KIM'S NUCLEAR GAMBLE
Written, Produced and Reported by Martin Smith
Coproduced and Directed by Marcela Gaviria
ANNOUNCER: North Korea's nuclear ambitions are now
GEORGE W. BUSH: We now know that that regime was
deceiving the world and developing those weapons all along.
GALLUCCI, Asst Secretary of State, 1992-01: Day after day,
the North Koreans turn up the heat another notch.
ANNOUNCER: North Korea says that it needs nuclear
bombs to defend itself against an American attack. President Bush has drawn the line.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Today the North Korean regime is using
its nuclear program to incite fear and seek concessions. America and the world will not be
ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State, 1997-00: This administration has dug its heels
in and said anything that we do vis-a-vis North Korea is appeasement. Once you define it that way, it's very hard to un-paint yourself.
PERLE, US Defense Policy Board: It was pretty clear that we were being
blackmailed. I don't believe that we ought to pay the North
Koreans to get them to sit down.
ANNOUNCER: While the United States debates how and
when to talk to North Korea, FRONTLINE investigates Kim Jong Il's
PERRY, Secretary of Defense, 1994-97: We have months, not years, to resolve
this problem before it reaches a point of no return.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, Kim's Nuclear
NARRATOR: The Cold War ended 14 years ago, but it
seems no one told the North Koreans.
The capital, Pyongyang, remains their version of a utopian socialist
showcase. Its murals and monuments
celebrate the victory of the working class, its wide streets and apartment
towers the products of central planning.
Underground, party workers ride to work on gleaming subway trains.
But Pyongyang is an illusion. Most of North Korea is impoverished, if not famished. Foreign aid workers estimate that as
many as two million people might have died of starvation between 1994 and
1998. Others, especially children,
are malnourished. North Korea is
anything but a socialist paradise.
ASHTON CARTER, Asst Secretary of Defense, 1993-96:
There's no question that it's a very strange place. It is heartbreaking what the situation
of children and old people is. And
therefore, one has to realize that you're dealing with about the most dangerous
situation you can imagine, of isolated, repressive government and a people that
have suffered in unimaginable ways.
History, human nature, would tell you they can't go on like this
And while that's true, the North Koreans see themselves as a
miniature Soviet Union arrayed against a hostile world. The paramount objective of the North
Korean regime is survival of itself.
NARRATOR: The man who built North Korea is the
late Kim Il Sung. In spite of the
country's hard times, he is still revered here as a kind of deity, a great
leader who has miraculously defended his tiny nation against much larger, more
powerful enemies. With Russian
backing, he fought off Japanese occupation in the '40s. After partition of Korea following
World War II, he led a war of aggression against South Korea and the United
States in the '50s, the Korean war.
After a million dead, including 35,000 Americans, a ceasefire was
called, but no surrender. The
country remained divided and officially still at war. Kim stayed in power in communist North Korea. He built a society that worshiped him
as the nation's sole savior.
Kim Il Sung! Kim Il Sung!
JAMES LILLEY, US Ambassador to China, 1989-91: It's
almost superhuman, what this man was.
He was a god-king. And it's
the cult of personality that was built around Chairman Mao in China in
spades. It has the elements of
Nuremberg in 1936, with goose-stepping troops going down there. It's a powerful image that you
get. You take the cult of
personality, you take Nuremberg, and then you add, as many say, the touch of 1984,
NARRATOR: Since the Korean war, the United States
has often come into conflict with this small, belligerent nation. But understanding North Korea's
intentions has always been difficult.
DONALD GREGG, CIA 1951-82: I refer to North Korea as
the longest-running intelligence failure in U.S. espionage.
NARRATOR: Donald Gregg spent 14 years in
northeast Asia, trying to recruit undercover operatives to work inside North
DONALD GREGG: They were very difficult to recruit, I
think the reason being that they came from a country that had a tradition of
being the "hermit kingdom," trying to shut out the incursions of
foreigners. They came from a
Confucian tradition, very tight family structure. And then there was the overlay of self-reliance and the
overlay of the particularly virulent kind of Marxism which had been adopted in
the north. And they were just
extremely difficult to get at.
And then there was the very difficult problem was if you did
get one to agree to help, it was almost impossible to do anything with him once
he returned to North Korea.
NARRATOR: As a result, the U.S. has relied almost
entirely on satellite photos. The
current conflict with North Korea began in 1989, when one photo showed new
construction at a nuclear complex near the town of Yongbyon. Some American intelligence analysts
suspected the North Koreans were in the early stages of building an atomic
At the time, the Cold War was ending and North Korea was
losing the security guarantees and
economic support from the Soviet Union that had sustained it for 45 years. Kim Il Sung was considering his
MARTIN SMITH, FRONTLINE Correspondent: What
did the North Koreans want?
CHARLES KARTMAN, State Department, 1975-01: We
didn't know, at the time. We
thought they wanted nuclear weapons.
And as we got into negotiations with them, we came to understand that
they were willing to consider other routes to improving their own security and
that the route that seemed to attract them the most was a new relationship with
the United States.
JAMES LILLEY: Well, the opening probably came in
January, 1992. And this is when
Kim Yung Sun, probably fifth to seventh in the hierarchy of North Korea, comes
to New York City. And we had a
whole day with him. And the idea
was that this was the highest-level meeting we'd had with the North Koreans,
really, since the armistice.
