Prospects for the Trump-Kim Vietnam Summit
February 22, 2019
Welcoming Remarks and Session I
Andrew H. Schwartz: Good morning. Welcome to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. I’m Andrew Schwartz. I’m our senior vice president and chief communications officer. So glad to have all of you here for this terrific panel – or panels. One thing I wanted to alert you all to is we have this new podcast. It’s called “The Impossible State.” If you haven’t heard it, it’s Victor Cha, and Sue Terry, Mike Green, other – Bob King – other experts here. I host it. It’s all about North Korea. We do it almost every week. You can find it anywhere you get your podcasts. With that, I’d like to bring up our first panel. Please take – Nick, do you want to bring everybody up and we can start? Great.
Andrew H. Schwartz: Thank you all for being here.
Nick Schifrin: (Off mic) – much, everyone. My name is Nick Schifrin. I am the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour. And welcome to this amazing event, this hour and the next hour. For the next hour, we’re going to be talking about potential outcomes for the summit, prospects for denuclearization, prospects for some kind of political declaration to end the war, and the economic implications of the summit for Northeast Asia. And I don’t think our panelists really need introductions, but I will do so quickly.
Nick Schifrin: Victor Cha, CSIS Korea Chair, director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council staff during the George W. Bush administration, deputy head of the U.S. delegation during the six-party talks. Laura Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, former policy advisor during the Hillary Clinton campaign, and senior advisor to then-Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Mark Lippert, vice president at Boeing International, former ambassador to South Korea, and a former intelligence officer. And I predict that question may come up.
Nick Schifrin: Sue Terry, senior fellow for the Korea chair here, senior – former senior analyst on Korean affairs at the CIA, and former NSC staff at the end of George W. Bush, beginning of Obama, for Korea, Japan, and Oceanic affairs. And last but not least, Richard Johnson at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. He’s the senior director for fuel cycle and verification. He led the Iran nuclear implementation at the State Department and was the director of nonproliferation at the National Security Council staff during the Obama administration. So thank you all for being here and thank you guys for having this fantastic cast.
Nick Schifrin: And, Victor, let me – let me start with you. And let’s start by talking about the expectations, first, for North Korea, during this summit. And you’ve said this: That they’ll probably be willing to negotiate their past, be willing to negotiate their future, but not their present. So explain that and explain why that’s such a concern for you.
Victor Cha: Sure. So, first, thank you, everybody, for joining us this morning.
Victor Cha: So what I mean by that is essentially that North Korea has programs that I think that they will be willing to give up next week in Hanoi, but they are things that they’ve already talked about giving up and, in fact, have stopped operations at right after the Singapore summit. And, you know, my guess is that they’re going to allow the United States or some international body to go in and sort of monitor the decommissioning of these sites. And as we saw in Kim Jong-un’s new year’s speech in January, he has put forward the idea of stopping further production in the future as well as a pledge not to transfer any capabilities or knowledge.
Victor Cha: So if you think about those things, that is negotiating your past, things that you don’t need anymore; and it’s negotiating your future, things you promise not to do in the future. So you’re actually not really giving up anything. And in the meantime, I’m pretty certain there are going to be clear demands for the United States to give up things very much in the present, whether that’s exercises, whether it’s the deployment of troops, sanctions, you know, a variety of different things.
Victor Cha: You know, it’s a smart strategy. I mean, if – you know, if I were the North Koreans, like, the North Koreans are not stupid. They’ve got a smart strategy about how they want to do this. But in the meantime they are keeping their present, if you will, which are, you know, 20 missile bases that we at CSIS have been studying – short-, medium-range, intermediate-range missile bases; their current stockpile of weapons, anywhere between 20 and 60 nuclear weapons, probably on the higher end; you know, and other sorts of capabilities – WMD, chem/bio capabilities. So, you know, I think that is sort of the situation that the president’s walking into, and so he just needs to be aware of that.
Nick Schifrin: Mark Lippert, does the U.S. have leverage? The situation, as Victor just said, that the – that the U.S. is walking into, does the president of the United States have leverage in order to get that much or even more?
Mark Lippert: Good question. I would say yes, he still does. I think the multilateral sanctions, there’s no doubt the North Koreans want relief from that. And I’ve always been a believer of the theory that the model that Kim Jong-un has in North Korea, while allows him to stay in power, is not sustainable over time, especially vis-à-vis the rise of internal markets, which I think are slowly but surely reshaping the North Korean side, bothering the regime; information flow; and then the isolation he faced early on in the Trump administration and late Obama administration in terms of diplomatic space; and then, finally, I would say, you know, the military forces arrayed against him.
Mark Lippert: Now, the question is, I think, some of that leverage or some of the pressure has been reduced after the Singapore summit. And the question is, can we use what is left of our leverage, number one? Number two, what is – what we have in the way of incentives. And, number three, I would say couple that with the other relevant parties, mainly the other members of the Six-Party Talks, give or take, to try to cobble together a deal.
Mark Lippert: So I do think we have leverage. I think there’s an open question whether it is enough leverage. And I think the more leverage, in my view, you have in the situation, it essentially forces the North Koreans into choices they wouldn’t want to make – in other words, perhaps give up the present – more of the present, as Victor talked, sooner, and as well as probably on the economic reform basket as well. And I’ll stop there.
Nick Schifrin: For those of you who know, at the “NewsHour” we try and have debates, and so I will try and create division on this panel. (Laughter.) And so, Sue, does the U.S. have any leverage anymore?
Sue Mi Terry: Well, you are trying to make me debate? (Laughter.) I think we had leverage when we pursued maximum pressure in the fall of – what is it now? – 2017, it was about. We had leverage. We saw for the first time China actually implementing sanctions, doing things that actually surprised me. I wished that we had continued – when we had that leverage, continued that pressure. I didn’t like the “fire and fury” rhetoric, but I liked the sanctions and pressure.
Sue Mi Terry: But I think we gave away that leverage too quickly by having Singapore summit when we were not prepared. I’m not against trying this out at the highest level, but I thought when we were just getting going we let go of that leverage and met with Kim. Didn’t really get anything out of the Singapore summit; it was just – really just an aspirational statement that we got. And you can argue that not much has really changed.
Sue Mi Terry: Yet, right now I think that sanctions implementation, we know we are getting reports that that’s being loosened by China. They’re not just – there’s just a lack of incentive there. Kim Jong-un has been engaged in diplomacy and summitry; met with Xi Jinping, what, four times, President Trump, and three times with President Moon Jae-in. And he’s out there now legitimized, normalized, and I think he has everything going for him. And my concern is – long-term concern is I think we are actually heading towards the direction – we are on a path to accepting North Korea as a nuclear-weapons power.
