the help of the North Koreans. [Deutsche Presse-Agentur, via Ha’aretz]
See also the Khaleej Times, New Kerala, and the Irish Sun (which is both a newspaper and an oxymoron). Not that this should astonish us. At least as early as 2005, there were reports of an Iran-North Korea oil-for-nukes deal.
Uranium Enrichment. The ink on the 1994 Agreed Framework had barely dried when the CIA caught the North Koreans secretly dealing with Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan to build a capability to enrich uranium, an alternate route to a nuclear weapons capability that’s easier to conceal from our spy satellites (more).
The Clinton Administration chose to ignore this. When the Bush Administration confronted the North Koreans with the evidence in 2002, the North Koreans admitted it. Then they went back to denying it again, although we’ve since intercepted aluminum tubes suitable for centrifuge casings on their way to North Korea. Pakistan has since confirmed selling the North Koreans complete centrifuges. The Directorate of National Intelligence still thinks the North Koreans had an undisclosed uranium enrichment program, but the North Koreans have been far more stubborn in refusing to re-admit this than we have been in demanding that they come clean. The result was an agreement that the State Department would write North Korea’s declaration for it, and that North Korea would merely “acknowledge” our concerns. This makes it all the easier for them to disavow them later.
Last year, the North Koreans took one of our diplomats to a missile factory to prove that the aluminum tubes were merely for rocket fuselages. They agreed to provide a sample of the aluminum but insisted on smelting it down first. The sample tested positive for enriched uranium.
In May, the North Koreans handed over 18,000 pages of documents about their plutonium reprocessing. The State Department, under withering fire for giving away much and getting too little in return, paraded the documents before the press without having even translated them. And would you believe?
The United States in recent weeks has obtained new intelligence — fresh traces of highly enriched uranium discovered among 18,000 pages of North Korean documents — that are raising new questions about whether Pyongyang pursued an alternative route to producing a nuclear weapon, according to sources familiar with the intelligence findings.Officials at the State Department and with the director of national intelligence declined to comment on the new information, but sources said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an oblique reference to it in a speech on North Korea policy to the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday.
“As we’ve gotten deeper into the process, we’ve been troubled by additional information about North Korea’s uranium-enrichment capability,” Rice said. “And this information has reaffirmed skepticism about dealing with North Korea.”
The new intelligence arrived at an awkward moment for the Bush administration. North Korea next week plans to submit its long-awaited declaration on its nuclear programs, which is expected to disclose that its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon produced about 37 kilograms of plutonium. Then, on June 27 or 28, North Korean officials are expected to blow up the cooling tower attached to the facility, diplomats said. [Washington Post, Glenn Kessler]
This report seems inconsistent with Sung Kim’s statement at that press conference that the documents were only photocopies. Call that another unresolved question.
Quo: What We Will Do for Kim Jong Il
Food Aid. No, we shouldn’t punish the North Korean people for Kim Jong Il’s actions. Yes, we should provide food aid, and yes, we ought to monitor it so that we know that the regime and the military won’t steal it. But that’s not what we’re doing.
Proliferation Aid. We’re paying for all of North Korea’s “disabling” activities. The State Department is currently seeking a waiver of sanctions under the Glenn Amendment.
Energy Aid. The rest of North Korea is slipping back into famine, but regime tour guides are boasting to foreign journalists that there are no more blackouts in Pyongyang. That’s because of the heavy fuel oil the United States has been shipping while North Korea proliferated and stalled on meeting its own obligations. (There have been reports that North Korea has diverted the oil for military use, but I put little credence in them. Heavy fuel oil is probably too thick to be re-refined into a suitable fuel for vehicles or aircraft.)
Diplomatic Relations. All of President Bush’s talk about human rights was just that. Concentration camps, gas chambers, infanticide, crushing repression, and the use of food as a weapon appear to be no impediment to recognizing Kim Jong Il’s regime and exchanging ambassadors, which could only mean that we have no standards whatsoever. North Korea is still counterfeiting our money and they’re running what may be, on a per capita basis, the most repressive regime in the history of mankind, but those are differences we can live with “in the context of two states that have diplomatic relations.