MARTIN SMITH: Since '53.
JAMES LILLEY: Since '53. And they seemed to be anxious to open up with us.
NARRATOR: It was encouraging that during those
first meetings, the North Koreans agreed to allow a team from the International
Atomic Energy Agency to visit the suspect nuclear facility at Yongbyon. The delegation was led by then IAEA
chief Hans Blix.
BLIX: We are here to familiarize ourselves
with the nuclear program of your country.
NARRATOR: Blix's tour was prelude. What he and the United States suspected
was that the North Korean's were secretly using this five-megawatt reactor and
a reprocessing facility to turn spent fuel into weapons-grade plutonium. Before leaving, Blix arranged for
fully-equipped inspection teams to follow.
But over the next several months, inspections did not go
well. The Koreans repeatedly
blocked inspectors from visiting two of Yongbyon's suspected nuclear waste
sites. The North Koreans
understood that their ability to improve relations with the outside world was
at stake. But apparently, the
price was too high.
Just seven weeks after President Clinton took office, Kim Il
Sung reversed course. North Korea
announced it was going to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,
or NPT. Clinton appointed Robert
Gallucci to quickly start a new round of negotiations.
ROBERT GALLUCCI, Asst Secretary of State, 1992-01: More
than once in that first meeting.
Vice Foreign Minister Kang said, "You wish to strangle us." I told him that we did not have the
objective of strangling North Korea.
I told him that we actually did not pose a threat to North Korea, unless,
of course, North Korea did something to threaten our allies in South Korea or
in Japan or the international community.
NARRATOR: The administration was under heavy
domestic pressure. Republican
opponents repeatedly attacked the Clinton administration for even trying to
negotiate, arguing that the government had no business talking to the North
GALLUCCI: We have made clear to the DPRK that
certain steps must be avoided if our discussions are to continue.
The real crisis period was May and June of '94, when we
seemed to be headed more on a road to war than we did on a road to a negotiated
end to the conflict. That was a
very tense time.
MARTIN SMITH: And you walked out on the negotiations,
at one point.
ROBERT GALLUCCI: We did. We had warned the North Koreans not to do something, and they
quite deliberately did it.
NARRATOR: On April 19th, 1994, North Korea raised
the nuclear stakes by announcing it was going to move its stock of irradiated
fuel from its five-megawatt reactor, without providing international inspectors
the ability to monitor the process.
The North Koreans were also threatening to go one step further.
WILLIAM PERRY, Secretary of Defense, 1994-97: They
were ready to reprocess the fuel from that reactor. They announced they were going to reprocess the fuel from
that reactor. And had they done
that, that would have given them enough plutonium to make about five or six
MARTIN SMITH: What was it that prompted them to take
WILLIAM PERRY: My judgment then and my judgment today
was that they determined that they needed nuclear weapons for their own
security. So we decided that we
would take every action to try to stop them going ahead with that nuclear
weapon program, even if it would risk war.
[www.pbs.org: Read Perry's interview]
MARTIN SMITH: You were willing to go to war?
WILLIAM PERRY: We were willing to risk war. We seriously considered solving the
problem directly by simply striking the reactor and the processor at Yongbyon.
ASHTON CARTER, Asst Secretary of Defense, 1993-96: We
analyzed each building at Yongbyon, particularly the reactor, also the fuel
fabrication plant, the reprocessing plant, the reactors under
construction. And we were
absolutely confident that we could have carried out a strike which would have
been surgical within its own frame.
MARTIN SMITH: So why not do it?
ASHTON CARTER: Well, the larger consequences would be
far from surgical. North Korea
maintains a million men on the DMZ, thousands of artillery tubes that are
trained on Seoul and Scud missiles that are trained on South Korea. The intensity of violence would be
greater than any the world has witnessed since the last Korean war and that
would shock people.
CHARLES KARTMAN: The estimates are up to 100,000
MARTIN SMITH: And plus civilian deaths.
CHARLES KARTMAN: Presumably. It's a terrible scenario to try to think through. But hundreds of thousands of deaths,
NARRATOR: Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a
city of 10 million only a one-hour tank drive from the North Korean
border. The Clinton administration
opted for U.N. sanctions. However,
Ambassador Gallucci and Secretary Perry realized this move would also be
ROBERT GALLUCCI: Even just a sanctions resolution we all
thought might well lead the North Koreans to a military response.
WILLIAM PERRY: It was in that context, in that--
during the discussion about the sanctions, that North Korea made their quite
inflammatory statements, saying that they would consider sanctions an act of
PARK YONG SU: [subtitles] If you force us to go to war, we will go at any time.
NARRATOR: The remarks came from Park Yong Su, a
North Korean negotiator, and were captured on a closed-circuit video.
PARK YONG SU: [subtitles]
Seoul is not far from here.
Once the war begins, Seoul will turn into a sea of flames. And you will probably be dead.
WILLIAM PERRY: This is pretty strong language, and it
got our attention, which I'm sure is what the North Koreans intended that it
NARRATOR: In South Korea, authorities called for
civil defense exercises to prepare the country for an attack. Though aware of the risks, Clinton
still decided to push for full sanctions.