Sue Mi Terry: I do think there is going to be some sort of interim agreement that’s going to come out next week, but that’s not denuclearization. That’s really a freeze proposal. It’s an arms-control negotiation, which is what North Koreans have always wanted. So by having some sort of freeze deal and eventually even a deal on ICBM(s), that’s exactly what North Korea wants. And I think we are on that path, and I don’t know if there is any leverage now that we can stop that.
Nick Schifrin: Richard Johnson, can you – can you respond to that? Are we just on the path of accepting North Korea as a nuclear-weapons state? And you and I spoke the other day and you had a good line, that the process of denuclearization has to be done with North Korea, not to North Korea. Can you explain that?
Richard Johnson: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I mean, I think if you look at the history of any other country that’s given up a nuclear program, whether they had weapons or not, they didn’t – with the rare exception of Libya, they didn’t basically say come in, fly out all of our things, put them in a box, and send them to Tennessee. They were done by the country in question, and often with the assistance of one or more other countries. Look at the Iran deal, for example. Look at what happened in the case of the former Soviet Union, where the United States and others came in and helped to secure nuclear facilities, move missiles, move nuclear weapons back into Russia. So I think the idea that has been put forward by some that you might be able to just come in and in one fell swoop just sort of clean it out is very well – very misplaced, I would say.
Richard Johnson: In terms of, you know, where are we heading, I think we get caught up sometimes in these debates about accepting North Korea as a nuclear state. I don’t actually think that at least the current administration position is to accept North Korea as a nuclear-weapons state, which by the way, you know, would run completely counter to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That’s just sort of impossible from a legal perspective.
Richard Johnson: I do think, though, that it makes sense to acknowledge that North Korea has a nuclear capability, probably has nuclear weapons – though we’ve never actually seen a real one, potentially, in person – and so we have to figure out where we can start. And in my view, where you can start is, essentially, talking about a freeze. It’s not ideal, but it’s a starting point. And if we can see North Korea, which is currently producing highly-enriched uranium and plutonium as we speak, if we can see that production ceased in a verifiable way – and of course, there’s a question about how you can verify that – that would be a positive step.
Richard Johnson: But it’s certainly not the only step. And I think the bottom line is this is not going to happen in a year. It’s not going to happen in two years. If it happens at all, it’s going to happen over many years.
Nick Schifrin: So just to put a point on that, you’re talking about a freeze, not just what we see now – informal freeze, basically, on testing. But you’re talking about fissile material production freeze.
Richard Johnson: I think the essential next step is a fissile material production freeze.
Nick Schifrin: Laura, let’s talk about the U.S. approach and what the priorities are. As we all saw, probably, Steve Biegun, the lead negotiator for the U.S. on this, gave a speech at Stanford a few weeks ago. It was really his first time where he’s laid out exactly what they’re thinking. And he made a couple points which a lot of us picked up on which were a little different than what the U.S. has been saying over the last year. He said full inventory only has to be provided before denuclearization can be final. That’s a different approach than the inventory coming at the beginning. He talked about parallel and simultaneous action, again, rather than frontloaded. And he really presented North Korea as having a future in Northeast Asia. So, if that’s the Steve Biegun approach, is the U.S. on the right track?
Laura Rosenberger: So I think broadly speaking I don’t have major concerns with that approach. I might quibble or tweak a few things there. You know, for instance, while I don’t think a declaration needs to be the first step, I mean, we know in the last round of the Six-Party Talks, in fact, what was really the final sticking point was the question of a declaration. So I think it’s reasonable to not ask for that to be the first thing, but I have concerns about it being too far toward the end of the process because how do we really know if we’re getting to the end of the process if we don’t know what we’re looking at? So one piece of that.
Laura Rosenberger: On this parallel and simultaneous, my question there really comes down to what are we talking about in terms of sanctions relief, assuming that that would be one of the major steps on the U.S. side. I would be fine with relaxing some of the more economic-focused sanctions, if we were to do that in exchange for real steps on denuclearization – like, meaningful steps, not symbolic steps. But I think it’s really important to recall that the core of the sanctions regime actually remains focused on nonproliferation. It’s not – you know, there’s an economic pressure aspect of the sanctions. There’s a whole host of those sanctions that are in place to prevent material for the nuclear and missile programs from flowing into North Korea and for those materials – from flowing out of North Korea. Those have got to remain until we can be completely confident that there’s not a proliferation risk.
Laura Rosenberger: On the future in Northeast Asia, again, that’s something that’s actually been on the table in the past, even in the six-party process. I think the question there, though, is, you know, that really comes down to not just the question of the nuclear issue. Obviously we’re going to have a whole panel next on human rights abuses, which are a real concern. There are other nefarious North Korean activity – for instance, it’s ongoing cyberattacks that have been quite destructive. Really impressive report came out October – in October from FireEye detailing all of that activity, which I think is a real significant concern.
Laura Rosenberger: So I would want to see those kinds of things be a part of this conversation. So for me, I think the question is not do I have a problem with the approach that is laid out there as such, but it’s sort of what’s not there? And the last point that I would make on this is that in addition to the substance, process really matters here. And I know that that always sounds like an inside, like D.C. wonkery point . But one of the things we’ve seen repeatedly over the past year is that Kim Jong-un has realized that he can just go straight to the top, and that he doesn’t have to deal with anyone beneath him.
Laura Rosenberger: And I’m worried in the run-up to this summit, that we’re starting to see the same thing. You know, reportedly President Trump said to Moon Jae-in the other day that Trump is the only one who can solve this. You know, we see another one-on-one meeting happening. We see mixed messaging coming out, with the president saying he’s in no rush for denuclearization while a different official on a background call yesterday said that they’re looking to move quickly and in very big bites. So we have inconsistent messaging, a lack of a process, and the undercutting of the negotiating team. Unless we actually have a real meaningful process in place, the substance isn’t really going to matter.
Nick Schifrin: Sue Terry, is there a meaningful process? And if President Trump is the one to make these decisions do you have faith that he won’t give away too much?
Sue Mi Terry: No, I don’t have faith. (Laughter.) No, because Laura’s absolutely right. There’s no process, there’s no coordination. I mean, so one of the biggest concerns that I have is President Trump giving away alliance equities. And if you just look at his decision to pull troops out of Syria, that was not coordinated. That was not coordinated among – it was not what his, you know, all advisors supported. He even considered pulling out of NATO. He consistently talked about, you know, U.S. troop presence in South Korea as some sort of – you know, he didn’t support it. He didn’t support – this is something that he believed for years, questioning why we have troops in rich countries like South Korea.
