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Going Nuclear

October 17, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Now we get three views on North Korea. James Lilley was ambassador to South Korea during the Reagan Administration, and Assistant Secretary of Defense during the first Bush Administration. Selig Harrison is the director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy, a Washington, D.C. research organization. He’s just written a book on Korean unification. And David Albright is a physicist and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington, D.C., think tank. He is a former U.N. nuclear inspector.

And, David Albright, what did the Koreans promise that they wouldn’t do or say in 1994 they wouldn’t do that they turn out to have done, had developed?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: I think there was certainly an expectation that North Korea would not develop a uranium enrichment facility. I mean, it’s unclear if they understand how the West perceived that their commitment was meant to be very deep and strong. But I think if they haven’t violated the agreement itself, they’ve certainly violated the spirit and that they’ve created a program that could bring down everything that’s been accomplished in the agreed framework.

RAY SUAREZ: What is a uranium enrichment facility?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: Well, what apparently North Korea is building is a facility that would use gas centrifuges that would highly enriched uranium. North Korea is very adept at making nuclear weapons. And once it had highly-enriched uranium you would have to assume that they could put them into war heads that could probably be fitted on missiles. So it’s a very dangerous development.

RAY SUAREZ: Is this dual-use technology that North Korea could have tried to use under the guise of power production, let’s say?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: Certainly they may claim that; they may claim that they’re building a uranium enrichment plant to produce low enriched uranium for fuel and research reactors. They could even claim it’s for the light water reactors they’re planning to get. But these aren’t very credible claims because it’s not a very large facility. It’s not going to make enough enriched uranium to matter. And they’re doing it in secret. They were caught. They intended to continue doing this in secret. And that’s not the attribute of a civil program.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Lilley, is this a breach of the 1994 protocols without question; and if so, how serious a breach?

JAMES LILLEY: Well, I think first of all, the 1992 nuclear agreement between North and South Korea specifically ruled out uranium enrichment and North Korea signed on to that. In the agreed framework of 1994, both sides agreed to honor the 1992 agreement. So, it looks to me as though they have violated this commitment they made. So I think they’ve got a case to make on this one, but I’d like to stress too– and this subject has come up many times– is that Korea is quite different from Iraq in the way you deal with them. I think we have the same strategic objectives to get rid of weapons of mass destruction, but you’ve got to use very different techniques. It’s not a double standard.

In Iraq you have a combination of U.N. inspections getting tougher with backing up by military force. In North Korea, there’s no military option. You aren’t going to use military forces against North Korea. The President has said that. What you have is tremendous economic leverage. Right now you’ve got to mobilize that. Jim Kelly, our assistant secretary, is in Beijing today. John Bolton is going to Moscow. We have a strong team in Tokyo. We’re talking to all our allies to somehow mobilize our economic leverage because that is the Achilles heel of the North Koreans. They need it very badly. And I think we can use that in order to get some sort of movement in a genuine verified way on these new programs.

RAY SUAREZ: Selig Harrison, same question: Is this a breach of 1994 agreement and if so how important?

SELIG HARRISON: Well it’s certainly incompatible with the spirit of the agreement, which did not specifically rule out what they are doing. It was very sharply focused on certain reactors they had at that time and they refused to accept provisions that would have given us the right to inspect beyond that. Now, it was expected by them– it’s in the agreement– that the basic purpose of it was to go to… on to the full normalization of relations. They thought, this is an unusual thing for a country to do. We’re showing we’re friends, so the reason they did it was because they thought they were going to get the normalization of relations.

Of course they haven’t got that. Now they are bargaining. I’ve been talking to them in the last couple of days. Their version of what happened in Pyongyang is they said to Mr. Kelly, look, we are willing to negotiate and end to our nuclear program and we’re willing to let you have the kind of inspections you want to verify that it’s okay, but you have to do two things: First, you have to pledge that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against North Korea. And, second, you have to fulfill your commitment to the normalization of relations including economic relations, which means aid.

Now, basically what they think is that we have not lived up to our part of the 1994 agreement. The key thing on their side from their point of view is Article III, Section 1 which said that the United States pledges… the U.S. will provide formal assurances against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the United States to North Korea. We haven’t done that. And now comes the Bush Administration on September 20 with a new national security doctrine in which we explicitly say that we reserve the right to take pre-emptive military action against countries we consider a threat to the peace… potential threat to the peace, which of course to them means North Korea is included.

RAY SUAREZ: We’ll get to preemption.

SELIG HARRISON: This is the essence of the whole thing because this is their answer to the September 20 statement by the United States.

RAY SUAREZ: What about Ambassador Lilley’s point that they were in violation from the moment they began to move on this program because of the 1992 assurance they gave the world by signing the non-proliferation treaty that they would not go down this road toward enriched uranium?

SELIG HARRISON: I think he’s right. I think that this is a violation of the agreement with South Korea. If it is clearly… if they were to actually produce fissile material. So far what they’ve said is they have a program, we’re creating… we’re reserving our nuclear option to deter you until you tell us you’re not going to use nuclear weapons against us. We don’t know yet whether they have… the administration hasn’t said if they have any evidence and they haven’t admitted that they actually have produced fissile material with this uranium enrichment program.