He also asked the Pentagon to present options for reinforcing U.S. troop
strength in South Korea.
ROBERT GALLUCCI: And so that led us to that one now
somewhat famous meeting of the
National Security Council, which the president held in the Cabinet Room, attended
by the secretary of state, secretary of defense, the vice president, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- a whole lot of people involved -- in which the
secretary of defense presented three military options.
WILLIAM PERRY: I advised President Clinton that we
ought to reinforce our military forces.
We had gone over the war contingency plans very carefully and had
concluded that we-- in the event of an invasion from the north, we would
undoubtedly win. We would be
successful in defeating the north.
But how many casualties we'd suffer would depend very much on how
well-prepared we were. We were
literally in the process of giving the briefing to him, laying out the three
alternative options, when the call came in from North Korea
ROBERT GALLUCCI: The phone call comes from Jimmy Carter,
who is in Pyongyang at the time, talking to Kim Il Sung, in which Jimmy Carter
tell me-- I step out of the meeting with the president to step into a small
room to talk to the former president.
And Jimmy Carter then describes a possible way out of this situation.
NARRATOR: Former president Jimmy Carter had gone
on a private trip to Pyongyang to broker a peace deal, even though some senior
members of the Clinton White House opposed his effort.
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: I was given a list of all the U.S.
demands concerning nuclear program, primarily, but a few others. And when Kim Il Sung agreed with me
directly and personally that he would comply with all those demands that I
relayed as a messenger, then I was very relieved about that.
ROBERT GALLUCCI: There was in the room some unhappiness
over the deal. But even--
MARTIN SMITH: Carter had freelanced.
ROBERT GALLUCCI: Well, it wasn't only that Carter had
freelanced. It's that President
Carter also told me he was about to go on CNN and say what the terms of this
This is CNN breaking news.
It is now past midnight Friday morning in North Korea. And later today, former president Jimmy
Carter plans a second day of--
MARTIN SMITH: You made a decision to go on CNN while
you're sitting there--
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: Yes.
MARTIN SMITH: --negotiating with Kim Il Sung.
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: I felt that it was important for the
commitments that Kim Il Sung had made to be revealed to the public. It would have made it much more
difficult for him to reverse himself or to violate his commitments.
MARTIN SMITH: But it wasn't a chess move on your part
to try to get this thing aired--
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: Yes.
MARTIN SMITH: --in order to box in both sides to
bring them together?
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: Well, I can't deny that I hoped that it
would consummate a resolution of what I considered to be a very serious crisis.
NARRATOR: Kim Il Sung told Carter he would freeze
the reactor at Yongbyon and go back to the negotiating table. But a month later, he suddenly died of
a heart attack.
KOREAN ANNOUNCER: [subtitles] The Great Leader's
hearse is approaching! Great
Leader, is this true? Are you
leaving without us? [weeps]
NARRATOR: Hundreds of thousands of Koreans came
into the streets. The spectacle of
people fainting and sobbing lasted days and gave rise to predictions by U.S.
and South Korean intelligence analysts that the North Korean government would
now finally fall and that the best policy was inaction. But they underestimated the Great
Leader's son, Kim Jong Il.
He had been ridiculed in the Western press as a playboy who
drank expensive Hennessy cognac and cavorted with Swedish blondes. He was insecure about his height, so he
wore boots with heels and bouffed his hair. He had a voracious interest in movies. He once aspired to be a film producer,
and in the 1980s, he kidnapped a South Korean film star and her director
husband to come show him how.
But there is another side to Kim Jong Il. He is linked to acts of terrorism
against South Korea, one a bomb blast in 1983 that killed four government
cabinet members, another in 1987 that killed 115 civilians aboard a South
Kim is also tied to North Korea's nuclear program. One of the only public murals in North
Korea depicting Kim Jong Il is located at the entrance gate of the Yongbyon
nuclear complex. The question now
was, would Yongbyon's founder deal away his pet project?
On the day of his father's death, negotiations restarted in
Geneva between Ambassador Gallucci and Vice Minister Kang. Surprisingly, in October, 1994, the two
sides agreed. The North Koreans
would shut down the Yongbyon complex and cease nuclear plant construction at
another location in return for the construction of two modern light-water
reactors, reactors that are harder to use for weapons development. They were also promised 500,000 metric
tons of heavy fuel oil annually until the first light-water reactor was
In Washington, many considered the deal an outrage. James Lilley first heard about the deal
when he was visiting with Clinton administration officials.
JAMES LILLEY, US Ambassador to China, 1989-91: I
think that it was a deal based on extortion. I was in the White House when that deal was announced about
the light-water reactors. And I
said, "Well, if that's it, that's it."
And then they said, "We're going to deliver 500,000 tons of oil a
year." I almost fell through my
chair. I said, "You can't make
that kind of a commitment. You
haven't got the authorization to do this.
Under what program are you going to do it?" "We can handle it.
MARTIN SMITH: Who says that?
JAMES LILLEY: The administration.
MARTIN SMITH: Clinton.
JAMES LILLEY: Well, it wasn't Clinton. Tony Lake was there. Christopher was there. Gore was there. All of them were there. And I forget which guy-- person said
it, but-- "Don't worry about it.