Sue Mi Terry: Even though I do think that because the Special Measures Agreement between U.S. and South Korea has been just reached – even though I have a concern that it’s only a one-year deal – that now the president sort of promising Kim or declaring that he’s going to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea, that probability has now decreased that this is going to happen next week. However, I don’t doubt – I mean, I do have doubt that President Trump could potentially tell Kim, he has two days, that this could be on the table in the future, because of just his consistent belief and questioning about, you know, why we have troops in places like South Korea.
Sue Mi Terry: I do think one good news is that there is no support in the U.S. government to pull troops out of South Korea. I think there is bipartisan support for a continued troop presence. And so when you look at McCain – John McCain Defense Authorization Act last year that was passed in August, it stipulates that we cannot pull troops out. We cannot reduce it below 22,000 unless secretary of defense says it’s in the national interest. And I think that’s all good sign. But I don’t – I don’t – I don’t – I can’t – I don’t have faith that President Trump – because he doesn’t believe in this process; it’s not a normal government where there’s policy coordination – that he’s just going to be able to sort of do what he wants to do and kind of just, you know, do whatever he wants to do without coordinating – or, without listening to his advisors.
Sue Mi Terry: And I think that’s truly the wildcard when it comes to next week’s summit. That’s my biggest concern.
Victor Cha: Can I just piggyback on that?
Nick Schifrin: Sure.
Victor Cha: So – you know, so – I mean, so just so you don’t think we’re all a bunch of, like, you know – you know, turds in the punchbowl – (laughter) – for Hanoi next week. So, look, OK, so we are in a negotiation, right? That’s better than we were in 2017, right? You have this president, who is personally committed to this and really wants it to succeed. I mean, he won’t say a bad word about Kim Jong-un. He won’t tweet a bad word. I mean, he is committed to this like we’ve never seen before, right, and, you know, all of us have worked in past administrations where the idea of a leader-level meeting was really not – well, I don’t know about for Obama but it was not – (laughter) – it really was not – certainly not for President Bush. You know, it wasn’t in the cards. So, you know, so those are all good things.
Victor Cha: However, at the same time, this is the thing that you worry about. The president goes to – goes to Hanoi next week. You know, he’s got Biegun and Pompeo that have tried to negotiate excruciatingly these small little steps forward like, yes, you can go in and see the rocket test stand or you can go see the missile – the nuclear test site – you know, these excruciating small steps. And the president comes in there and he’s, like, this is small ball, right. This is – I want big steps so I’m going to put big stuff on the table, right, and in part because he really wants it.
Victor Cha: I mean, he really wants us to succeed but also, as Sue said, it’s also informing this desire for big steps to succeed. Not for this to be small ball is a deep lack of appreciation of the importance of the alliance, right – a deep lack of appreciation of the importance of not just the U.S.-Korea alliances but alliances in general.
Victor Cha: We’re going to publish something this week that basically catalogs all the statements that Donald Trump has made about troops overseas in Europe and in Asia going back three decades, right, and if you go back three decades it is very consistent, right. Why are we paying for rich nations’ security? They should be paying for their own security. At the same time, they’re beating us on trade so why do we have these forces there? It is consistent going back to 1990. And the one thing you know – we know about President Trump is if he believes something he really acts on it, right. He really acts on it. So I think that’s a thing that we worry about.
Nick Schifrin: Richard Johnson, can you respond to that? Is small ball OK and is the – you know, when you listen to Steve Biegun they are talking about, you know, simultaneous steps. They are talking about a lot of small ball as a way to get to the big things eventually. Is that OK?
Richard Johnson: I think you have to play small ball. I’m a National League guy so, you know – (laughter) – that’s just how I think about things. But, I mean, in seriousness, I think – look, I hate to say the diplomatic weenie answer but you need both. You need to know what the long-term goal is here and I do think it’s useful that Steve Biegun and others have said things like there’s a place for North Korea in Northeast Asia and that, you know, we’re not looking to pull, you know, troops out of South Korea. We’re not looking for regime change per se. You do need to send a vision to Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang to say this is kind of what we’re looking at down the road. But you’re not going to get there without dealing with these nitty-gritty issues and if you look at previous successful arms control nonproliferation agreements, they’re very detailed. I hesitate to utter the five letters JCPOA in this town. But if you look at the Iran nuclear deal, that’s something –
Nick Schifrin: Which you were involved with, so –
Richard Johnson: Which I was involved in. It’s something like 140 pages long. And it’s very, very detailed, down to citing specific texts of which part of U.S. Code sanctions will be revoked; you know, how much uranium has to go from which location to another location.
Richard Johnson: So, you know, another reporter asked me yesterday; they said, what do you want to see as an outcome from this summit? And what I said was I’d be OK with no deliverable, if you will. I would be OK, though, if there was an actual negotiating process that was launched at the working level – at the Biegun-Kim Hyok-chol level – and the two leaders said, hey, these are your two folks. You guys go back, write a real document and start exchanging these papers back and forth. I don’t care if you cross all the lines out and rewrite it a million times. But we have to get into the really hard work of negotiating these texts, and unless you get into detail and substance, you look back at – I just wrote a paper that’s coming out I think today that says that if you look at all of the previous North Korea cases a lot of them fell apart because of misunderstandings about what the words actually meant because they were so vague.
Richard Johnson: And while ambiguity can be great and a diplomat’s best friend sometimes, I think when you’re talking about technical issues you want specificity. And so I would think that as difficult as that is and as naïve as that sounds, I think that if you really want to see a process succeed that’s what you need to do.
Richard Johnson: And one last point I would add is a sign if that is actually happening is if you start to see technical experts added to future delegations. In the Six-Party Talks, in Iran, in Russia you had people from the Department of Energy, from the national labs, from the Department of the Treasury, from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations dealing with sanctions. If those folks start getting added to delegations, that will make me think we’re going somewhere. If it stays at the political level, that’s hard to do.
Nick Schifrin: So we’ll say a senior administration official told a lot of us yesterday that there were technical experts as part of Steve Biegun’s last trip. They didn’t divulge where they were from, so they might all just be people from State, but we’ll see. (Laughter.) But –
Mark Lippert: (?): How come we don’t love State? (Laughter.)
Nick Schifrin: But, Mark, let’s go into that. So let’s get beyond ambiguity. So what the same senior administration official said specifically about the three priorities that the U.S. had coming into this summit yesterday: developing a shared understanding of denuclearization; a freeze on WMD and missile programs; and a roadmap, that real kind of what is the future going to bring, with some specificity. Is that enough to get beyond that ambiguity?
Mark Lippert: I mean, you know, let me just maybe dovetail off of what we were just talking about and take a little bit of a contrarian view just for argument’s sake since you want a debate, you know, on the – on kind of the leader versus working level, because I think it gets to the point.
