North Korea Nuclear Threat
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GWEN IFILL: For more on the Bush administration’s policy toward North Korea, we get two views. Chuck Downs was deputy director of the Pentagon’s Asia policy office from 1991 to 1996. He is the author of Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy. And Kenneth Quinones was the State Department’s North Korean affairs officer from 1992 to 1994, and he was part of the team that negotiated the 1994 nonproliferation agreement. He is now director of Korea program at the International Center, a Washington research organization.
Chuck Downs, we heard Secretary Powell say over and over again yesterday that this is not a crisis. Isn’t it?
CHUCK DOWNS: I think that he’s right to say that it’s not a crisis for the United States. There are a number of ways to send a strong signal, and when you’re dealing with someone like Kim Jong-Il you have to send a strong signal and one of the ways is to say that you’re not going to let him determine what is a crisis. There’s no doubt that Kim Jong-Il wants the rest of the world to think there’s a crisis and is one that we have to negotiate a way and find a gift to give him so that he will stop making the crisis. But the real crisis is for the people of North Korea and including the ruling elite who have to deal with Kim Jong-Il as their leader.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Quinones, is it a crisis or not?
KENNETH QUINONES: No, I don’t think we’re at a crisis. I agree with the Secretary of State in that regard. But I think unfortunately saying that does not move us any further away from a crisis. I think it’s very clear we are moving in that direction, that the Bush administration’s hesitancy to engage North Korea in negotiations not just dialogue, either direct or indirect, that that’s driving this crisis. It’s allowing the North Koreans to take the initiative.
GWEN IFILL: Do you think the North Koreans, as Chuck Downs just said, setting the definition, making this a crisis when in fact it ordinarily wouldn’t be one?
KENNETH QUINONES: I think already the Bush administration during this policy review set that agenda. Beginning at the Bush administration in 2001, the Bush administration said they would not negotiate with the North Koreans until they had reviewed their policy. That created impatience in Pyongyang; that policy persisted well into the summer of this year, when secretary of state backed away from negotiations set up for preconditions for negotiations. We then shifted from engagement in rhetoric back and forth posturing about possible negotiations, to now confrontation.
CHUCK DOWNS: That really can’t go unchallenged. The Bush administration is not the source of this problem, the government of North Korea is, and Kim Jong-Il is calling the shots. He is the one who decided to violate the agreed framework that the Clinton administration negotiated. He’s the one who has put their military resources into the enriched uranium program; he’s the one that’s trying to make nuclear weapons. None of that is a response to anything that the Bush administration has done. It is all action taken by North Korea for North Korea’s own objectives.
GWEN IFILL: Why not negotiation then, Mr. Downs?
CHUCK DOWNS: Negotiation is being defined by the administration as sitting down and working out a compromise, somehow between North Korean behavior and what the rest of the world can give North Korea to change its behavior. I think the Bush administration is right in saying that instead of negotiation, we will talk, we will have dialogue, Ken Quinones pointed out that there is a difference and the administration is trying to make a distinction between talking and negotiation. There is a difference and it matters. Talk to them, communicate with them, send emissaries, but do not sit down and negotiate a resolution of this issue that North Korea all by itself has decided to stage.
GWEN IFILL: Whether this is considered to be technically sitting down at a table and negotiation with papers passed back and forth or whenever is just talking, at what point does this kind of diplomacy begin to smell like appeasement?
KENNETH QUINONES: I think the whole question of appeasement and so forth falls out of the picture when we sit down and decide what are our national priorities. Are they to resolve this situation before it does become a crisis? Are we going to use all our diplomatic means as the secretary of state said? Or are we going to continue in the current mode of finger pointing, who hit who first and so forth?
GWEN IFILL: What do you think it should be?
KENNETH QUINONES: I think we need to get out of that mode and sit down and say okay, North Korea, if you want to negotiate you have to let the IAEA back in, after you measured up to certain standards of international conduct, we’ll negotiate with you. But to stand off and say we won’t negotiate and so forth is not going to move us in the direction we want.
GWEN IFILL: Chuck Downs, in the array of things that the United States has to choose from in trying to find a way to broker this crisis, whatever word you choose to describe the wrong brokering, should military options be on the table?
CHUCK DOWNS: I think that Secretary Powell said it correctly, the military option is never really off the table. We have capabilities, and we can exercise them, but there are a number of things that should be done first. One of the things that we ought to look at is tapping into Kim Jong-Il’s overseas bank accounts. While his people starve, he has taken $4.3 billion of North Korean resources and put it in banks in Geneva and other places, he has seven villas around the world, he has a villa on Lake Geneva where his son was educated secretly about 20 years ago. The amount of financial resources available to this regime while it begs to be poor and claims to be poor is just absurd.
