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Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Status of the Six-Party Talks for the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC

SEN. BIDEN: The hearing will please come to order.

Welcome, Mr. Ambassador. It's great to have you here. Senator Lugar is on his way down the hall. But in the interest of time, what I'll do is start my opening statement and then yield to him so we have as much time as we can with you.

Thank you so much for being here. I say later in my statement here, but I should say at the outset, I think you're one of the gems we have in the Foreign Service, and I thank you for your service. You've done just a tremendous job. Let me just say that at the outset.

Today the Foreign Relations Committee will examine the efforts of the United States and other participants in the six-party talks to remove the threat of nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula and to build hopefully a permanent peace there.

And I want to welcome you again, Mr. Ambassador, assistant secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs. You've been before our committee before, and it's an honor to have you back.

I also want to take note that the Foreign Relations Committee was originally scheduled to have Assistant Secretary Hill up here today to testify on a different subject, Vietnam, and at a hearing chaired by our friend and committee member, Senator Boxer. I want to thank Senator Boxer, the chairwoman of our East Asian Subcommittee, and she's also chairman of the Environmental Committee, for agreeing to reschedule her hearing for March at a time that we look forward to hearing from the ambassador again.

Senator Boxer has a hearing to chair at 10:00 in the Environment Committee. I offered her an opportunity to make an opening statement before her hearing, but her hearing is -- in preparation for her hearing, she's not going to be able to be here to do that. But again, I'd like to thank her for yielding to the full committee to allow us to move forward with this hearing on Korea.

We all look forward to the day when we can close the book on the nuclear issue and turn to other challenges with North Korea, like cooperation in the expansion of trade, cultural-educational exchanges, a more normal relationship. But we're not there yet, to state the obvious.

The New York Philharmonic will be playing a concert in North Korea at the end of this month, the first ever by a U.S. orchestra in North Korea. And I understand that they're going to perform New World Symphony by Dvorak. I think that's kind of fitting. But for now, we have to deal with the bad old world that we have and keep our eye on the ball. The old world is the one we still inhabit.

Our goal and the stated objective of the six-party talks is to peacefully dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons program in exchange for energy assistance, sanctions relief, and the creation of a permanent peace in the Korean peninsula.

This is a noble objective, and it's consistent, in my view, with the vital security interests of the six nations that join these talks, because nuclear weapons offer only a false sense of security for North Korea. The Democratic Republic of Korea, DPRK, as it's called, will find true security, in my view, only when it has jettisoned its nuclear weapons program, rejoined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and fully normalized relations, not only with the United States but, even more importantly, with its neighbors to the south.

South Korea is a close friend and a close ally of the United States, and last December the South Koreans went to the polls and elected a new president, President Lee. Today Senator Murkowski and I plan to introduce a resolution congratulating the president-elect in the People's Republic of Korea -- excuse me, in the Republic of Korea -- on their nation's vibrant democracy, and affirming our desire to strengthen and deepen our alliance in the years ahead. There's much that we can accomplish together, both on and off the Korean peninsula.

Some say we should never negotiate with North Korea because they can't be trusted. This view offers unfortunately no viable solution to a problem, a problem that got much worse during this last administration when the administration disengaged. We wasted, in my view, a lot of time, time that North Korea used to acquire uranium- enriching equipment and to more than double its stockpile of plutonium, leading ultimately to actual test of a nuclear device on October 9th of 2006.

There's still, in my view, though, no substitute for patient, principled, sustained, high-level diplomacy. And moreover, our efforts are more likely to succeed when we enlist those of our allies -- South Korea, Japan and others of our friends -- to help us. Only through a mutual, respectful, hard-headed diplomacy can we bridge our differences and find any common ground. That's what this committee has been calling for on a bipartisan basis for the past six years.

The formula for success is clear, if there is any. And I'm glad President Bush embraced it and chose Ambassador Hill to undertake it. The formula is validated by history. Senator -- excuse me -- President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1991 agreed to remove U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, weapons we no longer needed to station in North Korea -- excuse me, in Korea -- given the advances in technology, and thereby convinced North Korea to remain inside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and accept inspections.

Inspections by the IAEA yielded evidence late in '92 that North Korea was violating the NPT commitments, as well as the terms of the '91 South-North joint declaration on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Without the first Bush's diplomatic efforts, we may have remained in the dark, giving North Korea a free path to pursue its nuclear ambitions unchecked.