Terror Sponsorship De-Listing. Never mind the unexamined findings of the Congressional Research Service that North Korea has recently aided Hezbollah and the Tamil Tigers. The State Department is determined to de-list North Korea and throw away most of our leverage:
“We are looking to receive the declaration soon,” Hill said after talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and the Japanese and South Korean nuclear envoys. “We’ve done a lot of work on it.” Komura hinted the declaration may not be as thorough as previously hoped. “The Japanese government believes that a complete declaration is necessary for complete abolition” of the North’s nuclear weapons, Komura told reporters.
“But there’s an idea that it’s better to ease the stalemate and move forward, even by lowering (the hurdle) for the sake of reaching our goal of denuclearization,” Komura said. The U.S. has pressed North Korea, which conducted a nuclear test in 2006, to clear up allegations that it helped Syria build a nuclear facility and ran a secret plutonium program. The U.S. reportedly earlier agreed to let North Korea simply acknowledge the allegations without confirming them.
The reports triggered a backlash among conservatives in the U.S. They accused US President George W. Bush, who once branded North Korea part of an “axis of evil,” of rushing a deal in his last months in office. [AFP]
The idea of lifting this designation is to make it possible for Kim Jong Il to obtain the massive windfalls of World Bank loans and trade with the United States. North Korea is a Tier 3 country for human trafficking, which raises questions about Tariff Act prohibitions against importing goods made with forced labor.
Japan, our most important Asian ally, also sees these sanctions as important leverage in forcing Kim Jong Il to return the unknown number of Japanese citizens it has abducted. Japan reportedly will ask Rice not to remove North Korea from the terror-sponsor list. Refusing Japan’s request will strain our most important Asian alliance for dubious returns.
For those who are interested, I’ve added two press conference transcripts below the fold; one from Chris Hill and one from Condi Rice.
Update 1: According to this, the North Korean declaration — now expected this Thursday — will discuss other nuclear facilities besides the 5-MW reactor at Yongbyon, although it’s anyone’s guess which ones. There’s a link below to Google Earth images of the major ones. Chris Hill also contradicts me regarding the disclosure of plutonium, and giving Hill the benefit of the doubt for the time being (I see that one of my links is dead), I’ve made a correction to the post below:
“The key element of the declaration of course is the North Koreans, in addition to laying out all their facilities, giving us a verifiable figure on how much plutonium they have,” Hill said today in Beijing. “Plutonium here is really the heart of the game because that’s the stuff they make bombs out of.” [Bloomberg]
So the actual bombs they’ve already built — or sold — are not really the heart of the game?
If the North Koreans provide a disclosure on plutonium, they are likely to disclose an amount of reprocessed plutonium that’s far lower than our own estimates. And because there’s no verification mechanism in place, we’ll have no way of knowing for sure. And of course, disclosing some amount of plutonium is one thing; actually handing it over is another.
The Donga Ilbo gives more explanation of why the detonation of the Yongbyon cooling tower is mostly for show. But not so fast, say the North Koreans:
North Korea wants to obtain “final assurance” from the U.S. that it will remove the communist nation from its list of terrorism-sponsoring nations as promised, a South Korean government official said Tuesday, with the six-way talks on the nuclear crisis expected to resume soon. [Yonhap]
It’s clear from the article exactly what the North Koreans will stall, other than the next round of talks, if they don’t have their advance assurance of the de-listing, something that is certain to draw congressional opposition. In another sign of trouble, Japan continues to hint that it may publicly oppose de-listing North Korea as a sponsor of terrorism.
Update 2: They’ve handed it over, whatever it is. The uncritical shallowness of most of the coverage — even on generally conservative blogs — excrutiates, with only a few observers mentioning what’s not in this declaration. The Administration has most journalists looking at this story through its soda straw.
Uncharacteristically, the McPaper asks about The Pink Elephant in the Room: “One item that won’t make the declaration … will be North Korea’s nuclear bombs. The omission means the world will have to wait for an answer to the question at the heart of the nearly six-year-old standoff: Is the North ready to give up its nuclear weapons?”
