Breaking the Cycle of North Korean Provocations

Stephen W. Bosworth
Special Representative for North Korea Policy 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC
March 1, 2011

Chairman Kerry, Senator Lugar, and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The North Korea issue is one of the most important foreign policy challenges of our time. North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and proliferation activity pose an acute threat to a region of enormous economic vitality as well as to our global nonproliferation efforts and to our security interests more generally.

North Korea has repeatedly reneged on its commitments under the September 2005 Joint Statement made in the context of the Six-Party Talks. It has also failed to comply with a number of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) obligations. At the beginning of his administration, President Obama expressed a willingness to engage North Korea. It responded by conducting missile tests, expelling IAEA inspectors, announcing a nuclear test, disclosing its uranium enrichment program, and stating that the Six-Party Talks were “dead.” It also expelled the U.S. personnel delivering food aid to the North Korean people. The United States has been a leader of a unified international response to these North Korean provocations. The UN Security Council adopted UNSCRs 1718 and 1874, calling on North Korea to immediately cease its nuclear activities and provocative actions.

North Korea’s provocative actions have continued this past year, with its sinking of the Republic of Korea (ROK) corvette Cheonan in March and its artillery attack of South Korean Yeonpyong Island in November. The United Nations Security Council issued a strong statement condemning the attack which lead to the sinking of the Cheonan.

Following the attack on Yeonpyong Island, President Obama reaffirmed our commitment to the defense of the ROK and emphasized that we will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with our ally. The United States continues to demonstrate our commitment to deter North Korean provocations through joint military exercises with the ROK. For instance, the ROK participated in the November 27-30 USS George Washington Carrier Group exercises. We also continue to strengthen our non-proliferation efforts with regard to North Korea, including the adoption of new unilateral sanctions targeting DPRK illicit activities.

We strongly believe that North-South dialogue that takes meaningful steps toward reducing inter-Korean tensions and improving relations should precede a resumption of the Six-Party Talks. We believe North-South talks are an important opportunity for North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity and willingness to engage in dialogue. Ultimately, if North Korea fulfills its denuclearization commitments, the Five Parties are prepared to provide economic assistance and help to integrate North Korea into the international community.

In November, North Korea disclosed a uranium enrichment program and claimed that it was building a light-water nuclear reactor. These activities clearly violate North Korea’s commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement and its obligations under UNSCRs 1718 and 1874. The United States is working with Japan, South Korea and the UNSC to make clear that its Uranium Enrichment Program is prohibited by its commitments and obligations to UNSC resolutions 17818 and 1874 and the 2005 Joint Statement.

Looking into the future, we continue to firmly believe that a dual-track approach to North Korea offers the best prospects for achieving denuclearization and a stable region. We are open to meaningful engagement but will continue to pursue the full and transparent implementation of sanctions. We are looking for demonstrable steps by North Korea that it is prepared to meet its international obligations and commitments to achieve the goal of the 2005 Joint Statement: the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.

In the meantime, the United States is continuing to consult closely with our partners in the Six-Party process. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been at the forefront of this effort, reaching out to leaders in Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia. In early January, I led an interagency delegation to the Republic of Korea, China, and Japan. In all three capitals, I met with senior government officials to discuss next steps on the Korean Peninsula. I was accompanied by Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks Sung Kim, who coordinates U.S. efforts on the Six-Party Talks and leads day-to-day engagement with Six-Party partners.

During a mid-January visit to the United States by PRC President Hu Jintao, we made progress on greater cooperation with the Chinese on North Korea issues. In a Joint Statement issued during the visit, both sides agreed that the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula remains our paramount goal. The United States and China also jointly “expressed concern regarding the DPRK’s claimed uranium enrichment program,” “opposed all activities inconsistent with the 2005 Joint Statement and relevant international obligations and commitments,” and “called for the necessary steps that would allow for the early resumption of the Six-Party Talks process to address this and other relevant issues.”

Immediately following this visit in late January, Deputy Secretary Steinberg led a mission to Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing to further coordinate our approach to the Korean Peninsula.

