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North Korea Agrees to Abandon Nuclear Program

February 13, 2007 at 4:39 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Diplomats in Beijing broke into applause at today’s announcement of the latest accord with North Korea. In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also praised the deal, calling it the first step toward shutting down North Korea’s nuclear program for good.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: This implementing agreement has the advantage, first and foremost, of being multilateral. It has, as a part of it, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States, all countries that have the right set of incentives and disincentives at hand, not just to make a deal with North Korea, but to make sure that one sticks.

GWEN IFILL: Today’s deal was forged after talks among those five nations and North Korea almost broke down Sunday night. Under the accord, North Korea agreed to shut down, seal and eventually abandon its Yongbyon nuclear facility and open it to international inspectors.

The country in exchange would receive fuel oil and short-term humanitarian and energy aid and work toward the abandonment of its entire nuclear program.

Previous agreements have come close and fallen apart before. Pyongyang’s resistance to international pressure culminated in its first nuclear test last October. The United Nations Security Council condemned that test.

At the State Department today, Secretary Rice was asked if this latest agreement could be applied to future non-proliferation discussions with Iran.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Why shouldn’t it be seen as a message to Iran that the international community is able to bring together its resources, particularly when regionally affected states work together, and that the strong diplomacy and the cohesiveness of the five parties in the six-party talks has finally achieved results? I think that would be the message.

GWEN IFILL: The on-again, off-again negotiations with North Korea have continued for more than 12 years. In 1994, the Clinton administration negotiated directly with the North Koreans, coming to a similar quid pro quo agreement that eased sanctions for the first time since 1953.

In 2000, President Clinton’s top diplomat met in Pyongyang with President Kim Jong Il. But later that year, North Korea was once again threatening to restart its nuclear program and the deal collapsed.

President Bush took a tougher line when he took office. He spoke at a news conference with the president of South Korea soon afterwards.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Part of the problem with dealing with North Korea, there’s not very much transparency. We’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements.

And that’s part of the issue that the president and I discussed, is when you make an agreement with a country that is secretive, how do you — how are you aware as to whether or not they’re keeping the terms of the agreement?

GWEN IFILL: By 2002, President Bush had declared North Korea, along with Iran and Iran, as members of an “axis of evil.” In 2003, President Bush rejected direct negotiations in favor of six-party talks.

Those talks continued off and on, often without North Korea at the table, until last October when they unexpectedly returned. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations blasted today’s deal.

JOHN BOLTON, Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: I think the six-party talks have failed. I think the only solution is the enhanced isolation of North Korea, ultimately bringing the regime down, and peacefully reuniting the peninsula.

That’s the course I would advocate, not the illusion that the North Koreans are actually going to follow through on these commitments that they’ve supposedly made. They have no history of that. Their entire history is to the contrary.

GWEN IFILL: Officials from the six nations are scheduled to meet in March to discuss what happens next.

A 'good first step'

Robert Gallucci
Former State Department Official
We could, in fact, end this program, under the terms of this deal. And we can do it in the six-party context, which this administration has made a great deal of in the course of attempting to get a deal with North Korea.

So is this a breakthrough or not? For that, we get two views. Ambassador Robert Gallucci was the Clinton administration's top negotiator with North Korea in 1994. He's now the dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

Nicholas Eberstadt is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He's written extensively about North Korea. His latest book is "The North Korean Economy: Between Crisis and Catastrophe."

So, Mr. Eberstadt, let's start with you. Is this a good deal?

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT, American Enterprise Institute: This is substantially worse than the agreed framework.

When Bob and his colleagues were struggling to negotiate the agreed framework back in '93 and '94, there was a new and inexperienced president in office, at a time of calm after the end of the Cold War. The agreement attempted to freeze everything that we knew about the DPRK's nuclear activities and to probe their good faith.

Now we have a more experienced presidency, in a time that they say is a time of war, agreeing to a deal that only freezes part, at most, of North Korea's nuclear activities, for a much higher price than the earlier agreement, with a regime that we now know operates in bad faith on nuclear deals.

GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Gallucci, is this a worse deal than the one you worked out before?

ROBERT GALLUCCI, Georgetown University: It's so hard for me to argue with Nick when he's praising the agreed framework, but I'll force myself. It seems to me that you ought to take this deal at face value and not go back and forth and ask whether this is as good as the one in '94 or not.

The real issue is, is the national security served by a deal of the kind that's outlined? I want to emphasize the question outlined.

When the secretary of state spoke, she kept using a sports metaphor. She used it more than once, this is the first quarter. Well, it's the kick-off of the first quarter. That's all we have. We have the first step.