The AP provides some background for how the North Koreans talked us down to a declaration that declares no weapons, uranium enrichment, or proliferation through “months of haggling,” but buries it deep inside its story. This story is slightly more inquisitive, but also deep down in the text:
Besides providing information about its nuclear facilities, North Korea’s declaration is to provide a verifiable figure on how much plutonium they have. That still won’t answer the question of how many bombs North Korea has stockpiled, but plutonium is the “heart of the game because that is the stuff they make bombs out of,” says Christopher Hill, the lead U.S. negotiator in the talks under way betweenand the U.S., China, Japan, and Russia.
What’s not in the declaration is as important as what it includes.
It won’t illuminate North Korea’s suspected program of developing weapons fueled by enriched uranium. As a result of the six-nation nuclear talks, the North has stopped making plutonium and begun disabling its nuclear facilities, but it still has a stockpile of radioactive material that experts believe is enough to build from six to 10 bombs.
The North proved it could build a working nuclear bomb when it carried out an underground nuclear test blast in October 2006. Details on the bombs, however, will be left to the next stage of the talks, when Pyongyang is supposed to abandon all its.
North Korea’s declaration also won’t give a complete accounting of how it allegedly helped Syria build what senior U.S. intelligence officials say was a secret nuclear reactor meant to make plutonium, which can be used to make high-yield nuclear weapons. Israeli jets bombed the structure in the remote eastern desert of Syria in September 2007. [AP, Deb Reichmann]
On the other hand, Don Kirk gets it: absolute must read.
The White House’s press release and a transcript of President Bush’s statement in the Rose Garden, with some Q&A, is added below the fold.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill
Trilateral Joint Press Availability with Director General Akitaka Saiki and Chief Nuclear Negotiator Kim Sook
June 19, 2008, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tokyo, Japan
[Note: Director-General Saiki spoke in Japanese, and Chief Negotiator Kim Sook spoke in Korean. Their comments are not included except in reference to A/S Hill’s remarks.]
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, let me just say that we very much value these three-party meetings. Obviously, we’re at a very important phase in the Six-Party process. So I think it’s very appropriate that Japan, the ROK, and the U.S. get together and discuss how we can make progress at this very important moment. I think we did have a very good discussion about the various aspects of it. Of course there are sequencing issues that need to be discussed, but also issues relating to obligations that all the parties need to make and issues relating especially to, as Secretary Rice noted today in her speech, issues relating to the need for verification. So we’ve had a good discussion on all of these things and look forward to further discussions later on.
QUESTION: With regard to the question of America’s delisting of the DPRK and the abduction issue, what did Assistant Secretary Hill say about this?
DIRECTOR-GENERAL SAIKI: With regard to the question of America delisting the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism and with regard to U.S.-DPRK relations — if the DPRK submits a declaration, the United States will remove the DPRK. In the context of Japan-DPRK relations as well, the United States is well aware that this is a very significant development. Regarding progress in Japan-DPRK relations, we explained the situation to the U.S. The U.S. has said that it will continue to fully communicate with Japan about the matter and act accordingly. That’s our awareness.
QUESTION: (directed to Assistant Secretary Hill) How about this question?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: That’s exactly as we discussed it. I think that Secretary Rice spoke to this issue today. We have felt that it has been very important to be in close coordination with the Japanese Government throughout this issue. Obviously, the question of abductions is not just a question that is of interest to the Japanese government; it’s also of interest to the U.S. Government as well. So we stay in very close contact with Japan on this. We have followed the progress very closely of these new discussions that have taken place between Japan and the DPRK. And I think that as we go forward, we will stay in close contact with each other.
QUESTION: I’d like to ask about the declaration. A complete and correct declaration has been demanded, but actually the amount of plutonium and other issues will not be addressed at this point. Regarding the fact that nuclear weapons are not included, Japan and South Korea are located near North Korea, so they are exposed to this threat. America is especially focused on nuclear proliferation, but isn’t it rather lax on other issues?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: First of all, I want to make very clear that our position is a position that has been set out in the Six Parties all along — which is, the goal here is complete denuclearization. The goal here is not just the declaration. The goal here is complete denuclearization.
Now we have done this in phases, with the understanding that we could not just complete everything in one phase. We needed more than one phase. So our position is that as we go forward, we need to achieve the complete goal — and that is the complete abandonment of all nuclear programs, nuclear weapons, and the return of the DPRK to the NPT and to IAEA safeguards. And that’s very clearly spelled out, very clearly spelled out, in the September ’05 statement.