We can handle this. We can
reprogram money around. We get
these-- this money back."
MARTIN SMITH: What did you say?
JAMES LILLEY: I said, "Good luck." I said, "I don't think this makes any
MARTIN SMITH: Anybody listen to you?
JAMES LILLEY: No.
GALLUCCI: Under the Agreed Framework, they will
accept those inspections. If they
don't accept them--
NARRATOR: The Agreed Framework was defended
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Robert Gallucci and William
PERRY: This is the agreement which both sides
would agree to. I could get a
better agreement if I could sit on both sides of the table, but I'm only allowed to sit on one side of the
table. And there's another country with other interests
sitting on the other side of the table.
STEPHEN BOSWORTH, US Ambassador to S. Korea, 1997-00: The
Framework was hammered.
Within 10 days after the Framework was signed, it became a political
orphan. The Democrats, President
Clinton, lost control of both Houses of Congress. And conservative Republicans, particularly in the House, who
hated the Agreed Framework, believed that it was basically an example of the
U.S. paying extortion, began to oppose it very fiercely.
ROBERT GALLUCCI: Yeah, we did not get tickertape
parades, as it turned out.
MARTIN SMITH: What happened? What did you hear?
ROBERT GALLUCCI: That we had submitted to
blackmail. The North Koreans were
threatening us with a nuclear program, and we gave in and gave them good things
Sen. JOHN McCAIN (R), Arizona, 1985-Present: I spoke out against it. I debated Mr. Gallucci. I did everything in my power because I
thought it was a terribly flawed agreement that would result in us being where
we are today, with a huge, enormous threat to the United States of America.
MARTIN SMITH: You called Clinton an appeaser.
Sen. JOHN McCAIN: Well, you know, if it quacks like a
duck and walks like a duck, it's appeasement.
MARTIN SMITH: So what was the alternative?
Sen. JOHN McCAIN: The alternative was to say, "You stop
this development of nuclear weapons, or we exercise every option we have," not
excluding the military option, sanctions, conversations with the Japanese, the
Chinese, the South Koreans, the Russians.
Exercise every option. Don't
engage in bribery, which is what it was.
It was bribery.
MARTIN SMITH: But in retrospect, they would have 50,
60 bombs by now, and they don't.
Sen. JOHN McCAIN: In retrospect-- in retrospect, if they
hadn't stopped doing it, we would have acted militarily. And we wouldn't be facing the magnitude
of the threat that we're facing now.
MARTIN SMITH: You had tremendous resistance to
this. McCain calls it
appeasement. What was the
consequence of that?
CHARLES KARTMAN, State Department, 1975-01:
General dissatisfaction with the whole Agreed Framework made every
appropriation just a-- one of the rings of hell.
MARTIN SMITH: And you would have to go--
CHARLES KARTMAN: On hands and knees--
MARTIN SMITH: --to Congress--
CHARLES KARTMAN: Yes.
MARTIN SMITH: Asking for the money.
CHARLES KARTMAN: Repeatedly. Repeatedly.
NARRATOR: While Congress dragged its feet, a
Korean-speaking State Department official, Ken Quinones, was dispatched to
Yongbyon. He was there, along with
inspectors from the IAEA, to verify that the reactor was shut down and that the
North Koreans properly handled and stored their plutonium-laden spent fuel
MARTIN SMITH: What was that like, being around that
C. KENNETH QUINONES, State Department, 1980-97: It was
an intense experience. It tested
you physically. It was bitter
cold. Food rations were sometimes
in very short supply. And of
course, we worked in a highly radioactive environment.
MARTIN SMITH: A lot of tension?
C. KENNETH QUINONES: Tensions would flare over somebody
looking strange at another person or making a-- the international hand gesture
MARTIN SMITH: The international hand gesture?
C. KENNETH QUINONES: Yeah. [laughs]
Yeah, the finger.
MARTIN SMITH: But you succeeded.
C. KENNETH QUINONES: Yeah, ultimately, we-- we did--
MARTIN SMITH: Stored all the 8,000 fuel rods.
C. KENNETH QUINONES: They all got stored. North Korea did, in fact, comply with
all the stipulations of the Agreed Framework, as stated in the annual reports
by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
MARTIN SMITH: What was the United States' record on
C. KENNETH QUINONES: The U.S. record was quite spotty, frankly speaking.
STEPHEN BOSWORTH: In my judgment, the administration was
not prepared to expend very much political capital on behalf of implementation
of the Agreed Framework.
NARRATOR: State Department official Stephen
Bosworth was head of KEDO, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development
Organization, an entity created by the Agreed Framework to build the two
promised light-water reactors. In
part because of Congressional opposition, construction fell behind and delivery
of the heavy fuel oil was often late.
The North Koreans complained frequently. Bosworth complained to his colleagues in the State
MARTIN SMITH: So tell me what arguments you made.
STEPHEN BOSWORTH, US Ambassador to S. Korea, 1997-00: That,
first of all, this was an attempt to draw North Korea out of its dark cave, out
into the world, and that it was in our interest to break down that isolation in
which North Korea existed.
