AUGUST 27, 1997
A day after the State Department announced that the U.S. was sheltering two top North Koreans who defected, the communist nation announced it would not attend missile proliferation talks scheduled to start. Charles Krause explores the possible impact of this diplomatic struggle with two experts.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: First tonight, North Korea responds to the defection of two of its diplomats to the United States. Charles Krause has the story.
August 26, 1997:
Two non-profit groups discuss their efforts to end the severe famine in North Korea.
August 5, 1997:
International hunger organizations mobilize to help North Korea with itssevere famine .
July 1, 1997:
Journalist Mary Jordan discusses the struggles in Korea.
June 11, 1997:
A report on the crisis situation in North Korea.
April 8, 1997:
Two Senators report on the state of the food crisis in North Korea after returning from the region.
February 11, 1997:
The former U.S. ambassador to South Korea discusses the recent labor unrest there and the famine in North Korea.
December 31, 1996
Charles Krause leads a discussion with two experts on recent tensions between North and South Korea.
November 29, 1996
Rep. Bill Richardson (D-NM) brought home an American man who was being held in North Korea.
May 21, 1996
Facing the real possibility of famine, North Korea's government has allowed United Nations relief officials into what are normally closed borders.
April 15, 1996
President Clinton's spring Asia tour included a visit to South Korea.
December 29, 1995
High level Corruption arrests in South Korea's government.
View the NewsHour's coverage of Asia.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The two defectors are Chang Sung Gil, who was North Korea's ambassador to Egypt and his brother, Chang Sung Ho, who was a North Korea trade counselor based in Paris. Yesterday, the State Department confirmed that the two brothers had defected to the United States and had been granted temporary asylum.
Late last night North Korea's Communist government responded by suspending talks scheduled for today in New York on arms proliferation. Today the State Department said it hopes North Korea will change its mind. Joining us now to discuss this latest turn of events is Han Park, director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia, and James Lilley, a former CIA official, who served as U.S. Ambassador to South Korea from 1986 to 1989. He's now the director of the Institute for Global Chinese Affairs at the University of Maryland. Gentlemen, welcome. Mr. Ambassador, tell me, there have been reports that these two defectors are likely to be of great interest to U.S. intelligence. How important are they?
JAMES LILLEY, Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea: I don't think we know yet. Right now, we're going through the preliminary process of debriefing and authentication. And this means getting them off, testing them, cross-checking them, seeing if their information is good, what their access is. Did this vice foreign minister and ambassador to the key post in Egypt really have access to the secret arms shipments? Does he know about their plans toward South Korea? Does he know what the military is up to? Does he know about the power structure? These have to be determined. We don't know this yet.
Criminals or political refugees?
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Park, how embarrassing or how damaging are these defections for the regime in North Korea?
HAN PARK, University of Georgia: I think it would be very damaging. Following the defection by party Secretary Huang Jan Yup some six months ago, this kind of defection is very damaging because North Korea is alleging that these diplomats are criminals who have committed crimes prior to their defection, and the United States, in effect, has to their mind provided protection and an asylum to criminals. So this is not only embarrassment on the part of the government outside but within the country, once they decided these two diplomats were criminals they have to follow through their process, whatever legal process they may have, otherwise, as they put it, a great insult on the system.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What is your evaluation of these charges? In other words, do you think that this business about them being criminals has some validity, or is it simply a kind of character assassination after the fact?
HAN PARK: I think it would be very hard. At this point no one knows for sure. But psychologically it seems to me that North Koreans will not have a whole lot of incentives in making up such false stories when they need clearly food aid and improvement of relations with the United States. So this kind of statement will only hurt their hungry stomachs. So making other stories like this is very unlikely--in view of the fact that when Huang Jan Yup defected, they tried to put it on the back burner, and very low key, and they did not respond any--with any policy measures. So I think there might be some validity behind this story, given the psychology of North Koreans.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Amb. Lilley, what's your take on that?
