Monday, February 11, 2008

North Korea Nutshell: Chris Hill in Town

This past Wednesday, Amb. Chris Hill came to Washington to sit before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and provide them with an update on the current status of the 6-Party Talks. Your intrepid Nutshell reporter was there with pen in hand and took down the key elements of what was discussed. I provide to you below the synopsis of my notes from that hearing. Make sure to notice important new information about what Hill what shown about the Russian purchased aluminum tubes and how the U.S. will move forward with full denuclearization (Phase 3). Keep in mind that everything below is an approximation and not direct quotations, including the questions from the Senators. If you want the direct text of Hill's testimony, check it out here.

Chairman, Senator Joe Biden:

Like many, Biden cannot wait to be able to turn the page of this chapter of history with North Korea. He appreciates the respectful and tough-nosed diplomacy practiced in this case. The work done with North Korea in the past (Bush 41, Clinton) was helpful, but nothing has gotten has far as we have currently.

Currently, Biden’s staff is working with Jim Webb’s office in drafting legislation that would allow for an exception to the Glenn Amendment which prevents the Department of Energy from providing any aid to North Korea (passed after the North Korean nuclear test in October ’06). This aid will be vital in funding the final denuclearization process.

Ranking Member, Senator Richard Lugar:

The Nunn-Lugar program should be considered for application in North Korea. The scientists in the country would likely need to be dealt with if the entire indigenous nuclear program were dismantled.

Maintaining the measured pace of action-for-action is the best way to keep progress up without overreaching. Lugar recommends that as progress is made, Secretary Gates visit North Korea to discuss confidence building measures with the heads of their military. It is also important for a new President to not change course with this policy.

Amb. Hill:

Historical Catch-Up

The October Agreement (Phase 2) between the parties has allowed for significant progress in denuclearizing North Korea. It led to the North Koreans themselves asking for U.S. technicians to enter their facilities and begin the process of disabling their machinery. Typically there are 5 U.S. personnel who have worked in rotating shifts to keep the work going. This team has completed 8 or the 11 disablement steps laid out for Phase 2, and is currently involved with the North Koreans in step 9, which is removing fuel rods from the nuclear reactor. The removal of these rods has been slowed down for two reasons: the transfer pool for the rods needed to be decontaminated first, and the North Koreans have switched from 3 shifts to 1 shift of workers because they feel that heavy fuel oil aid has been coming too slow.

During the disablement procedures, it was surprising for Hill to hear from the American’s involved that the North Korea scientists never brought up procedures on how certain mechanisms could become reconstituted. As well, the longer the facilities at Yongbyon remain disabled and go without proper upkeep maintenance, the longer and more expensive a feat North Korea would have to undertake in order to rebuild the facility.

The Issue of the Declaration

The one major holdup to the progress in North Korea is the fact that they have not issued a declaration of nuclear facilities that can be deemed as “complete”. This was supposed to have been completed by December 31 but is still outstanding. The declaration would consist of the following 3 parts:

  1. Weapons Material/Development- This is the plutonium that makes up the most crucial part of the nuclear weapons program. Negotiations are ongoing and are likely to be successful in getting the North Koreans to provide documentation concerning the reprocessing of spent fuel to get the plutonium. With this documentation and the access that American technicians have inside the facilities at Yongbyon, Amb. Hill is highly confident that we would be able to verify whether the declared amount of North Korean plutonium production is truthful. Here we also want to see what technical progress the North Koreans have made in developing their nuclear weapon. This latter area is troublesome as the North Koreans are hesitant to show us the exact specifications of their bomb designs.
  2. Facilities- We are able to identify what facilities they have by “National Technical Means”, ie. intelligence gathering, and they know that we have this capability so coming to an accord on this has not and will not be a problem.
  3. Other Aspects of the Nuclear Program- This is the area where 90% of the trouble lies. We need significantly more information concerning their attempt to obtain a uranium enrichment capacity. This information needs to go into what they purchased from the AQ Khan network (confirming this connection through the allusion to Pervez Musharraf’s autobiography which mentions this sale) and what has been done with any other purchases for this program. We have worked closely with the North Koreans in trying to resolve this and they have shown us some of the tubes they high grade aluminum tubes they purchased were for non-nuclear purposes. On the issue of “proliferation” (aka. Syrian bombing), the North has assured us that they have no efforts ongoing and will be pursuing nothing in the future. The U.S. will continue to press for more information concerning this connection and will monitor any possible proliferation risks.