Mark Lippert: You know, I think on the leader issue, I mean, we all have worked in offices where we’re both, you know, grateful for all of the access to principals, but then terrified what the principal will actually say when we get there. (Laughter.) So this is not a totally unique problem to the Trump administration. But I would say what seems unique here is that – and so that’s point one.
Mark Lippert: The second point is I do think having come from this from a political background versus sort of a diplomatic background, I tend to be a little more biased that leaders really matter, right? And you get leaders in a room and they can change paradigms quickly. Will it happen here? I’d say lower probability. And, you know, Sue’s points about giving away leverage, I think, come into play. But I think it’s important to not discount the fact that leaders in a room do tend to – can change paradigms. Let’s put it that way. They do have unique vertical integration challenges within the Trump administration, as Scott Snyder has said. And they do have to marry this up to process at some point because, as we were all discussing, the program is just too big, it’s too complex, there are too many details, and moreover it’s married – all the nuclear issues are married up against, you know, peace and security in Northeast Asia, the inter-Korean process. So you’ve got to get some process around it.
Mark Lippert: You know, is this enough? I think, to me, I would say it sounds like a good – a decent start, right? And I think the trick, though, is that we’ve spent a lot of time, two summits, and it’s not – you know, it’s probably enough to play another hand, but is it really what you would hope for after two summits at the highest level? And then the question becomes, to your point: Is there – it’s kind of Laura’s point, which I think is an excellent one – which is you can have all of the sort of top-level agreement, but the devil is in the details, to paraphrase Laura. And how it’s implemented, is there a roadmap, is critical to see if you play another hand.
Mark Lippert: And finally, I think the issue here, too, is, as much as I really think leaders do matter and I do think summits are really important, then the trick becomes: How do you get this out of, you know, the leader-to-leader conversation, right? Every – you know, I’ll use a football analogy – every handoff to the fullback, three yards and a cloud of dust, that’s the president’s problem, right? I mean, you’ve got to start devolving this down and accelerating.
Mark Lippert: So I think, you know, I’ll just stop here and say, is it enough? It could be. It could be interesting. And the details, implementation, and how you devolve this down, are really critical.
Nick Schifrin: So, Laura Rosenberger, how should the details evolve? How should we look at this summit and be able to judge whether this was successful or not on the senior administration official’s specifics, right – developing a shared understanding of denuclearization, getting a freeze, and creating a roadmap?
Laura Rosenberger: So I think there’s a couple of different things to look at, both in the immediate sort of do-outs or outcomes of the summit, and then what happens afterwards, right?
Laura Rosenberger: So one is, you know, the backgrounding from officials indicates that there may be some kind of joint statement coming out. That certainly requires a whole lot of detailed negotiation, as many of us who have been through negotiating joint statements before know. You know, but what my concern – and I think, frankly, that would be a great sign if we’re actually able to get to a point where there’s a joint statement that’s negotiated in advance, it’s detailed in some way, that’s then agreed to by the leaders. Color me a little skeptical that that will happen, but I would absolutely love to see it.
Laura Rosenberger: But what I think we also need to see is that when the president and Kim Jong-un presumably come out and have a press conference afterwards, that the president’s messaging is consistent with what is in that statement, because if we rewind the tape back to Singapore, folks may recall that there were three points in the documents – which it was a very vague document. But then the president also then went further. And in particular, the question of military exercises was not anywhere in the document. That was purely something that he riffed on in the press conference, and then took on a life of its own after, I would say. And so in many ways, I think that it’s both what’s in the document and is President Trump consistent with what’s in that. Because if he’s not, Kim Jong-un will see no reason to follow the letter of what is in a – in a statement and will just go with where President Trump goes.
Laura Rosenberger: So that’s in the sort of immediate outcome phase. In the follow-on phase, if we, again, go back to after Singapore, there was agreement in the statement that there would be follow-on meetings and channels between agreed officials – although it was a little vague on the North Korean side. And we really didn’t see much activity, right? We saw fits and starts. Secretary Pompeo had some trouble getting access at points. Steve Biegun wasn’t able to meet with his negotiating counterpart. Well, there was turnover, first of all, and then, second of all, it really wasn’t until there was essentially apparent agreement on a second summit that we really saw Steve Biegun getting access to his counterpart in direct negotiations.
Laura Rosenberger: And so those conversations weren’t as a follow-up to implement the previous summit agreement. They seemed to be in terms of a preparation for the second summit. That can’t happen again. We need to have immediate follow-up conversations at the agreed working level to begin to implement whatever, hopefully, comes out in some kind of joint statement.
Nick Schifrin: Sue Terry, one of the follow-up conversations, one of the follow-up actions that are likely to come out of this summit are some kind of verification, some kind of inspection. Can you talk about whether you have any faith that that’s going to be significant and legitimate? And how should we judge any kind of agreement that the North Koreans will make about verification and inspection going forward?
Sue Mi Terry: I don’t want to sound like the biggest pessimist in this group, but I do think – actually, I do think there’s a couple things that North Korea is going to put on the table. And this is exactly what Victor was talking about. So it’s going to sound and look good enough for a joint statement, by the way. There’s Punggye-ri, there’s Sohae/Tongchang-ri, and then they’re going to put Yongbyon mega – five-megawatt reactor. It’s going to be good enough for a joint statement.
Nick Schifrin: Just quickly explain just in one or two sentences each of those, just to make sure that everyone –
Sue Mi Terry: Oh, the nuclear test site, and the satellite launch site, and Yongbyon. But it’s not going to be all of Yongbyon. So they’re going to – so I think they will allow – if this is a deal, I think that’s what they’re going to put on the table. And our corresponding measures would be something like a peace declaration, some easing of sanctions by allowing South Korea to go to United Nations to get the exemption needed to reopen Kaesong Industrial Complex and Kumgang and so on and opening of the liaison office. There’s going to be some sort of a deal.
Sue Mi Terry: In terms of verification, I think—I think North Korea could even agree to a roadmap for those sites, for those things. And this is what Victor was talking about. The path – you can argue whether this is big enough or not, but I think they can even agree to a timeline or verification or allow inspectors in for those sites. So I guess the question then is, or the debate is, is that good enough? Is that – but I don’t see more than that. I don’t see North Korea has not – North Korea is not going to go beyond that. I think these three sites are going to be good enough, from North Korea’s perspective, to just drive this.
Sue Mi Terry: It’s going to take a lot of time, because each one can be negotiated in terms of getting people in, I mean, this is going to a time-consuming process. And that’s going to be enough to last the entire Trump administration. And I think that is North Korea’s game plan. We can then debate whether this is a good enough deal or not.
Nick Schifrin: Richard Johnson, as you know, this is a complex problem. What’s wrong with an agreement or at least some kind of framework or roadmap that does admit that this will take years?
