The Heritage Foundation

Asian Backgrounder #131

July 8, 1994

July 8, 1994 | Asian Backgrounder on

Fixing Jimmy Carter's Mistakes: Regaining the Initiative Against North Korea

(Archived document, may contain errors)

No. 131 July 8, 1994


INTRODUCTION Despite former President Jimmy Carter's embrace of North Korean dictator Kim Il- Sung, and despite Carter's June 19 pronouncement, "The crisis is over," North Korea's nuclear weapons program remains the most serious threat to peace in Asia and to the se- curity of the United States. Because of Carter's intervention, yet another round of diplo- macy is underway. A third round of U.S.-North Korean negotiations begins today, and the first-ever summit between the leaders of North and South Korea is scheduled for July 25 in Pyongyang. President Bill Clinton granted North Korea a third round of nego- tiations in exchange for a promise that Pyongyang would "freeze" its nuclear program and would not reprocess nuclear fuel into plutonium for the duration of high-level U.S.- North Korean talks.

Before Carter's visit, Clinton was preparing to lead an international coalition to im- pose sanctions on North Korea to pressure it to end its nuclear weapons program. In promising to resume talks with the North Koreans, the U.S. postponed the threat of sanc- tions. The danger is that Kim 11-Sung may be able to buy more time to build his nuclear weapons. One result, however, is that the Clinton Administration has lost the initiative. The agenda and timetable of the talks once again are largely controlled by Kim 11-Sung. North Korea already is dangerously close to beginning production of nuclear weap- ons. Kim 11-Sung's assurance that he will "freeze' his nuclear program merely makes a virtue of a necessity; the nuclear fuel taken from the 5-megawatt reactor in late May must "cool" until about late August. At that time, Kim could order the fuel to be reproc- essed into enough plutonium to make four to five nuclear bombs. Kim is suspected of having already produced enough plutonium for two weapons. In addition, Kim is build- ing two new nuclear reactors that could produce enough plutonium to build six and twenty nuclear weapons, respectively, per fuel load. If he builds these weapons, Kim will possess a new, powerful threat to South Korea and the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed

there. The most direct threat to Americans is that North Korea will sell either bombs or plutonium to rogue terrorist states like Iran. But there also is a danger of further nuclear proliferation in Asia if countries like South Korea and Japan lose confidence in Ameri- can security guarantees and decide to build their own nuclear deterrents. Clinton must regain the initiative, lost again with the help of Carter, in convincing Kim U-Sung to abandon his nuclear weapons program. Since 1993 Kim has held the in- itiative and the U.S. has been reacting to him. His strategy has been to drag out the nego- tiations, focusing the terms of bargaining not on whether North Korea will abandon its nuclear capability, but on whether Kim U-Sung will allow -inspections of its nuclear sites -or whether North Korea will continue the talks at all. While Clinton is negotiating the terms of further talks, Kim has done nothing to suggest that he is abandoning his nuclear weapons program. Washington cannot allow Kim II-Sung's nuclear ambitions to be real- ized. To regain the initiative against North Korea, Clinton should: V Tell North Korea that a "freeze" of its nuclear weapons program is not enough; it must also dismantle its plutonium-producing nuclear reactors and spent nu- clear fuel reprocessing plants.

V Coordinate with South Korea-to make the -third vound of U.S.-North. Korean negotiations and the North-South summit the decisive opportunity for North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program through diplomacy.

V Make clear to North Korea that full diplomatic relations and trade will follow the verified termination of its nuclear weapons program.

V Prepare to resume seeking international economic sanctions if North Korea re- fuses to terminate its nuclear weapons program, by seeking agreement now with South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China over a program of sanctions. V Use the current diplomatic lull to strengthen American military forces in South Korea and Japan to deter any surprise attack from North Korea.


In less than a day, from June 15 to June 16, President Clinton made yet another of the abrupt policy reversals which increasingly have come to characterize his foreign policy style. I On June 15, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright for- mally introduced to the U.N. Security Council a package of sanctions against North Ko- rea that included an arms embargo, cutting U.N. economic assistance to North Korea, 2 and ending any scientific cooperation that could help North Korea's nuclear program.