Inducements for North Korea

The October Agreement allows for 950,000 tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid to be given to North Korea. It is expected that about half this amount will actually be given in heavy fuel oil and the other half will come in other assistance such as steel. The burden for providing this aid will be shared equally between South Korea, Russia, China, the U.S. and eventually Japan if the issue of the abductees is addressed to their satisfaction. So far, they have received about the equivalent of about 200,000 tons of fuel oil with about 53,000 more coming in the next few weeks from the United States. Much of the slowness in delivery in aid to North Korea can be attributed to the inherent difficulties in getting a hold on heavy fuel oil in the open market. For example, Russia was unable to produce and process oil for this purpose domestically and had to eventually just purchase it from Singapore. This aid will continue based on progress with Phase 2 actions, namely the final 3 steps for disablement of the reactor and the submission of a complete and verifiable declaration.

The removal of North Korea from the State Sponsor’s of Terror list and the Trading With the Enemy Act will also be linked to Phase 2 commitments.

If List is Offered and Accepted, What Can We offer for full dismantlement (Phase 3)

  1. Full diplomatic relations upon denuclearization.

This does not deny the fact that human rights concerns are still valid. However, completing this move will allow a greater dialogue to begin that will address the North Koreans directly on human rights concerns. Currently, pressing them on human rights accomplishes little as the North’s leadership has little to lose from denying the claims.

  1. A full peace regime to replace the Korean War Armistice

This would include the Chinese, DPRK, South Korea and the U.S. and negotiations could begin as soon as Phase 3 obligations are agreed upon. The signing of the pact would not be done until final dismantlement is completed.

  1. North-East Asia Peace and Security Mechanism

The 6-Party talks have established a useful forum for discussing important issues in this region. Formalizing this structure into something that would meet on a regular basis to hammer out a wide range of issues would be useful.

  1. Bringing in international economic institutions/aid (IMF, World Bank)

This would begin the process of helping North Korea rebuild its failed economy and create a new system that would reflect both progress and transparency.


Senator Biden:

What happened concerning the North Korean aluminum tubes that you and your colleagues were shown?

We were shown 2 conventional weapons systems that the tubes had been converted for use in. The first system was not functional and it seemed that the tubes were not the right type of material for use in that system. It was an artillery type of system. It seemed to be the same source as the aluminum tubes found in Iraq.

Why is proliferating nuclear know-how important to consider?

Knowing about North Korea’s activities in this area would stabilize the negotiations. It would establish a greater level of transparency in how the North has conducted itself and help build trust towards moving forward. This is not being requested in order to give the U.S. an excuse to walk out on negotiations.

Senator Lugar:

How was President Bush’s letter to Kim Jong-Il received when you delivered it?

The visit to Yongbyon and Pyongyang went well. I requested to deliver the letter to Chairman Kim myself, but after waiting until the very last day I was told to give it to the foreign minister. However, I was able to meet with the 3rd highest Party official before leaving. The North Korean response was a small, brief verbal message expressing hope for completion of the agreement.

Is the funding provided by the State Dept.’s disarmament fund sufficient to complete Phase 2 and move into Phase 3?

The current available funds are enough to complete the disabling tasks laid out in Phase 2, but will not be adequate to meet the needs of Phase 3. President Bush and Secretary Rice are looking for an exemption from the Glenn Amendment. We do not know what kind of money will be needed for Phase 3 but I will have my staff start putting together numbers for the Committee to look at in preparation for quick movement if it becomes necessary.

How many North Koreans have emigrated to the U.S.?

37 have done so since 2004

Senator Casey:

What about the difference between the 50kg plutonium estimate you have given previously and the 30kg reported to have been revealed by the North Koreans?

Being able to verify any declared amount of plutonium is the most important thing to consider here. Having the records necessary to gauge what levels would be appropriate is the key and there is some agreement with the North Koreans on them providing this. We would also not just trust the documents they give us as we would have other physical measures at the facilities themselves that would help us test the validity of the documents.

What lessons have you learned from all of your time negotiating with the North Koreans?

I have learned that diplomacy is not something that can work in all situations but this is one of the situations where it is really the only option that has any chance of success.

