Korea Into the Future
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MARGARET WARNER: For more on the emerging Bush policy toward the two Koreas, we turn to Wendy Sherman, former State Department counselor and special advisor on Korea to President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright; Douglas Paal, former senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council during the Reagan and first Bush administrations; and Chuck Downs, a former Pentagon official who’s now a foreign policy advisor to the House Republican Policy Committee. He’s the author of Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy. Welcome to you all.
Wendy Sherman, starting with you, how do you read what President Bush and President Kim said today coming out of this meeting in terms of U.S. policy toward Korea?
WENDY SHERMAN: Well, obviously, I don’t have the complete briefing on today’s meetings but based on press reports and the clips of the statements, we have to take the statement and sort of parse it out. The President said that he did see a time to re-engage and begin negotiations with North Korea, which I completely agree with. He said that it was important that any agreement be completely verifiable, which was certainly the standard the Clinton administration used. He clearly wants to send a message of skepticism and caution. And, as I have said many times, we should trust results in dealing with North Korea. I think my one personal disappointment in today is that they are not ready to re-engage any time soon it appears, and I think -
MARGARET WARNER: Who are you speaking about?
WENDY SHERMAN: That I don’t think the Bush administration plans to re-engage anytime soon. I regret that fact. I think that it’s quite understandable — that it’s time to get your team in place and the Bush administration is only six weeks old — and it takes time to decide how you want to proceed. But I hope the time is short and not long.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that how you read it, Doug Paal, that the administration is making clear they are not ready to engage anytime soon?
DOUGLAS PAAL: Well, anytime soon. First, the administration is five, six maybe ten weeks away from having the appropriate people staffing these positions inside the new administration. They got to get through the congressional clearance process. Secondly, North Korea has said in a statement issued on the 21st of February that they are prepared to keep what was agreed with the Clinton administration on the table. And that is a good sign. Unfortunately, they mix that with a threat. And when you mix that with threats it’s not good to start responding too quickly. So there are two good reasons out of three to put a little time between their announcement and the next engagement on negotiations.
MARGARET WARNER: But are you saying you think this is sending signals or skepticism to North Korea, or is there really a different approach we are going to see?
DOUGLAS PAAL: It’s going to be a different approach, but it changes by matters of degree, not in kind. I think the division of labor between the United States and Korea is one between the bad cop where you insist on verification. The Koreans are cousins. They have to have a much more reasonable approach to one another. So, we have a division of roles there. The United States, any new administration will come in and take a tough and opening position in addition. And that is appropriate for the United States. Thirdly we got to get in and read all notes. They’ve been briefed before but they are other people to bring into the loop and decide what a strategy would be like.
MARGARET WARNER: How did you read it Chuck Downs?
CHUCK DOWNS: I saw something a little more positive here. I thought that President Bush’s statements that, is the signal that he was sending was one of very reasoned reserve. I think it was extreme caution and carefulness about trying to proceed. Kim Dae-Jung clearly wanted a policy statement that our policy would not change from what the Clinton administration had before. But there are reasons for that policy to change, and there was a very clear signal sent that we are not going to be rushed into a policy decision caused just by the visit of the President of South Korea.
MARGARET WARNER: But did you — and I know we are trying to parse tea leaves here – but based on your conversations also with people in the administration — do you think it’s a question of timing or would you — are you reading in all these expressions of their skepticism about whether you can trust a deal negotiated with the North Koreans whether they are going to want to change substantively what Wendy Sherman and her folks were working on in the last days of the Clinton administration?
CHUCK DOWNS: Well, we have to address whether we can trust a deal that was negotiated by the past administration first. And it’s true that there are a number of problems of course dealing with North Korea. But we have a policy that was very unusual that was adopted by the last administration. There was a money flow established to North Korea that made North Korea a major recipient of foreign aid in Asia. That had never happened before. Not a penny went to North Korea before the Clinton administration. There has been an acceptance of North Korean sensitivities on any number of issues. And there have been benefits given, concessions given to North Korea in the interest of creating a more harmonious environment at the negotiating table. But very little was given back. So we first have to assess whether or not we want to continue that kind of policy just as Americans and the American people deserve a policy review.
MARGARET WARNER: Would you agree or disagree that very little was given back by the North Koreans?
WENDY SHERMAN: I would disagree. Obviously, I think we didn’t get everything we wanted but let’s take what Chuck has said a little bit. We give $55 million annually for heavy fuel oil — not in cash — which is part of the agreement we reached with the North in 1994 to stop their production of fissile material, which helps create nuclear bombs so that is one commitment. The second commitment, which creates the large numbers that Chuck and some of his colleagues refer to from time to time is humanitarian food aid. Everyone at this table would agree that the people of North Korea are starving. And they have had weather conditions that are a problem but they also do have an authoritarian government that doesn’t necessarily distribute what little food they have because they have a poor agricultural setting in North Korea to everybody who ought to get it. So that is really what our aid is — largely humanitarian — some for the agreement. In terms what have we’ve got in return, we have gotten a moratorium on missile testing, which is quite critical because one of our major concerns is missiles. We don’t want them firing and launching those missiles, which helps their capability, so we have a missile moratorium. There was an underground site that we were all concerned about – the intelligence community was very concerned about. We have had access to that site twice. We have had ongoing negotiations and discussions with the North. We have had reciprocal visits back and forth, which is part of the beginning of an opening in diplomacy, and I think most important is what has happened between North and South Korea, which ultimately has to be central to this discussion.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Doug Paal, that the incoming administration has reason to be skeptical about that record?
