INSIDE NORTH KOREA
April 8, 1997
The North Korean government is actively seeking aid as it engages in diplomatic discussions on a broad range of issues with the U.S. and South Korea. Last week, North Korean officials met in the capital city, Pyongyang, with five U.S. Senators. Two of those Senators, Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, and Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, are with us now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Next, a look at hunger and diplomacy in North Korea.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This country of 24 million, off limits to most foreigners for decades, is beginning to open its doors now, partly because its people are hungry and desperately need food from abroad. Three years of rough weather, including hailstorms and widespread flooding, have left bridges and roads ruined and farmlands filled with debris and sand, this in a country where only 25 percent of the land is arable under the best of conditions. These pictures, themselves, are a result of North Korea's hunger. They were shot by representatives of humanitarian organizations who were allowed to document much of what they saw. Now, sometimes accompanied by brass bands for inspiration, crews of workers are attempting to clear rocks and repair the fields for a new season of planting. In the meantime, hungry North Koreans forage and then cook wild roots and leaves to supplement the minimal rations the government is able to give them. Catherine Bertini, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, spent three days in North Korea last month.
CATHERINE BERTINI, Director, U.N. World Food Program: The government provides a hundred grams of rice per person per day. This is 100 grams of rice. So this is the ration for each individual for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So far, there is not visible mass starvation, but children are showing the results of famine.
CATHERINE BERTINI: The children were small. I have to say every time we asked how old a child was, we were surprised at the answer, because if they said the child was eleven, she may have looked six. If they said that the child was six, they have looked two or three.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Food from abroad, including Australia and the United States, is trickling in. Even South Korea has agreed to send rice. But the World Food Program says more, much more, is needed and soon to avoid mass starvation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Korean government is actively seeking that aid as it engages in diplomatic discussions on a broad range of issues with the U.S. and South Korea. Last week, North Korean officials met in the capital city, Pyongyang, with five U.S. Senators. Two of those Senators are with us now. They are Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, and Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii. Thank you both for being with us. Sen. Domenici, not many Americans have been to North Korea. Let's start with some impressions. Tell us what you saw. What did it look like?
SEN. PETE DOMENICI, (R) New Mexico: Well, first, I'm very pleased to have--be on this program with Sen. Daniel Inouye. This visit was not a partisan visit, and there's nothing partisan that I can tell about what we're talking about. We were very lucky that they let us land in a very large American Air Force plane. And I guess what I would open up with is that the whole lifestyle that I could see and the environment indicated that they're living in a different reality than we are--huge boulevards with few or no cars, large buildings with dimmed lights, a few people around, even though it's supposedly a city of 2.2 million people, and a leadership group that insists on trying to impress you with showing you the glitz and glitter of some special hall that they've established to show you a big of Las Vegas in the midst of what is the most drab and upsetting environment that I have seen anywhere in the world, where young people and adults join in a river bottom, plucking from the water, which is filled with human sewage, plucking it and carrying it to the fields to fertilize it, while young people are paraded around in uniforms and apparatus to get ready for a day to honor their deceased great leader. In a sense, there is a great cult built around beatifying their leadership and making them godlike. It is a very risky and dangerous place because of the military that is involved in all of this mixture that I've just described.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Sen. Inouye, what kind of places did you visit? I read that you went to a collective farm and to a kindergarten. Tell us what you saw there.
SEN. DANIEL INOUYE, (D) Hawaii: Well, first of all, it should be noted that we were there for 24 hours, and every step of our journey was guided, and so we saw what they wanted us to see. At the kindergarten it was an eye opener for me. We had been prepared for just about everything we saw, but there we saw the effects of the government policy of requiring every family to send their children, when they reach the age of nine months, to this kindergarten. And they spend six days and six nights there per week. One day in the morning the parents can pick up the child but return the child twenty-four hours later. And there the child is fed, clothed, and I suppose educated. And we were entertained by a group of young two and a half, three year olds, and they were singing songs. But they were not songs about Jack and Jill going up the hill. They were songs in praise of Kim Il Sung and Kim Young Il. That's a different type of upbringing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The leaders of North Korea, one leader ho has died, and the one that's currently leading.
SEN. DANIEL INOUYE: The son. The other thing we noticed was the--was, for example, we didn't see dogs. In any city you will see dogs. We didn't see pigeons. And in this collective farm, which is the prize-winning farm, there were no pigs, no chickens, no ducks, no geese, no cattle, no goats.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you figure this is--is this a sign of hunger? These have all been killed and there aren't--there isn't land to feed or land available to feed the others, so there just aren't animals around? Is this the main sign of hunger you saw?