1 See Lawrence T. DiRita, "Read My Flips: Clinton's Foreign Policy Reversals In His Own Words:'Heritage Foundation F. YL No. 18, June 20, 1994. 2 Robert S. Greenberger, "U.S. Proposes List of Sanctions For North Kowa," 77te Wall Street Journal, June 16, 1994, p. Al 2. The threat of sanctions was a response to North Korea's removal of 8,000 nuclear fuel rods from a 5-me awatt reactor, absent inspectors from the International Atomic Energy 3@ Agency (L4,EA). These rods, when reprocessed, could make enough plutonium for four to six nuclear bombs. The sanctions also were in response to Pyongyang's refusal to co- operate with the IAEA, which repeatedly had been rebuffed in attempts to inspect key North Korean nuclear facilities. 4 North Korea withdrew from the IAEA on June 13 and threatened to expel two remaining IAEA inspectors. In addition, to deter possible North Korean aggression, Clinton was reported to be considering sending additional war- 5 planes, plus -one more aircraft -carrier, to reinforce U.S. military forces in South Korea. However, on June 22, Clinton reversed himself, suspending the threat of sanctions and agreeing once again to resume talks with North Korea. The catalyst for this change in policy was the visit to North Korea by Jimmy Carter, who had been invited to North Korea in 1991 but could not get Washington's approval to visit the North until early June 1994.6 In Pyongyang, on June 16, Kim II-Sung told Carter that he was willing to al- low the two remaining IAEA inspectors to remain and that he would "freeze" his nu- clear program as long as the U.S. would resume high-level talks. 7 Clinton responded later on June 16 that if "North Korea is genuinely and verifiably prepared to freeze its nuclear program while talks go on ... then we would be willing to resume high level talks."8 By June 22, the Clinton Administration had verified North Korea's promises, and Clinton announced- he would suspend sanctions- and enter into a third round of high- level talks with North Korea. In allowing Carter's intervention, Clinton committed a number of diplomatic mistakes that may come back to haunt him in the future. MISTAKE #1: Clinton briefly lost control over his foreign policy. This was done by allowing Carter to intedect himself into the most serious military confrontation facing the United States. Clinton had selected his own envoys, Senators Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), to covey his own message to Kim Il-Sung.9 However, af- ter the North Koreans refused to meet the Senators, instead of persisting in sending his chosen envoys, Clinton allowed Carter to go to North Korea even though it was known that the former President strongly opposed the Administration's policy of seek- ing sanctions. 10

3 Megawatt measurements refer to electrical output The 5-megawatt reactor also is referred to as a 25-megawatt reactor, which indicates thermal output. 4 For North Korea's relations with the IAEA, see Richard D. Fisher, "North Korea's Nuclear Threat Challenges the World and Tests America's Resolve," Asian Studies Center Backgrounder No. 129, February 3, 1994, pp. 3-5. 5 Michael R. Gordon, 'Vinton May Add G.Vs in Korea While Remaining Open to Talks," The New York Times, June 17, 1994, p. A I. 6 Frank J. Murray, "N. Korean Demand Unanswered," The Washington Times, June 21, 1994, p. A 10. 7 Robert S. Greenberger and Steve Glain, '@Carter Briefs White House On North Korea," The Wall Street Journal, June 20, 1994, p. A6. 8 R. Jeffrey Smith, "'Promising' Signs Seen In N. Korea:' 7he Washington Post, June 17, 1994, p. A20. 9 Warren Strobel, "Senator's trip to Pyongyang was aborted:' The Washington Times, June 23, 1994, p. Al. 10 R. Jeffrey Smith and Ann Devroy, "Carter's Call From N. Korea Offered Option," The Washington Post, June 26, 1994, p. A10. While in Pyongyang, Carter pursued his own agenda. As Clinton was discussing military options against North Korea on June 16, Carter was in Pyongyang telling the Cable News Network that Kim II-Sung had made important concessions and calling on Washington to pull back from sanctions against North Korea. At one point, Carter even was quoted as telling Kim II-Sung that the U.S. had "stopped the sanctions activ- ity in the United Nations." I IAn embarrassed Clinton Administration had to state that it had not abandoned sanctions but also felt compelled to investigate the concessions Carter claimed Kim had made. This opened the door for Clinton's June 23 decision to suspend 1sanctionse Thus, Carter's policy-not Clinton's-had prevailed. MISTAKE #2: Clinton briefly lost the initiative in the middle of a crisis. After months of reacting to Kim 11-Sung, by early June the U.S. was beginning to set the agenda in this crisis. On June 15 Kim D-Sung faced the prospect of U.S.-led United Nations sanctions to stop his nuclear weapons program. He had defied the 1AEA by preventing its inspectors from analyzing a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility last March and then defueled his 5-megawatt reactor, absent IAEA inspectors, in late May. But on June 16, it was the Clinton Administration that was scrambling to turn Kim 11-Sung's vague offer to "freeze' his nuclear program into a new diplomatic ave- nue. By getting Clinton to drop the threat of sanctions in exchange for a chance to dis- cuss this offer, Kim had seized the initiative from Clinton. The danger is that Kim may be able to set the agenda of this crisis for weeks, possi- bly even months. Since this crisis began in 1991, the North Korean dictator has ex- celled at offering half-measures designed to ease international pressure. For example, in December 1991, Kim signed an agreement with South Korea to create a nuclear weapons-free Korean peninsula and to allow inspection of North Korean nuclear fa- cilities by the South Koreans. However, he has-with success-refused to fulfill this agreement. In January of this year, moreover, Pyongyang agreed to a second round of IAEA in- spections but delayed granting visas to the LAEA inspectors until late February, thereby averting United Nations sanctions. In addition, it barred the IAEA inspectors from analyzing a key nuclear fuel reprocessing facility. These moves by Kim were de- signed to buy time. The Carter visit will further encourage Kim to believe that the mere appearance of cooperation with the West is enough to avoid sanctions. The result likely will be a pro- longed crisis and more time for North Korea to build its nuclear weapons. MISTAKE #3: Clinton retreated from a threat By abruptly changing policy and agreeing to a new round of talks, Clinton has demonstrated to Kim 11-Sung that he is not capable of following through on his threats. On May 3, Secretary of Defense Wil- liam Perry warned that North Korea would incur sanctions if it removed the 8,000 fuel rods in the 5-megawatt reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear complex. 12 This threat was a "line in the sand." Nevertheless, the fuel rods were removed and the threat of