DOUGLAS PAAL: Yes. Just take the humanitarian relief for North Korea; most of it has been timed with diplomatic developments, and so it has been a kind of payout for specific meetings at which North Korea appeared or events that occurred that there were things that we desired and they wanted to be paid for doing. And that kind of relationship will be hard to break at this point, but it’s one we would want to review. We also want to go back and review the parameters of what was being discussed on the missile talks. Clearly they have a potential in long ranges missiles but they don’t have much capability at this point. They do have an active capability in exported missiles. If we can capture that, if we can get them to dismantle the missiles that are aimed at Japan, our ally in the region, that would be beneficial. We want to look at what the price is; the size of the missiles that would be allowed by North Korea after the agreements have been reached on dismantling what they’ve got. There is a lot more to be reviewed before people can say I’m ready to go to the bargaining table with the North.
MARGARET WARNER: Chuck Downs, how do you think North Korea is likely to respond? They didn’t like the noises they heard early on. How are they likely to respond to what they heard today?
CHUCK DOWNS: I think they will pick up on the signal being sent from the White House as Kim Dae-Jung also picked up on the signal being sent. This administration will not be rushed into any preemptive espousal of a bad policy.
MARGARET WARNER: But what I’m asking is: Do you think they’ll carry through on their threat to break this moratorium and start testing missiles again?
CHUCK DOWNS: It’s very hard to tell exactly what the North Koreans will do in any given circumstance, but we do have to realize very seldom does what they do get determined by what we do and what we say. We are really very self-absorbed when we try to analyze what North Korea is doing. And we always assume that it’s some reaction to something we are doing; quite often it is not. Quite often it’s a reaction to what is going on in North Korea; it’s, it’s a way that North Korea can determine how to control its own people and it has many times nothing to do with us. If North Korean officials are beginning to feel weak in any way, they will not attack the — they will not discuss in alarming terms what is going on with the United States. If they want to make it look like everything is copasetic with the United States, they will do so. It depends on what they think is an advantageous approach to take. And it quite often has very little to do with what we say at the negotiating table or what we say publicly.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you want to make a prediction about North Korea’s likely reaction to this?
WENDY SHERMAN: Oh, I’m sure they will not be thrilled with what they heard today, but, on the other hand, I think we have all said in our public statements, whatever side we are on this argument, that the Bush administration does need a little bit of time to be able to put its administration together and to look at how it wants to proceed. I think that what we are talking about here is degrees and my hope is that they won’t take the — the Bush administration won’t take too long to re-engage with North Korea, to review the agreement that we had under way but had not concluded and to decide how to proceed.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, today’s meeting was, of course, between the President of the United States and the President of South Korea. Do you see a big rift here, or how big a difference do you see, Chuck Downs, between the U.S. policy and President Kim’s policy? Is that going to be a problem?
CHUCK DOWNS: I don’t think there is a rift. And there was a natural reaffirmation of the alliance with South Korea, which was totally appropriate and totally expected. There is a difference of view. Kim Dae-Jung came to Washington hoping to back the administration into a policy that he likes a great deal. It’s a very unpopular policy back in South Korea; and so he was hoping that he could say his sunshine policy was supported by people back in Washington and that was part of the rationale why it must continue. Today’s discussions I think have undermined his ability to push sunshine in his own country, in South Korea. And I think that there is a plus to that. I think there was actually a great deal accomplished by these — by these comments by the White House that were reserved and measured. And let’s not ignore that comment from the President, any negotiation would require complete verification. That would be a significant difference.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you read the significance of the difference between President Kim and the new administration?
DOUGLAS PAAL: Well, I’ve met President Kim twice in the last two weeks, and I think his position has moved toward the American position, and as stated in their joint statement issued at the end of the meeting, the two sides have actually come closer. So I don’t share Chuck’s view of a growing gap or an undermining in the sunshine theory. The one concern that people have after the last couple of weeks was that perhaps the visionary was overtaking the realist in President Kim’s approach to North Korea. Clearly, he came to Washington to send a different message, to send a realistic message. And that was itself an accomplishment.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Explain that.
DOUGLAS PAAL: The visionary who wants to do anything possible to reopen relations with North Korea –.
MARGARET WARNER: You’re talking about signing some sort of a peace declaration -
DOUGLAS PAAL: Peace declaration.
MARGARET WARNER: — in the coming months?
DOUGLAS PAAL: And that is still possible in the coming months but the two sides have committed to close consultation on the question of what goes into that peace declaration. That was a direct product of today’s meeting.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see that, that the Bush administration may be pulling the South Koreans its way?
WENDY SHERMAN: I think that Kim Dae-Jung has spent much of his entire life thinking about how to have reconciliation and peaceful coexistence with North Korea. I think that we have ideas and wisdoms to offer him but I think it’s also quite critical that we understand that this is a man with a historic vision — with a realistic sense of whom he is dealing with — and that we ought to give his views and his ideas some credence. So my guess is there was a little bit of push and pull from both sides. I would respectfully disagree with Chuck; yes, there is opposition in South Korea to some of Kim Dae-Jung’s policies, but there is also enormous support for reconciliation. People in South Korea don’t want to live under the specter of war at any moment and the possibility of obliteration, and they very much hope for a peaceful coexistence in the future.
MARGARET WARNER: But, briefly, Doug Paal, do you think that today’s meeting puts off the date by which North and South Korea, by which Kim could realize his vision — or are there other factors that are much bigger than that?
DOUGLAS PAAL: As I said earlier, there is a division of labor. We need to keep the North’s feet to the fire. It’s up to the South Koreans to say, let’s get together and work out our problems. Between the two of us we probably we can accelerate the outcome we are seeking.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, great. Wendy Sherman, gentlemen, thank you very much.