SEN. DANIEL INOUYE: You'll just have to guess at it. As far as the children, they all looked well fed and happy and the adults were well fed. There were no signs of distended bellies or people dying on the sidewalks, but I suppose as intelligence advised us, there were masses starving somewhere else.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sen. Domenici, let's talk about the--the agenda. What did you talk about? What was your agenda, and with whom did you talk?
SEN. PETE DOMENICI: Before I talk about that, let me tell you when we arrived and we were guests of the Swedish embassy, and they have an ambassador there who is almost like a prisoner, even though he's an ambassador, he can't leave without directions and specific permission from them, but they told us that the day before we arrived they had their own jets coming over the community at low altitudes because they were in a great mobilization. Now in the midst of starvation and dimmed buildings where the energy is in short supply, they were engaged in a military mobilization nationwide. Including in that were every vehicle that moved had to have a camouflage on it. And it looked like people weren't around because they must be in bomb shelters. And this whole process seems to many of us to be so ridiculous because we're on the side of the South, and we don't plan to invade them, and we told them that, and yet, they're wasting their valuable resources on what I perceive to be an effort on the part of the military to maintain the regime. We met with the first vice foreign minister and the vice foreign minister, and our whole purpose was to try to back our country's position that there should be no conditions preceded to them sitting down and negotiating to get rid of some of the hostile points and the points of controversy, and that it would be a four-country agreement between the South and the North of Korea, the United States and China. They kept trying to break us from that, and breaking us from our friends in the South, and we held steadfast, saying that they had to sit down and start talking about these things before the South Koreans were going to give them great food help for long-lasting periods, which is what they need.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Sen. Inouye, did you get the feeling that they want a lot of food help before they will sit down at these four-party talks, which, by the way, are aimed at getting a peace treaty, a final peace treaty to the Korean War, right, since there's just an armistice now, a temporary, long-lasting but temporary armistice?
SEN. DANIEL INOUYE: I think it's noteworthy that we're dealing with people who have great pride but yet, they're willing to tell us from the moment we landed that they needed food, which, to me, would indicate that the problem is rather desperate. But I think you should note that while people are starving and the situation is desperate, they maintain an army which is fourth largest in the world, with hundreds upon hundreds of long-range artillery pieces aimed directly at Seoul, so what I'm trying to suggest is that here we have a recipe for disaster.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What did they say about that when you raised that question? Did they say we have to have this army because we're afraid of being invaded or what?
SEN. DANIEL INOUYE: Well, they are suspicious of everything. For example, there were five of us. They could have put us in one guest house. But they put us in separate guest houses. They didn't want us to sit together. We could have gone on the bus on our journey there, but, no, they put us in five separate Mercedes Benzes. It just didn't make sense, and whenever we visited any location, there were no people because they made certain that we had absolutely no contact with unauthorized personnel. Even the waiters at the banquet would not talk to us.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sen. Domenici, do you get the feeling that this broad range of diplomatic matters that are currently being debated--apparently there are talks about the four-party peace talks; there are talks going on and continual arrangements for getting rid of their plutonium processing and moving forward on that.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI: Right.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you get the feeling that's all going to move forward? Do you think that's underway and that the obstacles are not too great right now?
SEN. PETE DOMENICI: Look! I think everybody should know the Republic of Korea, that is, the South Koreans, have a great military and we have 37,000 men, that's no secret, men and women, and tanks and everything, up there to make sure that the North Koreans understand that they're not going to win a war there. Our generals and our admirals tell us they could inflict great death on Seoul and great damage, but they will be destroyed in the North. Our only hope is that they understand this. And the more we tell them and the more they spy, the better it is because we hope they understand that they can't win this. There's indications that they may be thinking of that, but, frankly, I don't believe they're open enough to the world.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And those indications were--
SEN. PETE DOMENICI: The indications that they're aware of this was that they talked about mobilizing against invasion from the South, not talking about how they might invade the--how they might invade the South from the North. But essentially, this is probably the flashpoint of potential war in the world because they're only 26 miles from an 11 million population city that is modern and new, and they've got to preserve a regime that is in desperate state of repair, and what will they do internally to support it? That's a real, real risk.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Senators, thanks. Sorry, that's all the time we have. Thank you very much.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI: Thank you.
SEN. DANIEL INOUYE: Thank you.