Richard Johnson: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think that’s the agreement you want. And I should say that I completely actually agree with everything that Sue said, but I don’t think it’s that bad, in the sense that you’re shutting down Yongbyon – which, by the way, Yongbyon is a much bigger site than just the five-megawatt reactor and even what we know about enrichment there. But if you’re getting at parts of Yongbyon, you’re starting to shut down their nuclear material production. If it can be done in a verifiable way.
Richard Johnson: And I think your question about verification is key, because it matters what the verification is, who’s doing that verification. And I think expectations for verification are really key. One of the mistakes I think we made in the six-party talks was we put off verification until later phases, and we kept saying, that will come later. There were reasons we did that, that politically made sense. But at the end of the day, I think that was a mistake.
Richard Johnson: We risk doing that again here by doing this kind of step-by-step approach if we don’t at least signal to the North Koreans: Look, at the end of the day what we’re going – you were asking about a roadmap – at the end of the day, what we’re going to look for is the IAEA having a comprehensive – what’s called a comprehensive safeguards agreement with you, signing up to the additional protocol, which is the highest standard of nuclear safeguards, and being able to confirm that you don’t have any nonpeaceful nuclear activities. That’s what we’re going to want from you eventually.
Richard Johnson: We’re probably not going to get that at the outset, but they need to know that that’s coming so that they can’t claim, oh, you’re moving the goalposts on us, we don’t want to take you to undeclared facilities. So that being said, if the announcement next week in Hanoi is some sort of shutdown in Yongbyon, with real verification – which, by the way, includes letting the IAEA go in and start to assess how much material was produced there – that would be OK.
Richard Johnson: And one last thing I would add, going back to a discussion earlier on declarations, I just agree. I think it was Laura that said it. I really agree that you don’t need the declaration right away. And I would argue, you don’t need one declaration. You want a series of declarations. And it can start with whatever the deal is in this round. If the deal is Yongbyon, then the North Koreans could declare Yongbyon, declare what they’re freezing, how much material they made there, and use that as a starting point for verification.
Richard Johnson: A lot of people forget, they gave us a declaration in the six-party talks. It was sitting in my safe for a while. It wasn’t a very good declaration, but it was a starting point . And I don’t think that we should discount when that declaration comes out that if it’s incomplete that we should say that this whole process is a joke. No declaration when it first comes out is complete or correct. In this case, they will be holding things back from us intentionally. But you can use the process to get more at what they’re not telling us.
Victor Cha: I have a slightly different view, since you want, like, some discussion, debate. (Laughter.)
Richard Johnson: This sounds very familiar to me. (Laughter.)
Nick Schifrin: And, by the way, so we’ve got five or six more minutes before I’m going to turn it over to questions for the audience. We could go on forever, but we do want to hear from you. So think about what you want to ask. And we’ll go just Victor and Mark.
Victor Cha: So the – you know, if they give up the things that Sue is talking about, and they will probably allow some sort of verification of it, right? and that’ll be because they will have cleaned out everything that was in there. So during the 1994 Agreed Framework, you know, there were questions about another facility in a cave that there were concerns about. We finally got access to it, but long after they had cleaned it out. Literally there was nothing. It was just a cave, right? And obviously the intelligence agencies would not have said, we want to look at this site, unless there was something in it. So they may have cleaned it all out.
Victor Cha: Now, from a practical perspective, look, if that’s what they’re going to give us in a negotiation, OK, maybe we can build on it, like Richard said. Maybe we can get, like, some sort of declaration, not a good one, a stepping stone. The key question to me then is what are we giving up for that? And we should not be giving up too much for that. The process can continue, but we should not be giving up, you know, too much for something along those lines.
Nick Schifrin: We haven’t done South Korea yet. So, Mark, you can respond to that if you want, but I also want you to talk about how you’ve been following the South Korean politics on this, and concerns or what you think about how President Moon is approaching this moment.
Mark Lippert: No, and thanks for this. It often gets lost that in addition to the denuclearization issue, which is a very international-oriented process, we have this inter-Korean process that’s going on that, in many respects is linked, explicitly by President Moon, but also an argument that’s posited by the summit in South Korea is that if you make progress quickly on the inter-Korean process, that will spillover into the denuclearization. So they’re more linked than they have been in the past, I would argue. That’s the first point.
Nick Schifrin: And Biegun has explicitly said that.
Mark Lippert: Exactly. That’s a good point too. The – just quickly on where they are, I guess what I would say is that for those who don’t follow South Korean politics closely – I follow South Korean politics and Korean baseball a lot, so. (Laughter.) The left is in power. They’ve been out of power for 10 years. President Moon was never elected – was elected with – never got above 42 percent in the entire time he was running for office but had this big bump after this summitry started. The bump has started to come down. He got another bump when there was another summit, but the bump wasn’t as high. And his big problem in South Korea is the economy. And the economy is rapidly deteriorating, especially among young people.
Mark Lippert: And with that, the disorganized conservatives are starting to – I’m probably a little more optimistic than some – they’re starting to congeal and they’re starting to tick up in the polls, right? How much that is is a matter of great debate, depending on which poll.
Nick Schifrin: Well, they lost a recent election, didn’t they, I mean local election?
Mark Lippert: Yeah, but look, their polling numbers are coming up, there’s no doubt. And some are saying it’s by a lot, some are saying by a little. So I think that’s the array.
Mark Lippert: And I think the question here is two things: One, will this inter-Korean process, where the South Koreans really want to get Kaesong reopened, Kumgang – the ski resort – the rail system up and going sooner rather than later, will that cause frictions within the alliance? I think that’s point one, I think something to watch. And the second point is: As this process goes on and if it doesn’t produce some tangible results – and I think part of what the South Koreans want out of this is end-of-war declaration, Kaesong, Kumgang, to show results – will Moon Jae-in and the Blue House become more constrained over time and less free to act?
Mark Lippert: And final thing – and I’ll stop here – is that I think you’ve already seen a slight nod to this with the Moon Jae-in presidency in that his New Year’s Day speech was principally about the economy, right? Now, there hasn’t been big economic policy change in South Korea, but it’s starting to show, I think, at least an acknowledgement that the South Korean public, while supportive of this and quite interested, there are real bread-and-butter issues that are, I think, starting to come into play in this – in this inter-Korean process, and quite frankly could spill over into some of the alliance issues.
Nick Schifrin: So we’ve done three rounds. But just in one minute plus one, Vietnam. U.S. officials are beginning to say that, hey, North Korea, look, Vietnam is a communist state that’s stayed communist, opened up to the West economically and diplomatically, and look how good they’re going; isn’t that a model? What is the response from the North Koreans about, hey, Vietnam is the model for North Korea’s future?