Moreover, that it was very much in our interest, since this was North
Korea's first agreement, in effect, with the outside world, to make sure that
we complied with the agreement in a meticulous fashion, to demonstrate to the
North Koreans that they could enter into agreements with us and others and be
confident that the commitments that we made in those agreements would be
implemented. Failure to,
basically, deal with the North Koreans would cause them to do increasingly
irresponsible and dangerous things.
NARRATOR: While tensions over compliance with the
Agreed Framework mounted between the U.S. and North Korea, a new president, Kim
Dae-jung, came to office in South Korea.
He instituted a new approach to dealing with North Korea called the
Sunshine Policy, advocating openness and engagement. It assumed that Kim Jong Il wanted to modernize his
economy. President Kim's
right-hand man was Lim Dong-won.
LIM DONG-WON, S. Korean Unification Minister, 1998-01: I was
the architect of Sunshine Policy and evangelist of our Sunshine Policy. We want to induce change in the
north. That is the way to build
confidence between the south and north and to make peace on the Korean
peninsula. So we have to seize
NARRATOR: Lim, a former chief of South Korean
intelligence and staunch anti-communist, would make many trips to meet with Kim
MARTIN SMITH: And what kind of man was he?
LIM DONG-WON: He has a sense of humor. He's, you know, very interesting-- he
has a very interesting personality.
He's a wine drinker.
MARTIN SMITH: Cognac, I hear.
LIM DONG-WON: No, no. He kicked cognac.
That's what he told me.
MARTIN SMITH: He told you that he quit drinking
LIM DONG-WON: Yeah. Now just prefer to drink wines only. For his health. That's what he said.
MARTIN SMITH: Did you talk to him about the dire
situation in the countryside, the starvation, the fact that he spends so much
money on the military and--
LIM DONG-WON: Well, I didn't touch much of that kind
NARRATOR: Just as diplomacy seemed it had a
fighting chance, however, North Korea played another surprise card. On August 31st, 1998, the North Koreans
launched the Taepo Dong missile, a design that, if successful, could reach
Hawaii or Alaska, a missile developed by a country that already derived 25
percent of its export income from sales of Scuds and other short-range missiles
into the Middle East, Pakistan and Iran.
[www.pbs.org: Study North Korea's missile trade]
ASHTON CARTER, Asst Secretary of Defense, 1993-96: The
North Koreans fired this ballistic missile, and everybody in the region and the
United States woke up and said, "Boy, we haven't been paying attention to them,
but they've been-- sure been paying attention."
NARRATOR: The missile launch was an embarrassment
for Clinton, who had backed South Korea's Sunshine Policy. Mandated by Congress to review U.S.
policy towards North Korea, the president called once again on William Perry.
WILLIAM PERRY, Special Envoy to N. Korea, 1998-00: The
Agreed Framework was on the block.
We looked seriously at the approaches, many in U.S., many in Congress
had asked us to consider, one of which was that we should simply put pressure
on the North Koreans until their government collapsed. We rejected that alternative. They have an iron police state in North
Korea, and the misery of the people, in our judgment, was not likely to lead to
a popular overthrow of the government.
Secondly, we didn't have enough time. Even if that strategy was successful, in the most optimistic
view of it, it would take several years.
So it was a very difficult problem.
NARRATOR: Upon Perry's recommendation, the
Clinton administration stuck with diplomacy. In 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew to
Pyongyang to negotiate a missile deal.
Her CIA briefing had not prepared her for the man she was about to meet.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State, 1997-00: We had
very peculiar information about Kim Jong Il, that he was a recluse, I think
"delusional" actually was a word that was used. But Kim Dae-jung had reported that it was possible to have
perfectly decent, rational conversations with him.
WENDY SHERMAN, Special Envoy to N. Korea, 1998-00: I
think that both Secretary Albright and I were surprised about Kim. He had some humor. He actually, and very unsurprisingly,
had tremendous pride in himself, in his country.
CHARLES KARTMAN, State Department, 1975-01: He's a
reasonable man, who was fully engaged with us for that very extensive period
that Secretary Albright was with him.
He always seemed to be personally attentive to the people that he was
MARTIN SMITH: Gracious, in other words.
CHARLES KARTMAN: I hate to use the word lest I be
criticized later, but yes, I would say he was gracious.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: At the end of about three or four hours
of official meetings, he said, "I want to take you tonight to a huge
celebration." What we were going
to was the recreation of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Workers Party.
CHARLES KARTMAN: We proceeded to climb into this long
motorcade that his limousine headed, and we went off to this stadium. Now, we pulled up to the stadium, and
it was pitch dark. No cars in the
lot, no people walking around, no sound.
You could have heard a pin drop.
So we walked into the stadium, and then, all of a sudden, the lights all
flashed on, and this wall of sound from a quarter of a million North Koreans
hit us all at once.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: We walked in, and we were in a stadium
where there was something like 200,000 to 250,000 people who applauded wildly.
CHARLES KARTMAN: Everybody was on their feet, with their
hands in the air, and they were all screaming and shouting their hosannas to
Kim Jong Il. And this hit us, and
it made me feel pretty grand, I can tell you.
