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Nuclear Challenge

February 12, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: For more on the North Korea nuclear crisis, we get two views. Kenneth Quinones was the State Department’s North Korean affairs officer, and then a Korea analyst in the department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research during the 1990s. He’s now director of the Korea program at the International Center, a Washington research organization. Henry Sokolski was deputy for non-proliferation policy in the office of the Secretary of Defense during the first Bush administration. He’s now executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, another Washington research organization.

Ken Quinones let’s start with you. IAEA finished its work, handed this over to the Security Council. What’s the practical impact of that move?

KENNETH QUINONES: Well, first of all, I think it’s a constructive positive step, in that it will definitely establish this as an international problem. It will focus international attention on this crucial issue. On the other hand, I think my hope is that it will likewise enable the United States to work with Moscow, Beijing and other concerned nations to come up with a format that will allow negotiations with North Korea.

RAY SUAREZ: Internationalizing the problem now, North Korea has been trying to make this a bilateral question, us and the United States. What effect does internationalizing it have?

KENNETH QUINONES: Well, today I talked to North Korean officials about that, and their reaction to this entire move has been very, very negative precisely because of what you said. They don’t want it internationalized. They want it to be a bilateral U.S.-North Korea position. I think that’s simply impractical. The North Koreans have effectively challenged not only international security in northeast Asia but the entire international nonproliferation regime, and they’re just simply going to have to accept the fact that they have created an international concern here.

On the other hand, I believe that the ultimate solution is going to require not just an international legal approach, but a bilateral U.S.-North Korea political deal, worked out in negotiation.

RAY SUAREZ: Henry Sokolski is that an important move from the IAEA to the Security Council?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Absolutely. First of all, I’m really pleased to see this happen. I mean, four months ago, my center was pushing for this when no one else was, and to see it actually happen is gratifying. Second, I think we’re being forced back, as Ken made clear, to basics. One of the first things the IAEA board of directors said is that they rejected previous bilateral efforts by the U.S. to suspend the enforcement of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty through what was called the agreed framework struck in 1994 — made it very clear, any diplomatic solution has to get compliance at the top of the table for discussion, and that has to be resolved first. And so I think this is a very healthy thing.

RAY SUAREZ: But is there any enforcement mechanism? What can the Security Council do when they receive the materials from the IAEA and look at it and say, well, yeah, they’re in noncompliance, then what?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Well, I think it isn’t them who has to take the first step. It’s the North Koreans. The North Koreans must understand that it’s up to them to comply, to let the IAEA back in; as much as they in fact don’t like the IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, they have to let them back in. Now if they don’t, the U. N. Security Council has a long record of sustaining, supporting and specifying sanctions, whether it’s the interdiction of illegal traffic in drugs, which North Korea does an awful lot in, or the illegal traffic in arms, or, for that matter, counterfeit money.

All of these things is something that the North Koreans do to sustain their military, and therefore they have to be concerned that if they don’t pay attention to the U. N. Security Council, that they may in time find worse outcomes than diplomacy that they can agree with.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ken Quinones, you just heard Henry Sokolski talk about the ball now being in the North Koreans’ court. Is that a realistic way to look at it, given North Korean behavior over the past year, let’s say?

KENNETH QUINONES: Well, I think it definitely is in the North Korean court. But on the other hand, I think you touched on a very substantial issue, and that is enforcement versus compliance, albeit induced or what have you.

And I think in the case of the North Koreans we’ve also seen a track record whereby inducements work better than enforcement. International pressure, diplomatic pressure, on the other hand, is definitely warranted, and I think we will see that develop and intensify in the U.N. Security Council. I think, on the other hand, an effort to enforce this through economic sanctions probably would backfire in that the administration’s goal here is a peaceful resolution of the issue. And sanctions would probably achieve the exact opposite.

RAY SUAREZ: But the last time the North Koreans received inducement, in the Agreed Framework, in the mid-90s, did they abide by their part of the agreement?