So we will not finish this process until we have achieved the full implementation of that September ’05 statement. In return for this complete denuclearization, we are also obligated to do some things for the DPRK, including normalization. So we understand we have obligations, but we shall not be able to achieve our obligations if we do not get a complete denuclearization. I want to be very clear that is the purpose of this, and the purpose is not just to stop half-way.
Remarks, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, En route Berlin, Germany, June 23, 2008
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions on North Korea. First, we expect so much things will happen this week out of North Korea. But the Japanese people feel ““ some Japanese people feel some sort of disappointment because we don’t ““ we haven’t got any real progress on the abduction issue. We ““ you are ready for removing North Korea from the sponsors terrorist list. So my question is: How do you explain to Japanese people on U.S. intention and how will U.S. facilitate the progress on abduction issue from now?
And the second question is: Could you tell me about the timing of the ministerial meeting on the six-party talks?
SECRETARY RICE: There has been no ministerial meeting set at this point. We will see when it is appropriate to have a ministerial meeting for the six parties.
In terms of the ending of phase two of the denuclearization efforts vis-Ã -vis North Korea, we will see if North Korea, indeed, delivers to China, which is after all the chair of the denuclearization group, if they deliver to China a declaration that, as we’ve said, would have to be verifiable as complete and accurate. It would be an important step. The North Koreans ““ we also have to do a verification protocol with North Korea so that we could make certain that we did have the means to verify. And so we’ve not ““ the Chinese have not received that yet, and so it’s premature to judge what steps the United States and the other members of the six-party talks would take.
As to the abduction issue ““ or I should say, of course, if the declaration is there then the second phase does anticipate that the United States would, as a part of several actions that others ““ that states are taking, that the United States would, indeed ““ the President would notify the Congress of our intention to de-list. That takes then 45 days before it goes into effect, in which time we would continue to monitor and assess what North Korea’s doing to live up to its obligations.
Now, we’ve been very clear that the United States is not going to set aside or forget the Japanese abduction issue. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that the bilateral talks that Japan and North Korea have had are in no small part due to the efforts of the United States to press North Korea on this issue.
And so I would hope that Japanese people would recognize that, that this was an issue that was going nowhere until the United States pressed the issue. In fact, it is my understanding that the North Koreans took some ““ I think they were described by Japan as small steps. And Japan, in return, took some steps. So we will see. But this issue is not going away. It’s not going away for Japan; it’s not going away for the United States and we’re going to continue to press North Korea to make certain that this issue is dealt with.
Japan is America’s ““ one of America’s strongest allies in Asia and we recognize the ““ I should say one of America’s strongest allies in the world ““ and we recognize the sensitivity of this issue. It is a deep humanitarian issue. It is a wounding issue that this kind of thing could have been allowed to happen. And the President has met with family members of the abducted. We have never ““ we’ve never made a statement in which we did not raise this issue publicly and privately. And so the Japanese people can be assured that it is an issue of extreme importance for the United States and we’re going to continue to press on this issue.
# # #
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release, June 26, 2008
STATEMENT BY THE PRESS SECRETARY
The United States welcomes the North Korean declaration of its nuclear programs. Today’s development is an important step in the multi-step process laid out in the Six Party Talks between North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
The Six Party Talks are based on a principle of “action for action. North Korea has pledged to disable all its nuclear facilities and tomorrow will destroy the cooling tower of the Yongbyon reactor. North Korea also pledged to declare its nuclear activities. This information will be essential to verifying that North Korea is ending all of its nuclear programs and activities.
The United States will respond to North Korea’s actions by lifting the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act as well as announcing our intent to rescind North Korea’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terror in 45 days. During this period, the United States will carefully assess North Korea’s actions particularly with regard to verification.
There is still more work to be done in order for North Korea to end its isolation. It must dismantle all of its nuclear facilities, give up its separated plutonium, and resolve outstanding questions on its highly enriched uranium and proliferation activities. It must end these activities in a fully verifiable way.