The North Koreans themselves seem to have shortages of everything in their country except time. They can always afford to wait and consider their opaqueness during negotiations to be a strength that helps confuse their opponent. These talks have helped bring us much closer to China while also giving Japan an opportunity to stay engaged with their regional partners during a time of some tension. This process has strengthened the sense of community felt throughout the region. The President and Secretary Rice have also been incredible allies in this process and have provided tremendous support now and in the future.

Senator Hagel:

Why has the process of disablement slowed?

The first thing that slowed the process was health and safety concerns with removing the fuel rods from the reactor at Yongbyon. The water pool the rods were to be transferred to was contaminated and needed to be cleaned. After this was completed the North Koreans later reduced the numbers of shifts of workers from 3 down to 1 to show that they were dissatisfied with the pace at which aid has been given. So far we’ve only provided about 20% of the material aid we promised for Phase 2 and the disablement process is far more than 20% completed so they do have a point in this. As said previously, the fuel is hard to get a hold of but we are working on improving this pace. Once the fuel we have coming in the next week or so arrives, the North Koreans will hopefully respond by increasing the shifts again.

Is the North Korean leadership having trouble in finding consensus on the nuclear issue?

I have asked the North Korean negotiators several times to bring a more diverse set of officials to discussions instead of just the Foreign Ministry. This is because we believe that certain bureaucracies such as the nuclear ministry and military don’t understand exactly the inducements we are looking to provide and that many of their remaining fears could be dealt with if they were able to participate.

Senator Kerry:

How long are we going to wait for the declaration?

The declaration in fundamental to being able to move forward and State Dept. official Sung Kim was just in North Korea to push just this point. The North Koreans are reluctant about this list because it will likely require them to admit about many things that are inconsistent with what they have told us in the past. Other than being caught in lies, they are also worried that providing such information will just lead to an infinite number of further questions that probe much deeper into the North Korean government and military than they are comfortable with at this point.

There is no real Plan B for if the U.S. is not able to get a declaration from North Korea. All of the focus is placed on getting the declaration and working to finish denuclearization by the end of 2008.

Do other nations agree that North Korea likely had a uranium enrichment program?

Other nations do seem to agree on this point but they don’t see as a program that currently exists and is ongoing. The plutonium, however, is the key to the importance of the declaration as it’s the main component of their weapons program.

Is the election of new South Korean President Lee likely to be significant?

The current Roh administration has worked well with the United States in making positive movement on denuclearizing North Korea. I do welcome the linking of the North-South dialogue to the nuclear progress. It will be interesting to see how North Korea responds to this considering they have yet to seriously make a statement about the incoming government.

Are the North Koreans sincere in giving up their nuclear program?

Many people in their government seem to disagree with moving in this direction but there are many we encounter that are set on this path.

Senator Murkowski

Is the United States prepared to take the North Koreans off the list of State Sponsors of Terror before they addressed the issue of Japanese citizens abducted and not yet returned?

The United States has a very special alliance with the Japanese and they have many serious issues with North Korea including the threat of missile strikes and these abducted citizens. The latter issue is not just a problem that the government has; it is an issue that is very important to the domestic Japanese society.

Every time I have a meeting with the North Koreans I bring this issue up. I, in fact, keep a listing of all of their names in my pocket in case any of their names is possibly mentioned at one of the sessions. This effort seems to be paying off as the North Koreans have come to realize that this issue is crucial to moving forward with a normalizing of relations and improving their overall regional situation.

Linking the issues, however, is not in the interest of moving forward with the talks. We will definitely consult with Japan before we move to take North Korea off the terror list. It will not come to them as a surprise, and we hope to not do this at the expense of our relationship with Japan.

Senator Nelson

What happened with the North Korean connection to the facility Israel bombed in Syria?

It is important to make sure that North Korea is as transparent as possible in any issues that may involve proliferation. Other than this, we need to know more about the possible purchase of centrifuges from the AQ Khan network.

Senator Biden

What are President-elect Lee’s views on the U.S. relationship?

He sees a policy with the U.S.-ROK relationship in the forefront. But the U.S. must understand that the North-South issue is very unique and that we cannot underestimate the emotional impact of having these peoples forcible separated for so long. However, Lee will likely be more responsive.

How fast will funding be necessary for Phase 3 once the declaration comes?

Probably a month or two, so fairly quickly.

Any steps towards the North-Asia Security Mechanism?

There is a working group as part of the 6-Party talks on just this issue. Currently a Russian ambassador is in Washington to discuss this with government officials.

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