If you look at this outline, it could go in a very good direction. We could get all the plutonium that was produced and separated. We could get the uranium enrichment program, the secret program they haven't even admitted to having.

We could, in fact, end this program, under the terms of this deal. And we can do it in the six-party context, which this administration has made a great deal of in the course of attempting to get a deal with North Korea.

So this could be a very good deal. It's hard to know at this point. So what I would say, as we look at it, is good first step. Let's keep at it. It's a much better course we're on now than we've been on for the previous six years.

GWEN IFILL: Is the first step better than nothing?

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: Well, I guess we have to begin by talking about things like the shape of the table. The North Korean side doesn't even agree that the table is in the middle of the room. They insist that there is no uranium.

And if this seems fanciful to Bob and other people, we have to remember that they say that they're getting guidance from a president who's been dead for 13 years.

GWEN IFILL: So you don't think that anything in this deal that we've seen so far today would allow them as much as acknowledge what the problem is?

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: Well, we've got 60 days to see how this is handled. And if this uranium aspect is acknowledged, we're moving towards a recognition of mutual reality.

Using six-party talks

Nicholas Eberstadt
American Enterprise Institute
A bad deal with six parties is no better than a questionable deal with two parties. And some of the lessons that North Korea has been learning in this prolonged six-party discussion are hardly likely to make them want to comply.

GWEN IFILL: Well, I know you didn't want to compare this to 1994, but let me try just one time, but in this case this was a multilateral agreement, something which Secretary Rice emphasized. In your case, it was the U.S. negotiating directly with Pyongyang. Is this a better way to do it?

ROBERT GALLUCCI: I actually don't think the modality is all that important in one sense.

In one sense, while it was a direct negotiation between the United States and the North Koreans, the Japanese and the South Koreans were very close to us in the course of that negotiation. And we immediately established an organization called a Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization to implement the deal.

The new element really is China's active presence. And that has been helpful in bringing the North Koreans to the table.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask Mr. Eberstadt about China. Is China's presence so powerful that North Korea will be less likely to break the terms of this agreement?

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: A bad deal with six parties is no better than a questionable deal with two parties. And some of the lessons that North Korea has been learning in this prolonged six-party discussion are hardly likely to make them want to comply.

One of the things that North Korea has learned over the last three-and-a-half years is it doesn't have to show up at the table until people pay them kind of a pre-bonus for just showing up at the table. In the last couple of rounds, the news reports said that it was the Chinese and even the Russians who were paying bonuses to the North Korean side just to listen to the offers that we were going to be giving them.

This time, according to some of the news rumors, the United States has joined into the bonus pot by...

GWEN IFILL: In excess of the 50,000 tons of fuel oil?

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: Yes, in excess -- in opening, in unfreezing, or in helping to unfreeze frozen bank accounts in Macao to facilitate North Korea's showing up at this round of discussions.

GWEN IFILL: Is that what's happening, a pay-off just to get North Korea to talk?

ROBERT GALLUCCI: Gwen, I think if you stick to the rhetoric of this, if you ask, is this blackmail? Is this appeasement? Is this a reward for bad behavior? That kind of language is not going to, I think, lead us to a reasonable assessment of whether this is in the national security interest of this country.

I mean, look what we're dealing with here. We're talking about a nuclear weapons program in North Korea. They've detonated one nuclear device. They've tested missiles over the summer. They're producing fissile material, which could be transferred, if not stopped, to terrorists that can blow up an American city.

We're dealing with very serious stuff. I don't particularly want to get into the question of, "Well, is this a reward for bad behavior?" I actually don't care. I care about one thing only: Are we better off with this deal or worse off, in terms of our national security and that of our allies? That's the question.

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: But, Bob, the North Koreans don't operate in a historical vacuum, and neither should we. They've had three-and-a-half years of negotiations at the six-party talks where they have been learning that there are absolutely zero penalties for increasing the escalation.

If they have learned that there are no penalties under this sort of open-ended bidding, why shouldn't they continue with this program? Why shouldn't they ask for a new set of, you know, doubling and quadrupling the sorts of bonuses which are being offered in this?

ROBERT GALLUCCI: You know, I don't really know what's going to happen next. It is my view they cheated on the last deal.

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: Sure.

ROBERT GALLUCCI: I put that as a flat proposition. I don't know that they'll cheat again. I don't know exactly why they cheated before, but I'm not prepared to predict the future quite the way you are.

Raising red flags?

Nicholas Eberstadt
American Enterprise Institute
The North Korean economy is desperately dependent upon a constant stream of subsidies and concessions. And if penalties are given, as well as bonuses, I think we have a possibility for a much more positive outcome in this situation.