Multilateral diplomacy is the best way to peacefully resolve the nuclear issue. North Korea should seize this moment of opportunity to restore its relationship with the international community.
The President will make a statement on this subject in the Rose Garden at 7:40 am EDT today.
# # #
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT ON NORTH KOREA
7:40 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. The policy of the United States is a Korean Peninsula free of all nuclear weapons. This morning, we moved a step closer to that goal, when North Korean officials submitted a declaration of their nuclear programs to the Chinese government as part of the six-party talks.
The United States has no illusions about the regime in Pyongyang. We remain deeply concerned about North Korea’s human rights abuses, uranium enrichment activities, nuclear testing and proliferation, ballistic missile programs, and the threat it continues to pose to South Korea and its neighbors.
Yet we welcome today’s development as one step in the multi-step process laid out by the six-party talks between North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.
Last year, North Korea pledged to disable its nuclear facilities. North Korea has begun disabling its Yongbyon nuclear facility — which was being used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. This work is being overseen by officials from the United States and the IAEA. And to demonstrate its commitment, North Korea has said it will destroy the cooling tower of the Yongbyon reactor in front of international television cameras tomorrow.
Last year, North Korea also pledged to declare its nuclear activity. With today’s declaration, North Korea has begun describing its plutonium-related activities. It’s also provided other documents related to its nuclear programs going back to 1986. It has promised access to the reactor core and waste facilities at Yongbyon, as well as personnel related to its nuclear program. All this information will be essential to verifying that North Korea is ending its nuclear programs and activities.
The six-party talks are based on a principle of “action for action.” So in keeping with the existing six-party agreements, the United States is responding to North Korea’s actions with two actions of our own:
First, I’m issuing a proclamation that lifts the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act with respect to North Korea.
And secondly, I am notifying Congress of my intent to rescind North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terror in 45 days. The next 45 days will be an important period for North Korea to show its seriousness of its cooperation. We will work through the six-party talks to develop a comprehensive and rigorous verification protocol. And during this period, the United States will carefully observe North Korea’s actions — and act accordingly.
The two actions America is taking will have little impact on North Korea’s financial and diplomatic isolation. North Korea will remain one of the most heavily sanctioned nations in the world. The sanctions that North Korea faces for its human rights violations, its nuclear test in 2006, and its weapons proliferation will all stay in effect. And all United Nations Security Council sanctions will stay in effect as well.
The six-party process has shed light on a number of issues of serious concern to the United States and the international community. To end its isolation, North Korea must address these concerns. It must dismantle all of its nuclear facilities, give up its separated plutonium, resolve outstanding questions on its highly enriched uranium and proliferation activities, and end these activities in a way that we can fully verify.
North Korea must also meet other obligations it has undertaken in the six-party talks. The United States will never forget the abduction of Japanese citizens by the North Koreans. We will continue to closely cooperate and coordinate with Japan and press North Korea to swiftly resolve the abduction issue.
This can be a moment of opportunity for North Korea. If North Korea continues to make the right choices, it can repair its relationship with the international community — much as Libya has done over the past few years. If North Korea makes the wrong choices, the United States and our partners in the six-party talks will respond accordingly. If they do not fully disclose and end their plutonium, their enrichment, and their proliferation efforts and activities, there will be further consequences.
Multilateral diplomacy is the best way to peacefully solve the nuclear issue with North Korea. Today’s developments show that tough multilateral diplomacy can yield promising results. Yet the diplomatic process is not an end in itself. Our ultimate goal remains clear: a stable and peaceful Korean Peninsula, where people are free from oppression, free from hunger and disease, and free from nuclear weapons. The journey toward that goal remains long, but today we have taken an important step in the right direction.
I’ll take a couple of questions.
Q Mr. President, thank you very much. After declaring them a member of the “axis of evil,” and then after that underground nuclear tests that North Korea conducted in 2006, I’m wondering if you ever doubted getting to this stage. And also, I’m wondering if you have a message for the North Korean people.
THE PRESIDENT: I knew that the United States could not solve, or begin to solve, this issue without partners at the table. In order for diplomacy to be effective, there has to be leverage. You have to have a — there has to be consequential diplomacy.