KENNETH QUINONES: They did until approximately 1998, 1999. And I was directly involved in that in North Korea, with a spent fuel project and other aspects of it. And the review of the North Korean track record from 1994 to 1998 is essentially one of compliance. The IAEA was there, present, monitoring, the North Koreans did not interfere with them and complied with IAEA requirements, and also whatever else the Clinton administration wished. Things, however, began to go downhill beginning in 1998, especially after we saw a Republican Congress begin to raise questions about funding and so forth for the Agreed Framework.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: I think the board of governors had a very different perspective. I read here.

RAY SUAREZ: Of the IAEA?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Oh yes. The IAEA director general made the following statement, it says the DPRK has been in chronic noncompliance with the safeguards agreement since 1993, when the agency was unable to verify that North Korea had declared to the agency all the nuclear material that was subject to safeguards, and since 1994 North Korea has sought to, sought shelter behind the U.S. DPRK Agreed Framework claiming a legally untenable, unique status under the NPT to circumvent compliance with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

In short, he’s saying the U.S. intervened in 1994 to prevent us from enforcing the nuclear nonproliferation treaty obligations that North Korea claimed it would uphold. And we’ve been in a holding pattern nearly for eight years now. And we’re not going to accept this any longer. And he says that the board rejects this approach. He actually says that in his statement.

RAY SUAREZ: All right. Well, let’s say for a moment that’s the case. You’re working with a country that by ElBaradei’s statement today is not living up to previous agreements, but has also called sanctions an act of war.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: They did this in ’93. Essentially we understand how to deal with bullies that deal with our children. You have to be firm and not let them get their way simply because they threaten to do harm to your child. You have to go to the school, you have to stand behind your child, you have to do something. You don’t just simply say well whatever they want because they’re threatening.

KENNETH QUINONES: Well, briefly back tracking, the reason we engaged in negotiations with North Korea in 1993 is because of the United Nations Security Council resolution called all members. So we did that at the behest of the international community.

Next, I think if you review the IAEA annual reports on North Korea’s conduct under the Agreed Framework, the North Koreans were not in compliance with their safeguards agreement, however they were in compliance with the agreement they had with the United States, the Agreed Framework. That is definitely far better progress in that now we have no compliance with any international standards. The Agreed Framework essentially adopted international standards, brought the IAEA back into North Korea, and unfortunately we’ve backtracked now.

In terms of the bullying and so forth, yes, there’s no doubt about it, North Korea has relied continuously on a course of diplomacy, and they have yet to realize that’s not going to get them anywhere. But on the other hand, I think equally responding with a bullying rhetoric is definitely not going to achieve the desired result of a peaceful outcome.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: I think ElBaradei took the right approach, he said we need to get North Korea to comply, and we need to be willing to take enforcement actions if they don’t. And I really don’t think there’s much room for any other option. The other options we’ve tried for the last eight years, which is to wink and say eventually we’ll make you comply, but for the moment you don’t have to fully comply, and he’s saying enough of that.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me get your quick reactions to today’s testimony by CIA Director George Tenet to the effect that North Korea probably had two workable nuclear weapons and had a missile system, so far not field tested, that could reach the West Coast of the United States. Ken Quinones.

KENNETH QUINONES: First of all, I think we must realize, CIA assessment is always the worst case scenario, that’s their mandate. Secondly, the news did not surprise me in that I was involved in the initial assessment of the one or two nuclear weapons, national intelligence estimate, back in the early 1990s. That estimate has not changed. What Mr. Tenet said today essentially tracks with that estimate. In terms of missiles, same thing.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Yes. Well, it’s not news. I should add though that it’s not speculation that these estimates are based on but actually circumstantial evidence about movements of things, from one place to another. And second of all, it certainly tracks what other Asian intelligence agencies have been saying, they actually go up to as high as several more bombs than we estimate. So the red line of violation of the NPT has been crossed sometime ago. It’s now up to us to get them to comply and do what we can if they don’t.

RAY SUAREZ: But does the presence of these weapons give North Korea leverage that nobody wants to see them have, but now have you to deal with?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: We’ve been dealing with it by denial for about a decade. I think it’s time that we follow ElBaradei’s firm guidance that we have neutral approach with regard to violators in general, and take compliance seriously.

RAY SUAREZ: Henry Sokolski, Ken Quinones, thank you very much.