WENDY SHERMAN, Special Envoy to N. Korea, 1998-00: That
has to do something to someone's psyche, when you're cheered on like that. It was as Stalinist a country as ever
[www.pbs.org: More about the North Koreans]
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I have to say, I was fascinated. You know how they do those flash cards
at our big football games, where students can deliver various messages? Well, this was done in the most precise
way, where they showed tableaus of various scenes of countrysides. And then there was one-- and they were
so good at it that they could make a rocket go up by moving the cards, and it
was a Taepo Dong missile.
NARRATOR: The next day, Secretary Albright and
Chairman Kim sat down again and talked about missiles. Kim Jong Il also reiterated an
invitation to President Clinton to come to North Korea.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: The purpose, I think, generally, of his
policy was to get some recognition from the United States that North Korea
existed, that we should have diplomatic relations. And so he was really quite open in discussions that we had,
in terms of limiting his missile program.
conference] We must be pragmatic and recognize the
road to fully normal relations remains uphill--
WILLIAM PERRY: We had the deal almost in hand. The detail or two that needed to be
worked out were very, very important details to do with how all this would be
verified. But those were not the
issues that curtailed the visit so much as we just ran out of time.
NARRATOR: With the coming of President George W.
Bush, both North and South Korea asked for reassurance that the missile talks
initiated by the Clinton administration would continue. It appeared the transition would be
POWELL, Secretary of State: [March 6, 2001]
We do plan to engage with North Korea, to pick up where President
Clinton and his administration left off.
Some promising elements were left on the table.
NARRATOR: The South Koreans pushed for an early
LIM DONG-WON, S. Korean Unification Minister, 1998-01: My
foreign minister went to Washington to prepare for this summit meeting. And during that consultation with the
Department of State and Secretary Powell, they assured us that new
administration's North Korea policy will be, you know, continuing where the
Clinton administration took off.
MARTIN SMITH: He assured you that the policies--
LIM DONG-WON: Yeah.
MARTIN SMITH: --of the Clinton administration would
LIM DONG-WON: Yes.
MARTIN SMITH: --into the Bush administration?
LIM DONG-WON: Yes. Yeah. So we are
very happy to hear that. And then
President Kim came to Washington, D.C.
NARRATOR: But the summit was not what the South
Koreans expected. Although Bush
publicly endorsed South Korea's Sunshine Policy--
GEORGE W. BUSH:
It's been my honor to
welcome President Kim here to the Oval office. We had a very good discussion.
NARRATOR: --privately, he told Kim talks with the
north were off and the U.S. did not support a policy of engagement. Kim Dae-jung was stunned.
LIM DONG-WON: It was a real unfortunate thing.
MARTIN SMITH: Was he angry? He was furious.
LIM DONG-WON: Maybe so.
MARTIN SMITH: He talked to you when he returned to
LIM DONG-WON: He was, of course, disappointed at that
time, yes. And returning from
Washington, D.C., North Korea immediately announced that "No dialogue with
South Korean government."
MARTIN SMITH: So everything fell apart.
LIM DONG-WON: Yeah, everything fell apart.
DONALD GREGG, CIA 1951-82: President Bush said, "I don't
trust Kim Jong Il. We're going to
have a policy review. And we're
not going to do anything until we've finished the policy review." So there was just really a cutoff of
the progress that had been made.
MARTIN SMITH: So what happened to U.S. policy towards
North Korea when the new administration--
DONALD GREGG: It's never had a policy. It's had an attitude.
MARTIN SMITH: What's the attitude?
DONALD GREGG: Hostility.
RICHARD PERLE, US Defense Policy Board: I
think the break in continuity had to do with the belief that the policy had
been wrong, that when you pay blackmail, you're asking for further blackmail.
NARRATOR: A long-time adviser to the Pentagon,
Richard Perle is among those conservatives critical of Clinton, Perry and
Albright's approach to North Korea.
MARTIN SMITH: I think what they would say is that
talks should not have been cut off, that open dialogue should have continued.
RICHARD PERLE: That there should have been more
blackmail. They wouldn't
characterize it in that way, of course, but that is, in fact, what it was and
what it remains.
MARTIN SMITH: But this was a policy that was
advocated by the South Koreans under Kim Dae-jung. Kim Dae-jung came to Washington, for instance, early on in
his administration and felt rebuffed.
RICHARD PERLE: I think Kim Dae-jung's interests and
the interests of the South Koreans are not at all identical to ours. And it's understandable. Seoul is within artillery range of
thousands of North Korean artillery tubes. So it's hardly surprising that the South Koreans are going
to see this differently from the way we see it. But our president has, first and foremost, a commitment to
the security of the United States.
NARRATOR: In North Korea, Kim Jong Il was also
confronting Bush's new policy. The
Clinton administration had been willing to talk before Kim made concessions or
complied with existing agreements.
The Bush administration was demanding concessions and full compliance
before talks could begin. They
also expanded the agenda. The
North Koreans accused Bush of moving the goal posts.
RICHARD PERLE: I would hope that we would move the
goal posts because we didn't like the playing field that was established during
the Clinton administration. It was
a playing field on which we were expected to pay the North Koreans not to do
dangerous things, and that is not a sound basis for a policy.