JAMES LILLEY: I don't think Dr. Park has it right at all. It's a very standard procedure for the North Koreans immediately to try to discredit any defector. In this particular case, they don't know what this man knows. It is their objective when they went into these talks to delay them. And what they looked for is a pretext to delay them. And they tried to set up a situation where they can demand further concessions for us because the claim is that we had insulted us--them by harboring a criminal. They say that for a purpose. They try to put us on the defensive. So if you want us to come back into talks that we don't want to go back into, you have to give us a concession. They do the same thing with President Kim Young Sam, as Dr. Park knows very well. We will not enter into North-South dialogue because three and a half years ago President Kim Young Sam said something derogatory about our great leader Kim Il Sung. They didn't want to go into the talks anyway. This is a standard technique they've used, as Dr. Park knows very well, for 46 years.
HAN PARK: Except the fact that North Korea right now needs massive amount of food aid, and they know that the United States has the key to the alleviation of their food crisis.
JAMES LILLEY: I don't think you're right on that one either because the Chinese have the key. The Chinese have given them one million tons last year, which is five, ten times as much as anybody else. The key lies in China. You know that.
HAN PARK: Well, the--I think it's proper thing that the United States should have done--and that is at least to look into these charges. I don't know. In fact, these crimes prior to the defection, or afterwards they made up the story. I think that's something that we have to investigate very carefully. As far as the importance of the United States and North Korea, in the short run, as well as in the long run. I think China is not nearly as important as it used to be during the Cold War era, for North Korea development in reaching out. I think there are many countries that will follow the course of America, the leadership of America, Japan and other Western European countries, whereas, China is sort of isolated as North Korean ally, if you will.
Was suspending the talks a surprise?
CHARLES KRAUSE: All right. Ambassador, Mr. Ambassador, changing--turning a bit here, were you as surprised as the administration apparently was about the fact--the strong reaction of suspending the talks that were scheduled for today?
JAMES LILLEY: I think it's absolutely predictable; they were going to do this. And I said this publicly yesterday; that they would have to cancel the talks; that we had a tremendous advantage of getting this defector in, they don't know what he knows, they don't know what he's told us. What they try to do is to blame it on us, as Dr. Park says; it's our fault, because we take a criminal; therefore, we owe them something. We have to give them something to come back into the talks. They've been doing this for 46 years, and I know that Dr. Park knows perfectly well that the Chinese are the ones that are keeping this regime afloat.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Was it wise, though, for the United States, given what you've said, to have accepted? I mean, the United States did have an option of not accepting these two brothers as defectors.
JAMES LILLEY: Oh, I don't think we had any option on that one at all. I think if these people walked into us, we'd take them, and we wouldn't even think of ever turning them back involuntarily to the North. As Dr. Park, again, knows, when the Chinese have turned back over the Yellow River, they watched them being strangled in North Korea; they let them watch. You don't send them back there. And it seems to me that the key to the food situation is $300 million they spent on monuments since 1994; 25 percent of their GNP into their military. If they took 10 percent of their military and they took the money on the monuments and the Japanese remittances, they could feed their population. They don't do it. They put their money into their military and they get the money from us to feed their starving children who they are starving to feed their military.
HAN PARK: Amb. Lilley, I understand your point very well. Now, we try to--if we are going to open a dialogue with the North Koreans, we try to empathize their situation--it's not necessarily we agree with them. Their political situation is in a shambles. They lost all their allies and now they have to restore the economy from the beginning.
For how long will U.S.-North Korean relations be strained?
CHARLES KRAUSE: Dr. Park, just briefly--quickly rather--and very briefly--do you see this as a permanent disruption of the process of some sort rapprochement between the United States and North Korea? How serious is this?
HAN PARK: I don't think this is going to be very permanent. I agree with Amb. Lilley that North Korea needs some--any kind of leverage, any kind of reasons with which to negotiate more effectively for their food situation, but they will try. But, as I said, they need most of all improving relations with the United States. And this will not--they cannot afford allowing this to be in the way permanently.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Ambassador, very quickly, temporary disruption or permanent problem?
JAMES LILLEY: Temporary disruption, a tactical move, as Dr. Park says, to get bargaining leverage.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Thank you both. Thank you both very much.