In addition, we have further solidified our alliances with the ROK and Japan and have improved trilateral cooperation among the three countries in responding to the DPRK’s provocative and belligerent behavior. For example, at the December 6, 2010 U.S.-Japan-ROK Trilateral Ministerial meeting, Secretary Clinton, Japanese Foreign Minister Maehara, and ROK Foreign Minister Kim affirmed unity among the three nations and declared that the DPRK’s provocative and belligerent behavior threatens all three countries and will be met with solidarity from all three countries.

In the meantime, the United States continues to improve the implementation of unilateral and international sanctions on North Korea to constrain its nuclear and missile programs. On August 30, the President signed Executive Order (E.O.) 13551, giving the U.S. government new authorities to target North Korea’s conventional arms proliferation and illicit activities. The new E.O. designated one North Korean individual and five North Korean entities. The Departments of State and Treasury also recently designated five additional entities and three individuals under existing E.O. 13382, which targets North Korean WMD-related proliferation activities. We continue to urge the international community to implement UNSCRs 1718 and 1874 fully and transparently. At the same time, we have stated unequivocally that we will not lift sanctions on the DPRK just for their returning to talks.

In March 2009, the DPRK terminated the U.S. food aid program, ordering our humanitarian personnel out of the country and requiring that they leave behind 20,000 metric tons of undelivered U.S. food items. The United States remains deeply concerned about the well-being of the North Korean people, particularly in light of continuing reports of chronic food shortages. The U.S. government policy on humanitarian assistance and food aid is based on three factors: (1) level of need; (2) competing needs in other countries; and (3) our ability to ensure that aid is reliably reaching the people in need. This policy is consistent with our long-standing goal of providing emergency humanitarian assistance to the people of countries around the world where there are legitimate humanitarian needs. However, consistent with our practices worldwide, the United States will not provide food aid without a thorough assessment of actual needs and adequate program management, monitoring, and access provisions to ensure that food aid is not diverted or misused.

We work closely with the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council, other international and non-governmental organizations, and other governments to try to improve the human rights situation in North Korea. The State Department’s 2009 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for North Korea reports that the DPRK government continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Advancing human rights is a top U.S. priority in our North Korea policy. Any long-term improvement in U.S.-DPRK relations will be contingent, among several factors, on the DPRK making a serious effort to address human rights issues. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Robert King traveled to South Korea in early February to meet with South Korean government officials, as well as North Korean defectors, civil society groups, and North Korea experts. Ambassador King reports from his meetings that North Korea’s human rights and humanitarian situation continues to worsen.

We are also working closely with the UN and other organizations to protect North Korean refugees. The United States has urged China to adhere to its international obligations as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, including by not expelling or refouling North Koreans protected under those treaties and undertaking to co-operate with UNHCR in the exercise of its functions. Although the vast majority of North Korean refugees choose resettlement in the ROK, the United States will consider resettling eligible North Korean refugees who express an interest in resettlement to the U.S. directly to U.S. embassies and consulates or through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). We support increasing the flow of balanced information into the DPRK through independent broadcasters based in the ROK and in collaboration with the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its partners Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. The United States considers remains recovery operations to be an important humanitarian mission. We remain committed to achieving the fullest possible accounting for U.S. POW/MIAs from the Korean War, as well as from other conflicts.We are also carefully watching internal developments in North Korea, particularly as they relate to leadership succession and the promotion of heir apparent Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of Kim Jong-il, to key regime positions. In conclusion, we continue to work closely with our Six-Party partners in an effort to promote peace and stability on the Peninsula and achieve the goals of the 2005 Six-Party Joint Statement. We believe we can make progress in cooperation with our partners in Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, and Seoul. We are also working with our partners and the United Nations to advance human rights in North Korea, protect the status of North Korean refugees, and monitor the need for humanitarian assistance in North Korea. The door is open to Pyongyang to join and benefit from such an effort but only if it abandons the misguided notion that violence, threats, and provocation are the path toward achievement of its goals.

We face enormous challenges when dealing with North Korea. The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will not be easy to achieve, but we cannot abandon the goal. Through a strategy that combines openness to dialogue with a continuation of bilateral and multilateral sanctions, we believe we have an opportunity to bring about important improvements to the global nonproliferation regime and to regional and global security. We believe that our partners in the Six-Party process share this assessment and we will continue to work closely with them as we move forward.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I welcome any questions you may have.