11 The White House Bulletin, June 17,1994. 12 Remarks to the National Press Club, May 3. 1994. sanctions was dropped. These 8,000 rods contain enough spent fuel to make pluto- nium for four to six bombs. MISTAKE #4: Clinton confused his allies. The sanctions package that the U.S. an- nounced on June 15 was the result of many months of quiet diplomacy and then weeks of high-level consultations after North Korea started defueling its 5-megawatt reactor. North Korea had threatened war if the United Nations imposed sanctions. Both South Korea and Japan were concerned that sanctions not prompt North Korea to begin a second Korean war; their decision to support the U.S. sanctions drive was made with great difficulty. But having made the decision to follow the American lead, neither country ex- pected that Washington would retreat so readily. In fact, in a June 10 phone conversa- tion, South Korean President Kim Young Sam received Clinton's assurance that he would not change his mind about sanctions regardless of the outcome of Carter's visit. 13 There now is a danger that Clinton will have a tougher time persuading Tokyo and Seoul to agree to sanctions if this current round of negotiations fails. The next time around, South Korean and Japanese officials will be even more inclined to question U.S. resolve. A new sanctions drive might face even greater opposition from the new Socialist-Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) -coalition in Japan. While pro-American LDP member Yohei Kono is Japan's new Foreign Minister, Socialist Prime Minister Tornfichi Murayama this year has repeatedly opposed sanctions against North Ko- rea. 14 The Socialist Party has deep ties to North Korea, and Koreans living in Japan who are loyal to Kim 11-Sung are a major source of funds for the Socialists. 15


North Korea's nuclear program, begun in the late 1950s, is very close to giving Kim 11-Sung the capability for the production of many nuclear weapons. North Korea has one 5-megawatt reactor in its nuclear research complex near the city of Yongbyon, about 60 miles north of Pyongyang. Around May 19, North Korea started removing about 8,000 nuclear fuel rods from this reactor. They now are cooling in special fluid and could be ready for reprocessing possibly by the end of August. In fact, the North Koreans may be preparing an excuse to begin reprocessing, claiming that a protective cladding that sur- rounds the core of fuel rods is deteriorating rapidly in the cooling pond and may present a major safety hazard. 16 If Kim II-Sung decided to resume his nuclear program, he