NARRATOR: When President Bush came before
Congress in January of 2002, talks with North Korea were still on hold. And now the terrorist attacks of 9/11
were raising new fears about weapons proliferation, the possibility that a
rogue nation could sell its missiles and nuclear technology to a terrorist
group. In his speech that night,
Bush put a few countries on notice.
GEORGE W. BUSH: North Korea is a
regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction while starving its
citizens. Iran aggressively
pursues these weapons and exports terror--
NARRATOR: Then the president used a phrase for
which he will long be remembered.
GEORGE W. BUSH:
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of
evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.
NARRATOR: North Korea said the speech was part of
an aggressive and hostile policy.
GEORGE W. BUSH:
These regimes pose a grave and growing danger.
THOMAS HUBBARD, US Ambassador to S. Korea, 2001-Present: North
Koreans complaining about words?
Have you ever read the press statements, the governmental statements
that they put out about the United States?
NARRATOR: When FRONTLINE approached the White
House for an interview on North Korean policy, they referred us to the State
Department, which designated U.S. ambassador to South Korea Thomas Hubbard as
THOMAS HUBBARD: I-- I-- it's kind of hard-- I have
MARTIN SMITH: But we shouldn't let them set the moral
THOMAS HUBBARD: Of course not. Of course not. You know, I-- I think there's been
entirely too much focus on-- on-- on-- on words and too-- and too little focus
on-- on the substance of the policy.
MARTIN SMITH: Words matter. You're a diplomat.
The concern is that the policy has been, in a way, stagnant, that in the
words of a former ambassador, there is no policy, at this point. There's simply an attitude.
THOMAS HUBBARD: I think that's a -- I think that's an
exaggeration. The clear policy of
our government is that we find nuclear weapons in North Korea to be
unacceptable and intolerable.
RICHARD PERLE: What the president did in referring to
the "axis of evil" was identify evil where it exists, and to make it very clear
that we were going to treat evil regimes with a full recognition of what they
represent. If the word "evil"
doesn't apply to North Korea, it doesn't apply to any nation.
MARTIN SMITH: I don't think the argument is that evil
doesn't apply to Kim Jong Il. I
think the argument is that it does not have any real benefits. It's not as if we didn't already know
that this place was nasty and dangerous.
So what does the president gain?
RICHARD PERLE: I think he breaks with the previous
policy, that said, "Well, they may be evil, but we're going to treat them as if
they could be counted upon to respect an agreement. In short, we will deal with them in a way that we would not
deal with a nation whose fundamental evil quality was properly understood."
MARTIN SMITH: Were you surprised by the
administration's language and approach?
WILLIAM PERRY, Special Envoy to N. Korea, 1998-00: I was
surprised. I thought-- I'm not
surprised that some people in the administration thought that. I'm surprised that they would take that
as a-- they'd take that policy approach to North Korea. I thought it was counterproductive.
MARTIN SMITH: Why? Why not show that you're tough? That you're not going to be the appeasers that the Clinton
WILLIAM PERRY: Yes, I've heard that language. Talking tough and acting tough and
putting pressure on North Korea is not an effective policy. It may be therapeutic for us to say--
to talk that way, but does not accomplish our objectives and does not enhance
NARRATOR: Sometime in the summer of 2002, the
CIA, working with evidence that it had been collecting since the middle of
Clinton's second term, concluded that North Korea was secretly pursuing an
alternative nuclear weapons program.
MARTIN SMITH: Now, somewhere along the way, U.S.
intelligence starts to report that they're on shopping trips, that they're in
Pakistan buying high-frequency modulators, aluminum tubes.
DONALD GREGG: Apparently, we got definitive aerial
photographs of equipment from Pakistan being delivered. It became a matter of certitude in July
NARRATOR: They were buying equipment to build a
uranium-enrichment plant. Uranium
enrichment takes place in centrifuge tubes like these, but it takes two to
three years to make enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb. But like the separate program at
Yongbyon, it showed Kim's intent to go nuclear.
On October 3, 2002, James Kelly, an assistant secretary of
state, traveled to Pyongyang to confront officials.
DONALD GREGG: As Kelly geared up for his trip,
apparently, there was a dogfight within the administration. Should he mention it? Should he not mention it? And those who said he should mention it
put it right at the top of the agenda.
So that really was the only thing that was discussed at his 3rd October
meeting. And then, interestingly
enough, the North Koreans, after caucusing overnight, came back and said, "Yes,
we do have that program."
NARRATOR: Now Kim's nuclear card was on the table
face up. A few weeks later, Bush
played his hand. He ordered the
Agreed Framework dead and cut off all future fuel oil shipments. North Korea retaliated by turning off
all monitoring equipment at Yongbyon and sending inspectors home. In January, 2003, the North Koreans
gave notice that they were withdrawing from the non-proliferation treaty.
KOREAN OFFICIAL: [subtitles]
Because of the U.S., the NPT is void.
NARRATOR: The U.S. and North Korea are back at
the brink. The U.S. has refused to
talk unless Japan, South Korea and China are involved. The Sunshine Policy is also in trouble. Lim Dong-won and President Kim Dae-jung
are being investigated for funneling as much as $500 million to Kim Jong Il's
Singapore bank account in 1998 to buy his cooperation.