Victor Cha: Right, right. And that is – so that’s absolutely correct, but that’s not the way the North Koreans see it, right? (Laughter.) I think the North Koreans in general feel insulted whenever there’s a comparison of Vietnam to them because they see themselves as an advanced industrialized country and they see, you know, Vietnam as a small, poor Southeast Asian country. So we may look at it that way, and you know, perhaps the president will talk about it that way, and perhaps Kim will be polite and not say it, but inside he will be thinking “don’t compare us to Vietnam.” (Laughter.)
Nick Schifrin: All right. On that note, we have taken our 45 minutes. So just – hi there. Just open – or just raise your hands and we’ll see if we can get to everyone here. So I think I saw you, sir, in the third row as the first question.
Q: I’m Peter Humphrey, a(n) intel analyst and a former diplomat.
Nick Schifrin: If you can just stand up, please.
Q: I’m Peter Humphrey, intel analyst and a former diplomat.
Q: I’m wondering why – the very first thing you do when you shut down the nuclear program is stop the uranium mining, and I’m wondering why that hasn’t even gotten on the viewing screen of any of us. It doesn’t come up as a demand, a suggestion. I mean, shouldn’t we raise that one right to the top as soon as possible?
Nick Schifrin: Yeah. Richard, do you want to take that one? That’s probably –
Richard Johnson: Yeah. I’m not sure that I would agree with that. I think if you look at other programs – I think part of the question is what do you mean by shutting down a nuclear program. And we had this debate about denuclearization and definitions. If North Korea is going to continue to have a civil nuclear program, I wouldn’t necessarily start with the uranium mines. I would also add that the uranium mines are the least proliferation part – concern of their program because natural uranium, yellowcake, you really can’t do anything with from a proliferation perspective. I would say that the place you want to start when shutting down a nuclear program is fissile material production because that’s what can go into a bomb.
Richard Johnson: Now, the JCPOA provides a model that Iran was required to have enhanced monitoring over their uranium mining and their uranium production, and I do think that’s something that could be adapted to a North Korean model. But if I had to pick what do I want to see first, it wouldn’t be the mines and, in fact, by the way, those mines might be able to be repurposed into something else. We know that North Korea has potentially a very large cache of rare earth minerals that could be very useful economically and maybe they want to change those mines into mining not uranium but something else.
Nick Schifrin: Deb Riechmann from the Associated Press. To your left there.
Q: So, quickly, two questions. One – two questions. One, you mentioned that you were worried that he was going to give up too much. So in Vietnam, what would be giving up the store in terms of Trump? And, secondly, anyone who’s negotiated with the North Koreans, I’m wondering what is the hardest thing about negotiating with the North Koreans in a working-level situation?
Nick Schifrin: Sue. I think the first one was to her.
Sue Mi Terry: Well, yeah. I would just repeat that’s alliance equities. That’s giving up too much. Initially, I think also, like, there’s going to be a peace declaration. It’s just a political statement. It’s not legally binding, and I understand that and I think it’s – I think we’re heading in a direction where we’re going to regret that. I was just a little bit concerned, though, that if you don’t have a real understanding of what that means – we saw this problem before when even just the definition of denuclearization from the Singapore Summit there was a different interpretation of what that meant, right. North Koreans means South Korea and the U.S. troops and everything else and we meant denuclearization of North Korea.
Sue Mi Terry: So if there’s a peace declaration, I think it’s extremely important that we have – we spell out what that means so we don’t leave with Washington and Pyongyang having different interpretations of that. So if that means there’s no change to armistice, no change to the United Nations Command, no change to the U.S.-ROK combined forces, fine, then we need to spell that out. I think it’s dangerous if we leave and we have different interpretations.
Sue Mi Terry: So, first, I was very worried about, potentially, President Trump pulling alliance equities, pulling out U.S. troops thing on the table. I think the chance of that has now lessened. But now with peace declaration, I would like to see something very concrete and very detailed.
Q: (Off mic.)
Sue Mi Terry: Otherwise, it now leaves room for a different interpretation and we know that’s a problem. We saw that with the Singapore Summit even with the definition of denuclearization.
Nick Schifrin: Laura, did you want to take the –
Laura Rosenberger: Yeah. Well, just I also – I’m so glad Sue made that point because I think it’s – I couldn’t agree more. We’ve had all these conversations about what does denuclearization mean. I think the – you know, for us, the peace declaration and the war declaration does feel very symbolic. I think the North Koreans have something much more specific in mind and I do worry that the ambiguity will allow them leverage to be able to come back and say, well, what you’re doing is not consistent with an end to the war. You need to stop doing X, Y, and Z. I think we really need to guard against that.
Laura Rosenberger: On the question of negotiating with the North Koreans, I would just make two points. I think all of us probably have some fun stories. But two things to keep in mind. One is that the North Koreans – I mean, they have had – they have actually had some significant changeover in their negotiating team, which is notable from the past. Previously, it had really been the same people for years and years and years and years and years.
Laura Rosenberger: Now, so some of this may change with that turnover but, in general, they know us and our negotiating history with them better than we know ourselves. The nature of the turnover of our personnel both at the political level and the career level just with rotations around through different positions means that they tend to be able to dredge up all kinds of stuff that we may not even really recall. It’s really important for anybody who’s negotiating with them to know the history inside and out. That’s number one.
Laura Rosenberger: Number two is, on the flip side – and this does get to Mark’s point about why the leader-level piece of this is interesting – is that oftentimes it’s been difficult at the working level to get empowered counterparts and some of that is about, you know, power structure from the top there. Part of that is, frankly, the foreign ministry within North Korea is not a particularly powerful ministry at all and so dealing with negotiating counterparts who may or may not actually have, you know, the guidance from the top or the ability to make decisions can lead to very drawn out decision-making processes.
Nick Schifrin: Did you want to jump in quickly about that?
Victor Cha: Yeah. So just quickly. So, you know, if you had to draw a picture for the president, since he likes pictures, right, you’d have a big red line down the middle, say, and here are alliance assets – you don’t negotiate those, right, because they are not to be given up in return for denuclearization. On the other side of that line it’s things like sanctions, right, maybe liaison offices – things of that nature. Those are things – if North Korea wants sanctions relief, you don’t give them U.S. troops. If they want sanctions relief, the sanctions are on them for proliferation and for human rights abuses. So if they do something on those ends, then you get comparable sanctions relief.
Victor Cha: And this gets to your second question about negotiating with the North Koreans. One of the challenges are sometimes we want success so badly we start falling into their negotiation loops, right? And so one of their classic negotiation loops is this end-of-war declaration, right? They want to be in a position where we declare an end to the war and then for that reason we should also lift sanctions, right? Because we’re not at war anymore; why do you have sanctions on us? So that’s, like, falling into their negotiation loop where, no, the sanctions are on them for proliferation behavior and human right abuses. They improve those things, then you lift some comparable sanctions.