GWEN IFILL: Except that today we heard them say, according to Jim's reporting in the news summary, that the North Koreans said immediately this is a temporary suspension, not a shutdown of the nuclear reactor. Doesn't that start to raise questions, a red flag?

ROBERT GALLUCCI: Well, I think there are lots of questions and red flags. I mean, please don't misconstrue my enthusiasm for taking the first step with any confidence that we're going to go the whole game. It may not work; it just may not work.

But I don't know how you find out if you don't try. I mean, let's remember what's happened. We've had years of not doing this. We had a sanctions resolution. A sanctions resolution that produces what? Neither the Chinese nor the South Koreans will really stick it to the North Koreans.

If that's not going to happen, what instruments do we have to try to impact this program, to try to shut it down? This deal may not do it, but it may. I say go for it. Try it.

GWEN IFILL: Go ahead.

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: Usually coercive economic diplomacy, as I'm sure you teach at Georgetown, is famously unsuccessful in getting its results. But we don't have your average economy exposed to coercive or potentially coercive economic diplomacy here.

The North Korean economy is desperately dependent upon a constant stream of subsidies and concessions. And if penalties are given, as well as bonuses, I think we have a possibility for a much more positive outcome in this situation.

Sending a message to Iran

Robert Gallucci
Former State Department Official
I don't exactly know what the Iranians will learn. I'm not sure whether they're in the learning business right at this moment. But we have, in fact, proposed something, together with other countries, to the Iranians, and maybe we can get there.

GWEN IFILL: We heard Secretary Rice say today -- also, and we heard it in the piece -- that this is going to send a signal, a message to Iran that this is one potential way to go and that there is, I suppose, a reward if they were to come to the table, as well. Do you think that's translatable?

ROBERT GALLUCCI: Well, I always am skeptical of what some people say other countries will learn. That question was actually put to her the other way about. It was asked if the Iranians would learn from this, that bad behavior will be rewarded.

And she flipped the question, I think quite fairly, to say they might learn instead that a deal is possible. The international community will reward good behavior.

I don't exactly know what the Iranians will learn. I'm not sure whether they're in the learning business right at this moment. But we have, in fact, proposed something, together with other countries, to the Iranians, and maybe we can get there.

I actually agree with Nick that a combination of the prospect of sticks along with carrots is the way to go. And I think, maybe, if the North Koreans were to experiment here and go the wrong way, they might feel a little bit more of the stick than they have so far.

So I still say that, if you're asking the question right now, given where we are -- this agreement has just begun, just been signed -- you know, should we go with it and see whether it will work? I would argue yes.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Eberstadt, what about the Iran question? Is there a stick-and-carrot formulation that would work for them?

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: The Iranian government is surely watching and learning from the drama in North Korea, just as any other international actor would be. One of the things that I find most dismaying about the current drama unfolding in North Korea is the lack of credibility on the North Korean side of the negotiations.

The accord that Bob signed in 1994 had this co-signatory, Mr. Kang Suk-joo. Mr. Kang Suk-joo kicked off this round of the drama in 2002 by telling then-Assistant Secretary James Kelly that, in his view, the agreed framework was null and void.

I think you need a better class of negotiating partner if you're going to have...

ROBERT GALLUCCI: Wait, wait, wait. What happened, as I understand it, is that actually both sides were pulling back. Kang Suk-joo was responding to what Assistant Secretary Kelly said. And there's a question of whether he admitted to this or not.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask you this...

ROBERT GALLUCCI: Be careful with that one.

GWEN IFILL: ... this final question, which is -- you said you don't know what will happen. But what has to happen next for this to actually work?

ROBERT GALLUCCI: Well, I think Nick's quite right. There's a big thing on the table that's not on the table, and that's uranium enrichment program, which was the issue over which the agreed framework stumbled, from our perspective, in 2002.

So in this phase, as the requirement exists with the North Koreans to list their nuclear facilities, all of them, and to get into the question of where the plutonium is, it will be time for the North Koreans to come up with those centrifuge components.

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: The Bush administration is just about to do what it disparaged the Clinton administration for doing, namely kicking the can down the road to another presidency, to the next presidency. I hope the Clinton team will have the guts to take this deal of theirs to the Senate.

GWEN IFILL: The Bush team.

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: You said the Clinton team.

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: I'm sorry. Excuse me.

GWEN IFILL: That's OK.

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT: I hope that the Bush team will have the guts to take this in front of the Senate and have it voted on.

GWEN IFILL: OK. Nicholas Eberstadt and Robert Gallucci, thank you both very much.

ROBERT GALLUCCI: Thank you.