North Korea , meanwhile, still insists on direct talks with
MARTIN SMITH: So why not talk to them? These regional
powers are saying go talk to the North Koreans.
THOMAS HUBBARD: Well, do we have to give them what they
want all the time? I think that's
one of our-- our concerns, that-- that it might be tactically attractive for
the North Koreans to try to-- try to isolate us and put pressure on us in a--
in a bilateral negotiation, but that's not necessarily in the interest of the
United States. We think a
multilateral approach would be much better.
RICHARD LUGAR (R), Indiana: This meeting of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee is called to order.
NARRATOR: Inside the administration, debate
continues over how to structure talks with North Korea. In February, 2003, Colin Powell's
deputy, Richard Armitage, a northeast Asia specialist, was called to Capitol
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), Delaware: In my discussions with the Japanese and
the South Koreans, they're
saying, "Multilateral is
good. Count us in, but don't wait. We recommend you do it bilaterally."
Now, am I wrong? Are they
not recommending that?
ARMITAGE: No, they are, indeed, suggesting
that. And our suggestion is not
quite that we handle these talks multilaterally, but we have a multilateral
umbrella, of any sort--
NARRATOR: Armitage's performance reportedly
infuriated President Bush. The
next day, he called a special White House meeting and ordered a ban on any
public discussion of anything that might resemble one-on-one or bilateral talks
with North Korea.
LIM DONG-WON, S. Korean Unification Minister, 1998-01: There
is no way but to have direct talks between North Korea and the U.S. Otherwise, war.
MARTIN SMITH: Bilateral talks?
LIM DONG-WON: Yes. Bilateral talks--
MARTIN SMITH: The Bush administration says they won't
LIM DONG-WON: Yeah. Of course, they said that.
MARTIN SMITH: The Bush administration is saying we
shouldn't have to give them anything.
They're violating the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. They're in defiance of the world. They should be held to task, that
appeasement leads to more aggressive behavior.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I-- it depends on if you decide
that direct talks are appeasement.
This administration has kind of dug its heels in and said anything that
we do vis-a-vis North Korea is appeasement. Once you define it that way, it's very hard to un-paint
yourself, and I think that's where we are now. I hope very much that there can be some way to get off of
[www.pbs.org: More on the direct-talks debate]
NARRATOR: But the escalation continues. Kim Jong Il has stepped up air-raid
drills in Pyongyang. In March,
2003, North Korea started up their reactor at Yongbyon. They tested two short-range
missiles. They intercepted and
harassed a U.S. spy plane flying off their coast. They announced they were pulling out of armistice talks that
had been going on for 50 years.
The Bush administration, busy with a war in Iraq, insists it
has no intention to invade North Korea and that the situation does not rise to
the level of a crisis.
MARTIN SMITH: If we're willing to go to war in Iraq,
why aren't we willing to go to war in North Korea?
THOMAS HUBBARD: These-- these issues have been-- been
well answered by-- by a whole variety of people. But you know, we-- we continue to believe that-- that you
can't just follow a cookie-cutter approach, that-- we continue to believe that
the North Korean problem is one that-- that can be resolved through diplomacy.
MARTIN SMITH: What prevents them from going nuclear?
THOMAS HUBBARD: If they're determined to go nuclear,
they're going to go nuclear. And
then we have to deal with that problem.
MARTIN SMITH: Why isn't this a crisis?
THOMAS HUBBARD: Because we believe that this is a
problem that can be solved. We
don't have a precise formula for that yet, but we do believe that it is still
MARTIN SMITH: They say there's no crisis.
WILLIAM PERRY: I'll be very clear on that point. I think what North Korea is doing now
with the nuclear weapon program is not only a crisis, it is a serious crisis. We have, I think, months, not years, to
resolve this problem before it reaches a point of no return, in terms of North
Korea becoming a major nuclear power.
KIM'S NUCLEAR GAMBLE
WRITTEN AND PRODUCED
COPRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
David Coolio Poole
and Miranda Hentoff
Seong Ki Jung
Kim Kyung Jae
AP/Wide World Photos
C. Kenneth Quinones
Clinton Presidential Materials Project
CNN Image Source
Space Imaging Asia
US Department of Energy
Michael H. Amundson
Erin Martin Kane
FOUNDATION GRANT MANAGER
WEBSITE MANAGING EDITOR
Louis Wiley Jr.
A FRONTLINE co-production with RAINmedia, Inc.
WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely
responsible for its content.
ANNOUNCER: This report continues on FRONTLINE's
Web site with analyses by key insiders on whether there's still time to avert a
military or nuclear showdown, a chronology of the threats, deceptions and
diplomatic ploys that have marked
U.S.-North Korea relations, a closer look at who are the North Koreans
and what is their nuclear capability, plus a Web-exclusive interview with a
North Korean defector. You can
watch the program again on line.
Then join the discussion at PBS on line, pbs.org.
Next time on FRONTLINE:
There is a cyber-jihad going on right now.
ANNOUNCER: Without a single bomb--
The right people could take out huge sections of American
ANNOUNCER: --terrorists could use the Internet to
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We have created a new nervous system for the country, and we've done nothing to protect it.
ANNOUNCER: How real is the threat?
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ANNOUNCER: Cyber War! Watch FRONTLINE.
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