Mark Lippert: Let me just make one point on that, not to answer the question directly but just to underscore something that I think we’ve all sort of touched on but not explicitly. But, you know, you get the end-of-war declaration. You get liaison offices. You have the two presidents – or the president and the chairman negotiating or talking at a summit level. That starts to look like de facto recognition of a nuclear-weapons state. So I think there is a proliferation concern embedded in all of this, too, that I think is worth underscoring as well.
Nick Schifrin: I think I saw that hand, third row there in the middle. Yeah.
Q: Yes. I’m Bill Brown. I’m retired from the government. I work – I’m a nonresident fellow at KEI and I follow North Korea quite closely on the economic side.
Q: One thing I wondered if you all could address, we have – we like to talk about Trump, but we don’t talk much about Kim, what’s going on with him. The way I’m looking at it right now, looking at trade data, for example, last year, I suspect North Korea’s trade with the rest of the world was at the lowest level since the Korean War. Imagine that. Trade with China officially was down 88 percent. I mean, their ability to export to China was down 88 percent. To me, since Singapore there’s been a lot of pressure – huge amount of economic pressure from these trade sanctions, and that’s what we’ve seen them reaching out for. But other things are happening there, too. I’m wondering if it’s quite fair to say they haven’t really – nothing’s happened since the Singapore summit.
Q: Hugely important to me is the propaganda regime, where they’re not – apparently – I don’t know for a fact, but apparently there’s much less anti-U.S. propaganda in North Korea, kind of a paradigm shift there where instead of treating America as the enemy they’re sort of laying off. That seems like a pretty important thing to be happening, that plus the markets are growing like crazy. The place is changing rapidly.
Q: I guess what I’m asking: What do you all think is going on in Kim Jong-un’s mind and in his regime since Singapore? Are the – are they really feeling the pressure, or are they feeling like they’re strong and able to deal with America?
Nick Schifrin: And I’ll just break that into two, economics and propaganda. So who wants to take economics?
Victor Cha: So I’ll just say that I think we have to – I think we would all agree that there are economic changes taking place in North Korea. Again, we just released a study that geolocated the 431 official markets in North Korea. So there’s clearly stuff happening.
Victor Cha: But you – I think one has to – one can accept that that is, in fact, happening, but at the same time also accept that the regime’s intentions with regard to political control, human rights abuses, proliferation have not changed either, right? And one good example of that is what’s happening with cellphones in North Korea, right? There are now, what, 5 million cellphones in North Korea, dramatic increases, but at the same time – I don’t know if Nat Kretchun is here from InterMedia. They’ve done a great report that shows that the North Korean government is now trying to monopolize the cellphone market. It used to be, you know, the Egyptians and the Chinese. They’re trying to monopolize that market because they are trying to put stuff in to control, you know, through cellphones this sort of activity. So you can see both things that look like economic modernization and liberalization, but at the same time see the same political intentions to control on the part of the regime.
Mark Lippert: I’ll just – just two seconds on the economic piece, which I do think that comes down to why I probably have a slightly different view than Sue on the leverage question, right? I do think that there is internal pressure through markets and all of that to get some sanctions relief because it is changing the society. The regime wants to maintain control, as Victor says, and sanctions really complicates that. So you’re right, I think we talk a lot about the leverage we have on the U.S. side, but I think it plays into their calculation as well.
Mark Lippert: On the propaganda piece, you know, I’m not an expert. I do know some guys in Seoul who do nothing but this propaganda stuff. And having been featured in a couple of propaganda things, they – (laughter) – they came running up to me and saying, did you see this, can you autograph this? (Laughter.) I say, sure, you know. But it did – I did talk to them a lot about it.
Mark Lippert: Look, I would say – I guess what I would say is interesting development, so deeply engrained. And so it’s going to take time to see whether or not this is just a temporary toggle or something more meaningful.
Nick Schifrin: All right. Who wants to ask a very quick question and then we get quick answers? Anybody on this side? No, OK. Yeah, back – the back row.
Q: Hi. I’m – (off mic).
Q: (Comes on mic.) Hi. Troy Wells (sp), Georgetown SFS.
Q: Let’s say Trump comes out of this and is actually able to negotiate everything he wants and we have like a Libya-style denuclearization, theoretically. What then? Like, what – do we open up an embassy there? Do we just forget about them because they don’t have nukes anymore? Where do we go from there?
Nick Schifrin: All right, 30-second lightning round. Everybody take a shot at that.
Richard Johnson: You’re not going to get a Libya deal. That’s physically impossible. I think that you – if he got, quote, “everything that he wanted,” I think that you are having to do that roadmap of what is the future of U.S.-North Korea relations. And I don’t know what that looks like if North Korea doesn’t feel integrated to the region. So I think the short answer is you got to get the regional partners involved at that point.
Nick Schifrin: Sue?
Sue Mi Terry: I think there’s a less than zero percent possibility – (laughter) – that we’re going to get a Libya-style deal. First of all, Libya is just the wrong model for North Korea and it’s a very different situation. North Korea is already a nuclear-weapons power. So I don’t see that happening at all.
Sue Mi Terry: Then just one more thing with just linking with the econ question. I don’t think – I don’t disagree that North Korea wants to reform and economically improve and Kim Jong-un wants all this. I mean, Victor always said if he can have his cake and eat it too, why not? But it’s not economic reform instead of nuclear weapons; it’s economic reform and nuclear weapons. So this is why I don’t think it’s – we’re not going to see that happening next week or anytime soon.
Nick Schifrin: Quickly?
Mark Lippert: If all of this happened – I’ll stipulate to the skepticism. If all this happened, I think there would be a lot of interest in investment, especially from South Korean companies, probably Chinese companies. The real question then will become sort of rule-of-law questions and all of that because it’s a terrible investment and climate right now. And how much especially the South Korean – (inaudible) – and government would want to put in into a highly risk – high-risk situation is an open question, and that doesn’t even – in your hypothetical you got to build in all the human rights sanctions and everything else, too.
Nick Schifrin: Laura?
Laura Rosenberger: I’ll just pile onto that. (Laughter.) I noted earlier the concerns about North Korean cyber activity. They are significant. They are aggressive. They are growing. They are hugely problematic. North Korea has shown repeatedly, particularly under Kim Jong-un’s leadership, his willingness and ability to use various asymmetric tools that challenge the international system and can prove highly destructive. In addition to the cyber piece there is, of course, you know, the fact that not so long ago North Korea conducted a chemical weapons attack on foreign soil in a civilian location that could have imperiled hundreds and hundreds of people. So we are talking about a regime where the nuclear issue is not the only barrier to having it as a normal nation in the – in the international community.