RAY SUAREZ: So are both sides in breach, Mr. Lilley?

JAMES LILLEY: No, I think we started dealing with them diplomatically very early in 1994. We had a man picked out to go to Pyongyang. He was ready to go. It stumbled basically what I heard on the inability of the North Koreans to finance an embassy in Washington. And they said we can handle it through our delegation in the U.N., so the whole pressure to normalize was not there. We’re ready to go. We indicated that.

But I’d like to make one point very clear. If you look at the North-South agreement, it specifically rules out enriched uranium by using exactly that phrase. So it didn’t talk about fissile material. That was ruled out. That was reaffirmed in the 1994 agreed framework. So I don’t think they can circumvent that.

RAY SUAREZ: But what about the Selig Harrison’s point that the United States hasn’t kept its end of the bargain? We noted in our opening report that it hasn’t supplied the light water reactors and Selig Harrison mentioned the normalization hasn’t proceeded.

JAMES LILLEY: The normalization.

SELIG HARRISON: In Article II, Section 1.

JAMES LILLEY: They had been the ones that stopped the normalization from happening. Getting to the situation where the North Koreans are in violation, they are by word. I think again they are moving in the direction of establishing– I agree with Selig on this– a bargaining position.

They realize the tremendous leverage we have over them in terms of economic pressure. In fact, I hear today we’ve said we’re going to cut back immediately on the 500,000 tons of heavy oil. We have… I was told by the State Department today, we have actually met, largely met, our commitments of heavy oil. They’ve been up there. We’ve given it to them. They have acted saying diplomacy in other ways but I think the United States has a clear record on the diplomatic recognition.

I think we have delivered on the 500,000 ton of heavy oil against terrific resistance from Congress and others and we have said the agreed framework, we are going to continue it. They are the ones that have violated it. Finally, in order to get the nuclear equipment into those… into the places where they’ve dug out, they have to agree to inspections. And they have solidly said absolutely not.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me go back to David Albright because one of the ways nations use to read intent is by following technology. What can North Korea say in its own defense regarding its own program? And can it say that because it didn’t get the technology transfers it was promised in 1994 to sort of bribe it away from nuclearization that it had to proceed on its own?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: No. They can’t. I mean, they have to come into compliance, and that means inspections before they get this light water reactor component or components. And they haven’t done that. I mean, there has been a concerted effort that they allow the inspectors in early because this agreed framework was never intended to take 20 years. I mean, people envisioned that it would almost be over by now and inspections would have started two or three years ago and been finished by now. And so it’s gone on a long time and I think the Bush Administration has been right to try to press North Korea to allow the inspectors in early and get that process rolling. And I think North Korea can deny the inspectors access until the scheduled time in the agreed framework, which is still two or three years away.

RAY SUAREZ: And light water, those were promised so that they would have a source of electricity that doesn’t produce as a by-product weaponable materials?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: It was meant to be comparable in the sense that they gave up nuclear reactors, they’d get nuclear reactors, the new ones would be more proliferation resistant and they promised they would not build plutonium separation plants because you need to separate the plutonium before you can use it in a weapon. So it was a deal that always made people uncomfortable but if North Korea accepted inspections, demonstrated its good faith, its willingness to comply and developed a history of compliance, then there would be a comfort level with those light water reactors. I mean, they’re being put into Iraq. They’re being put into a lot of places where they’re dangerous regions but we can live with that.

SELIG HARRISON: I agree with David. They’ve got to comply with the commitments they made in the 1994 agreement for inspections. But the point is that they’re willing to do that, if we are willing to do some things on our side, which is namely fulfill Article III, Section 1 of this agreement and pledge not to use nuclear weapons against them. As long as we retain the right of preemption, nothing can be resolved with North Korea. You can’t say you’re going to reserve the right of a preemptive strike but you guys can’t try to deter us.

RAY SUAREZ: Where does this leave South Korea and Japan?

JAMES LILLEY: Well I think first of all we’ve got to get together with South Korea and Japan and hopefully China and Russia to develop a concerted, coordinated program, to use our leverage to get the North Koreans to move away. The Chinese don’t want nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. They’ve also had a real fight with the North Koreans over this so-called free economic zone. The Koreans picked a Chinese billionaire to come in there and run it and the Chinese promptly put him under house arrest. They were very disturbed because the North Koreans did this without telling them. They have a way of doing that.

So it seems to me the time is fairly ripe for us to pull our — coordinate our activities – and we’re doing it right at this moment, to use the tremendous leverage we have on this broken-down, starved country to get them to respond to the kind of aid we give them, not unconditional food aid but ways to reform their agriculture, fertilizer instead of grain, irrigation, reforestation, decollectization.

This sort of thing is the step they should make. The Chinese and us I think can work together on this to push them in that direction of economic reform and to work with their weapons of mass destruction and try to seal their proliferation. People go back to the missile deal that Clinton almost got through. We looked at that deal. It was not a good deal. It was essentially a lot of money if they’d stop selling these missiles. We are moving away from… we will… if you behave well, we will reward you. Now we’re saying if you miss behave we will take things away from you, which is a much more balanced way of dealing with them and much more effective.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, gentlemen, thanks a lot.