GWEN IFILL: But before we go onto the economic pressure, do you think that Secretary Rumsfeld was incorrect in suggesting that military options might be on the table?
CHUCK DOWNS: I think it’s extremely important for everyone around the world to realize including in South Korea and Japan, the United States can handle two crises at one time. And I think that we have the capabilities — that we are prepared to engage in the way that handles this appropriately.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Quinones, does the economic pressure of the sanctions, pursuing Kim Jong-Il’s personal accounts, Mr. Downs was just alluding to, is that the first thing we should be doing?
KENNETH QUINONES: No, I don’t think so. I think for 50 years economic sanctions failed. Essentially they became a crutch for this Kim Jong-Il regime and his father’s regime to justify the conduct they’re pursuing now. Economic sanctions would also only most likely generate some support and sympathy from Beijing and possibly Moscow. I don’t think that’s the direction we need to go in. You’re not going to squeeze this regime into submission. Trying to do that only plays into the hands of the hard liners of Pyongyang who are using our words and strategy to strengthen their claim that the United States is strangling them.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Downs?
CHUCK DOWNS: There are limits to economic sanctions, without a doubt, because the economy of North Korea is in such bad shape after 50 years of their brand of socialism, that it’s hard to actually have an impact that makes it any worse.
But the economy of Kim Jong-Il himself is a far different thing. I was talking about investigating and maybe attaching his own personal assets. The 4 billion plus that he has in overseas banks, that have been created by slave labor in North Korea, that benefits only Kim Jong-Il. And we ought to try to come up with a policy that focuses specifically on him, that makes him accountable, and that sends him a clear message that his own personal destiny is connected to the actions that he has forced this government to take.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Quinones, he just alluded to our relationships with allies who have relationships with North Korea, Japan among them, China among them, South Korea which has its own specific concerns, including its sunshine policy. How can the United States negotiate that tricky path in using these allies to get to North Korea, or should it?
KENNETH QUINONES: Well, I do think it’s very important that the United States refine its multilateral approach to this situation. I think we’re beginning to see the preliminary indications of that with the United States turning to the International Atomic Energy Agency and urging that body to report to the U.N. Security Council about North Korea’s gross misbehavior and so forth.
Simultaneously, I think it’s imperative that Jim Kelly when he goes to East Asia will coordinate closely with Tokyo and Seoul in their approaches to Beijing. And simultaneously attempt to set up a situation whereby international pressure developed in the United Nations focuses increasingly on Pyongyang and Washington, while simultaneously Beijing puts pressure on Pyongyang. Both sides, Washington and Pyongyang gradually then might be moved toward the negotiating table and away from the crisis.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Downs, what is your take on that?
CHUCK DOWNS: Kim Jong-Il sits back and laughs in his seven-story pleasure palace, when he hears Western analysts talk about the niceties of multilateral politics. The fact is that in order to deter a guy like Kim Jong-Il, you have to develop a three-pronged approach. There are things that the United States can do unilaterally and we have to figure out what they are and take them very seriously.
GWEN IFILL: What would you suggest?
CHUCK DOWNS: I’d like to finish the framework first if I could. There are things we could do with South Korea and we always should try to and things we can do with the rest of the world, but not South Korea. And I think that on all of this we should focus on the multilateral aspects now, including going through the process with the IAEA, they’re going to meet on January 6, they will have to report to the United Nations Security Council whether or not North Korea is in actual violation, and almost certainly they will report that North Korea is in violation, that triggers a number of steps that we should pursue.
But in order to get through to Kim Jong-Il himself, we’re going to have to take actions and we may have to do them on our own initiative as a world power. This is a situation that goes beyond the question of security just on the Korean Peninsula. It’s international security and U.S. global responsibilities. And in that case, what I would like to do is have the U.S. focus on things that we can do to look at how Kim Jong-Il spends money even while the rest of the world thinks his people are hungry and starving.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Quinones what do you think the U.S. should do?
KENNETH QUINONES: I think the first thing we have to do is not make Kim Jong-Il a hero in his own military’s eyes, and this process of focusing in on his assets of personalizing it, saying it’s time for regime change and so forth accomplishes exactly that. I think what we have to do is lower our rhetoric, and we’re already seen the administration take steps to do that, and then simultaneously begin to work with our allies in coordinating the approach. If we’re going to send a clear message, the message has to be we don’t want a crisis, we want to negotiate a diplomatic resolution to this.
GWEN IFILL: We have to leave it there for tonight. Kenneth Quinones and Chuck Downs, thank you very much.