And so I worked hard to get the Chinese and the South Koreans and the Japanese and the Russians to join with us in sending a concerted message to the North Koreans, and that is, that if you promise and then fulfill your promises to dismantle your nuclear programs, there’s a better way forward for you and the people. In other words, as I said in the statement, it’s action for action.
It took a while for the North Koreans to take the six-party talks seriously, and it also took there to be concerted messages from people other than the United States saying that if you choose not to respond positively there will be consequences.
And so I’m — it’s been a — multilateral diplomacy is difficult at times. It’s hard to get people heading in the same direction, and yet we were able to do so along — our partners helped a lot, don’t get me wrong.
The message to the North Korean people is, is that we don’t want you to be hungry; we want you to have a better life; that our concerns are for you, not against you; and that we have given your leadership a way forward to have better relations with the international community. This is a society that is regularly going through famines. When I campaigned for President, I said we will never use food as a diplomatic weapon. In North Korea, we have been concerned that food shipments sometimes don’t make it to the people themselves — in other words, the regime takes the food for their own use.
So my message to the people is, is that we’ll continue to care for you and worry about you, and at the same time, pursue a Korean Peninsula that’s nuclear weapons free. And today we have taken a step, and it’s a very positive step, but there’s more steps to be done.
Q Mr. President, what do you say to critics who claim that you’ve accepted a watered-down declaration just to get something done before you leave office? I mean, you said that it doesn’t address the uranium enrichment issue, and, of course, it doesn’t address what North Korea might have done to help Syria build its reactor.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, let me review where we have been. In the past, we would provide benefits to the North Koreans in the hope that they would fulfill a vague promise. In other words, that’s the way it was before I came into office.
Everybody was concerned about North Korea possessing a nuclear weapon; everybody was concerned about the proliferation activities. And yet the policy in the past was, here are some benefits for you, and we hope that you respond. And, of course, we found they weren’t responding. And so our policy has changed, that says, in return for positive action, in return for verifiable steps, we will reduce penalties. And there are plenty of restrictions still on North Korea.
And so my point is this, is that — we’ll see. They said they’re going to destroy parts of their plant in Yongbyon. That’s a very positive step — after all, it’s the plant that made plutonium. They have said in their declarations, if you read their declarations of September last year, they have said specifically what they will do. And our policy, and the statement today, makes it clear we will hold them to account for their promises. And when they fulfill their promises, more restrictions will be eased. If they don’t fulfill their promises, more restrictions will be placed on them. This is action for action. This is we will trust you only to the extent that you fulfill your promises.
So I’m pleased with the progress. I’m under no illusions that this is the first step; this isn’t the end of the process, this is the beginning of the process of action for action. And the point I want to make to our fellow citizens is that we have worked hard to put multilateral diplomacy in place, because the United States sitting down with Kim Jong-il didn’t work in the past. Sitting alone at the table just didn’t work.
Now, as I mentioned in my statement, there’s a lot more verification that needs to be done. I mentioned our concerns about enrichment. We expect the North Korean regime to be forthcoming about their programs. We talked about proliferation. We expect them to be forthcoming about their proliferation activities and cease such activities. I mentioned the fact that we’re beginning to take inventory, because of our access to the Yongbyon plant, about what they have produced, and we expect them to be forthcoming with what they have produced and the material itself.
So today I’m just talking about the first step of a multi-step process. And I want to thank our partners at the six-party talks. It’s been incredibly helpful to achieve — the beginnings of achieving a vision of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula to have the Chinese to be as robustly involved as they are. You notice that the North Koreans passed on their documents to the Chinese; after all, we’re all partners in the six-party talks.
The other thing I want to assure our friends in Japan is that this process will not leave behind — leave them behind on the abduction issue. The United States takes the abduction issue very seriously. We expect the North Koreans to solve this issue in a positive way for the Japanese. There’s a lot of folks in Japan that are deeply concerned about what took place. I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office. It was a heart-wrenching moment to listen to the mother talk about what it was like to lose her daughter. And it is important for the Japanese people to know that the United States will not abandon our strong ally and friend when it comes to helping resolve that issue.
Today is a positive day; it’s a positive step forward. There’s more work to be done, and we’ve got the process in place to get it done in a verifiable way.
END 7:53 A.M. EDT