13 Kim Sung-pok, "'Crack' in U.S., Seoul Strategy:' 77se Korea Times, June 18, 1994, p. 2, in FBIS East Asia, June 20, 1994, p. 43; "Carter trip causes red faces in Seoul," Canberra Times (Australia), June 14, 1994, p. 7. 14 "Murayama on SDPJ's Policy on Diet, Coalition Ties," in FBIS East Asia, May 19,1994, p. 14; KYODO, "Murayama Opposes Proposed Laws on DPRK Issue:' April 19, 1994, in FBIS East Asia, April 19, 1994, p. 3. 15 Richard P. Lawless, "Tokyo's Ties to Pyongyang's Threat," The Wall Street Journal, December 28, 1993, p. 10. 16 R. Jeffrey Smith, "Officials Foresee Step-by-Step U.S. Strategy at Talks With North Korea:, 7he Washington Post, June 30,1994, p. A13. could reprocess the fuel rods and possibly extract enough plutonium for four to six nu- clear weapons by the end of this year. 17 In addition to the 5-megawatt reactor, North Korea is building a larger 50-megawatt reactor in the Yongbyon complex. After it begins operation, perhaps as early as next year, this reactor could yield enough plutonium to make four to six bombs per fuel load. Spent fuel would be ready for reprocessing about one year after this new reactor begins operation. A large spent fuel reprocessing facility also is being built in the Yongbyon complex, which by 1996 could begin reprocessing enough fuel to make ten nuclear weapons a year. An even larger 200-megawatt reactor being built near the city of Taechon could be finished in 1996 and may produce enough plutonium to build be- tween 16 and 20 bombs per fueling. Proliferation and Asian stability. North Korea's acquisition of a nuclear arsenal could spark an era of instability in Asia. Should U.S. allies like South Korea and Japan lose confidence in American defense guarantees, they might seek to build their own nu- clear weapons. On June 17, former Japanese Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata said, "It is certainly the case that Japan has the capability to possess nuclear weapons, but has not made them." 18 Though Japan has maintained a strict pledge never to build nuclear weap- ons, Hata's comment was not reassuring. Asian nuclear proliferation could well lead to reduced public support for U.S. military commitments in Asia and even to increased public and congressional pressures for a military withdrawal from the region. This, in turn, might cause a new Asian arms race that would decrease stability and produce new threats to the United States. Nuclear terror potential. Another danger is that North Korea may sell nuclear weap- ons or plutonium to terrorist states, unleashing an age of nuclear terrorism. In a June 5 television interview, President Clinton acknowledged this danger: "Could it [North Ko- rea's plutonium] be used to make a bomb, and could that bomb be used either against 19 their neighbors in South Korea, or maybe be sold to another rogue state? Perhaps so. U.S. intelligence officials point to North Korea's sale of SCUD missiles to states like Iran and Syria as an indicator of possible nuclear sales. Nordi Korea also may be trying to put nuclear warheads on the longer-range versions of the SCUD missile it is develop- ing. 20 Last March CIA Director R. James Woolsey warned that a new North Korean mis- sile, the Taepo Dong-2, may have a range of 2,170 miles. 21 This would allow it to hit Ja- pan and U.S. military bases in Guam.

17 This reactor already has been the focus of much controversy. The LAFA believes that a previous defueling in 1989 may have yielded enough plutonium for one or two weapons. The IAEA wanted to examine some 300 specific rods, which might have helped to confirm its suspicion that North Korea already had reprocessed enough plutonium to make weapons. 13 David E. Sanger, "In Face-Saving Turn, Japan Denies Nuclear Know-How," The New York Times, June 22, 1994, p. A10. 19 Bill Gertz, '74. Korea as nuclear exporter?," 77te Washington Times, June 8, 1994, p. A9. 20 Barbara Starr, "No Dongs may soon be nuclear, warns USN:'Jane's Defence Weekly, June 18, 1994, p. 1. 21 Martin Sieff, "Japan, S. Korea join missile race with N. Korea," The Washington Times, March 24, 1994, p. Al 2. HOW THE U.S. CAN REGAIN THE INITIATIVE AGAINST NORTH KOREA

Before Jimmy Carter's visit to North Korea, American leadership had united U.S. al- lies behind a common strategy: to convince Kim H-Sung that he must abandon his nu- clear ambitions. Carter's visit to North Korea disrupted this fragile alliance and caused Clinton to abandon his strategy of threatening sanctions. . It is time -for. the U.S. to regain the initiative in its negotiations with North Korea. For talks with North Korea to be successful, North Korea must understand fully America's demands. Washington cannot allow Pyongyang to modify its definition of a "freeze" so that it can continue its nuclear program. Allowing this to happen will ensure that North Korea sets the negotiating agenda for the current July 8 talks and subsequent meetings. The U.S. should insist that a "freeze" be verified by international inspectors. Further- more, North Korea must be told in detail what it must do beyond freezing its nuclear program to end the crisis over its nuclear threat. Specifically, North Korea should be told that:

V A "freeze" of its nuclear weapons program is not enough; it must also dismantle its plutonium-producing nuclear reactors and spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plants. Pyongyang must surrender its control over the 8,000 fuel rods taken from the 5- megawatt reactor. As an inducement, Washington should offer to barter food and pe- troleum for the nuclear fuel rods.22 Washington's goal should be to secure control of the rods by the end of August, when they may be ready for reprocessing. North Korea should be told that if it starts reprocessing these fuel rods, the U.S. immediately will resume seeking sanctions. Pyongyang also must not refuel its 5-megawatt reactor, must halt construction of its 50- and 200-megawatt reactors, and must dismantle its nuclear fuel reprocessing facil- ity. These moves must be verified by LAEA inspectors or by inspectors from South Korea or the United States. It also is critical that North Korea rejoin the LAEA, allow unhampered inspections by the LAEA, and comply fully with the Nuclear Non-Prolif- eration Treaty. In addition, North Korea must implement a 1991 agreement with South Korea to begin mutual North-South inspections of nuclear facilities in both countries.

V The U.S. will coordinate with South Korea to make the third round of U.S.-North Korean negotiations the decisive opportunity for North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program through diplomacy. The July 8 negotiations in Geneva and the July 25 to 27 summit between President Kim Young Sam and Kim II-Sung in Pyongyang together should constitute the deci- sive opportunity for North Korea to prove that it will peacefully join the community

22 Philip Zelikow, "False Hope, Once Again," The New York Times, June 24,1994, p. A27. of nations. If the July 8 negotiations fail to convince North Korea to end its nuclear program, the North-South summit should be used to press this issue. The U.S. should set a goal of achieving, by this Fall, North Korea's agreement to end its nuclear weap- ons program. This time frame is necessary because by August North Korea may be able to begin reprocessing its fuel rods to make more plutonium. If the July 8 negotiations or the July 25 summit do not produce an end to North Ko- rea's nuclear threat, Washington should dispatch a credible high-level envoy to Pyongyang. This envoy should repeat Washington's final diplomatic offer and then, if Kim refuses again, tell him that Washington will build -a-coalition to quickly impose sanctions. V Full diplomatic relations and trade will follow the verified termination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The U.S. must explain clearly to North Korea what it will gain if it ends its nuclear weapons program. First, the U.S. should tell North Korea that South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. will begin normal relations after the nuclear weapons program is ended. Gaining full recognition by these states has been a consistent goal of North Korean di- plomacy. Second, the U.S. should promise that it will end its trade embargo against North Korea. The U.S. also should tell the North that South Korea and Japan are pre- pared to increase substantially their trade with the North. Finally, if North Korea ends its nuclear weapons program, Washington should offer to replace Pyongyang's graphite-based nuclear reactors, which are better suited for producing plutonium, with light-water-based reactors, which yield much less spent fuel suitable for making plutonium. This would address North Korea's claim that it needs its reactors to generate electrical power. Even though this claim is dubious- none of North Korea's reactors today produces electricity-light-water reactors are a small concession to keep North Korea in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. How- ever, Japan and South Korea, not the U.S., should pay for the new reactors. V If North Korea refuses to terminate its nuclear weapons program, the U.S. will work with South Korea, Japan, and China to create a program of sanctions.

South Korea's and Japan's cooperation are key to the success of a sanctions pro- grain. Clinton should begin now to work with the new Japanese Socialist-Liberal Democratic Party coalition to gain Japanese support. Clinton should quietly warn So- cialist Japanese Prime Minister Tonifichi Murayama, whose party has close relations with North Korea, that Japanese failure to support sanctions will endanger the U.S.-Ja- pan security relationship. Washington also should demand that Beijing support sanc- tions against North Korea, capitalizing on improved U.S.-Chinese relations in the wake of the resolution of the dispute over China's most-favored-nation trade status. Clinton, however, should make clear that he will seek sanctions outside the United Na- tions if China opposes sanctions in the U.N. Security Council.

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