Under President Clinton, the United States negotiated the October '94 agreed framework. The North agreed to freeze and eventually eliminate its nuclear facilities under international monitoring. In exchange, Pyongyang was to receive two proliferation-resistant light- water nuclear reactors and annual shipments of heavy fuel during construction of these reactors.

These light-water reactors were to be financed and constructed through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, a multinational consortium including South Korea, Japan and the European Union. The agreed framework failed to eliminate the North's nuclear program, but it did prevent the North from producing even one ounce of plutonium from '94 to '03, and I view this as no small accomplishment.

And the creation of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization established a useful precedent; namely, that the United States should reach out to other nations to share our interest in a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and to help shoulder the financial and diplomatic burdens.

Under the terms of the February 17th, 2007 agreement hammered out by our witness today and North Korea's lead negotiator, North Korea promised to freeze and then dismantle its nuclear facilities and to provide a complete and accurate declaration of all the nuclear program facilities and materials.

In exchange, the North is to receive energy assistance and sanctions relief. The ultimate goal remains the same -- the complete dismantlement of the North's facilities in exchange for normalization of relations with the United States and the establishment of a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

The freeze is implemented without a hitch. And North Korean workers, under the direct supervision of U.S. technicians, are today in the process of dismantling three key nuclear facilities -- the reactor, the spent fuel reprocessing plant and the fuel fabrication plant. North Korea is no longer in the plutonium protection business. But as we'll hear from our witness, we still have a long way to go. The north has yet submitted a complete and accurate declaration of its nuclear programs as called for by the agreement. The original December 31, 2007 deadline to do that has come and gone.

North Korea's preferred outcome still appears to be both a limited nuclear deterrent and good relations with the United States. But unfortunately for them, they're going to have to choose, choose one or the other. The United States should not acquiesce in a nuclear-armed North Korea.

I hope Secretary Hill will share with us the administration's game plan going forward. How does the administration plan to convince North Korea to submit a declaration of its nuclear activities including any proliferation of nuclear know-how, and do it promptly so that we can get on with the business of dismantling the north's nuclear facilities, removing fissile material from the country and ultimately normalizing our bilateral relations and integrating North Korea into the community of nations? What do we want South Korea, China, Japan and Russia as equal partners in the six-party talks to do to help us?

I also hope the ambassador will share with us some thoughts on how the administration plans to actually implement the next phase of the agreement. Specifically, I hope he'll address the concern that Senator Lugar and I have expressed about the Glenn Amendment which currently prohibits the Department of Energy providing more than token assistance to the denuclearization effort. Senator Lugar and I have drafted legislation to provide the Department of Energy and the Department of State with the necessary authority to implement robust denuclearization plan. And I hope the administration will endorse it.

Mr. Ambassador, I look forward to your testimony.

And now let me turn to my colleague Senator Lugar.

Mr. Chairman.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

SEN. BIDEN: I'm not suggesting you are. I just wanted to make sure -- I would assume it also would be a good measure of knowing whether or not the intelligence we conducted has been -- can be confirmed or not as well.

But at any rate, look, I have a number of specific questions I suspect my colleagues will cover about how long -- I am pleased, because I have again great respect for your judgment -- I am pleased that you are -- you seem to be mildly optimistic that this process will be completed, and that the 11 disarmament procedures -- disablement procedures I should say -- will take place, and that you did reference -- and I'll come back to if someone doesn't -- about how long it would take if in fact things broke down for them to reverse the procedures and resume the process.

And again in the second round if they haven't been discussed I will go to a number of questions relating to the funding of this process. But knowing my friend who is the expert in the country on those issues, I suspect he'll raise that, and I hope he does.

And so -- but again, thank you for the clarifications in your testimony. Thank you for your testimony. And I yield to my colleague, Senator Lugar

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

SEN. BIDEN: Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary. As I said, you're doing a great job. I wish you the best of luck and I, like you, am optimistic you'll be able to finish this deal, and it would be a very, very good thing.

And I don't want to embarrass you, but I hope other parts of the administration are looking at how to proceed here. Because maybe applying similar methods other places in the world would be useful. (Chuckles.)

I thank you very, very much for your being here. And we are adjourned. (Strikes gavel.)


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