Laura Rosenberger: If I could add one other last point while I have the mic, we’ve gotten through this entire conversation without talking about China. And so we could have a whole other conversation about China and the dimensions here, but I think it’s really important to bear in mind whether it’s talking about the economic development piece, whether it’s talking about sanctions relief piece, whether it’s talking about the end-of-war declaration, China has an enormous interest in all of these things. And in some ways I actually think that North Korea is sometimes actually carrying some of China’s water, in part because North Korea has an interest in getting certain things from China. You know, China, Russia, and North Korea had a vice ministerial statement last year calling for sanctions relief. There are a number of different interests that are at play here that go beyond just North Korea when we start to talk about some of these potential gives on the U.S. part that we’ve got to keep in mind.
Nick Schifrin: Victor, last word?
Victor Cha: Yeah. So the question was if President Trump succeeds in Hanoi next week. I think the answer is in his own mind he has already succeeded – (laughter) – and it will be a huge success. (Laughter.)
Nick Schifrin: All right. On that note, thank you very much to the panel. Sorry we didn’t get to all the questions, but thank you guys very much. (Applause.)
MS: We will not have a formal break. If you could just sit tight for about two minutes we’re going to transition to our next panel on human rights and humanitarian issues. Thank you again for this panel, which was very insightful.
Lindsay Lloyd: (Off mic) – Lindsay Lloyd. I’m director for human freedom at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. Very happy to be here. We have our own modest North Korea effort, which focuses on the topic of this conversation, on human rights in North Korea and why that matters.
Lindsay Lloyd: I think you all have bios, but just very briefly, starting with Roberta Cohen. Roberta is the co-chair emeritus for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and has a long, long record working and studying these issues. Next to her is Ambassador Robert King. Bob King is senior advisor here at the CSIS Korea chair. Served notably and with distinction as the special envoy for North Korean human rights throughout the Obama years. He is the most recent person to be in that position, as that position has gone unfilled for two years now.
Lindsay Lloyd: Next to Bob we have Jung Pak, who is the senior fellow at – also at the Bookings Institution. She is the SK-Korea Foundation chair in Korea studies. She held a number of senior positions in the intelligence community, at the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Director of National Intelligence. And then on the end is Victor Cha, who addition to his CSIS role and Georgetown role we’re proud to have as a fellow in human freedom at the Bush Institute.
Lindsay Lloyd: The first panel’s a tough act to follow. I think it’s probably likely that the strategic issue, the nuclear issues, are going to form the bulk of the conversation in Hanoi next week. But we believe there’s another dimension that’s equally important and, in fact, linked very closely to the security issues. And those are the human rights concerns. If you haven’t seen that, I’d refer you to a piece published yesterday on Bloomberg by Victor, where he outlines four principles that maybe can serve as a bit of a guideline or framework for this conversation about human rights and the talks with North Korea.
Lindsay Lloyd: The first is integrating human rights into our strategy as a necessity not an option or a choice. The second is that human rights and denuclearization are interlinked. And they really can’t be separated. The third is that raising the human rights issue actually strengthens our hand in these conversations. And fourth is that mainstreaming human rights into these conversations is a politically smart thing to do. So I hope we can look into that a little bit.
Lindsay Lloyd: But maybe to start off, Roberta, the scope of human rights in North Korea, maybe a little refresher for maybe those who aren’t as familiar. Why does this matter? And specifically, if we were going to raise human rights with North Koreans, what topics, what subjects do we need to be thinking about?
Roberta Cohen: Thank you, Lindsay. Good morning, everyone.
Roberta Cohen: I’d like to just recall that President Trump said last year, I believe, that the character of the North Korean regime makes the nuclear threat more dangerous. And I think that would follow that no real peace can take hold on the Korean Peninsula if half is governed through political oppression, suppression of information, labor camps, crimes against humanity at the state policy level, not to mention the failure to provide for the welfare of the population.
Roberta Cohen: So, yes, there are changing occurring in North Korea, as was mentioned in the first panel, particularly with the markets. But we are speaking about normalization of relations with a regime that is not normal. For normalization to succeed in any meaningful way, human rights will have to become part of the equation. It’s not an option. First, the U.S. must negotiate a hold to the routine political detentions of its citizens of 15 to nine years. If Americans are going to travel to North Korea and do business there and teach, they cannot be subject to intimidation, constant surveillance, arrests on spurious grounds, harsh sentencing, and denial of visits from the protecting power.
Roberta Cohen: The three freed Americans last year, one of them was a businessperson. Another was an agricultural specialist teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. The third was also teaching there. He was in accounting. And of course, there was a fourth, who was a student and who was a tourist, and who came back in a coma.
Roberta Cohen: Second, economic investment can’t proceed well without attention to labor standards, protection of property, the rule of law. And let me refer to Victor’s op-ed in Bloomberg, because he points out that the international financial institutions and general counsel to American companies aren’t going to be able to support involvement where the forced labor or abuses of workers are part of the supply chain.
Roberta Cohen: Third, the U.S. will have to press for the loosening of restrictions on freedom of information. If there are to be people-to-people exchanges, and seminars, and training, and travel, it can’t go hand-in-hand with arresting North Koreans for listening to Voice of America or any other independent media, jamming these broadcasts, or arresting people for watching an American film or South Korean film.
Roberta Cohen: Fourth, the U.S. law calls for unrestricted family reunifications. So if we’re going to be negotiating on that, which we should, family members should be able to see each other and be in contact after the initial reunion. But that will require telephone calls to other countries. That will require mail. That will require some kind of travel. And all those are heavily restricted in North Korea, if not criminalized.
Roberta Cohen: Next point I would refer to is insistence – if humanitarian aid is going to resume – insistence on humanitarian standards so it’s not reinforcing the regime and its favored groups. In part, attention must be paid to addressing the significant constraints on humanitarian operations that the secretary-general of the U.N. has drawn attention to in his last report. And he has appealed for full access, free movement, private contact with beneficiaries and with the local population. Reaching the most vulnerable, effective monitoring. These are very basic humanitarian standards and he’s had to appeal for that. This has to be part of any arrangements.
Roberta Cohen: Reaching the neediest, I would add, means seeking access to those who are suffering the most acute cases of hunger and disease. And those are the tens of thousands of men, women and children incarcerated in the political prison camps and the reeducation facilities. General Assembly resolutions highlight these people and so do U.N. reports. It will be a moral lapse – I repeat, a moral lapse – to look away from that.
Roberta Cohen: Finally, let me say there is need to explain to North Korea the terms of bilateral U.S. sanctions. Under U.S. law, sanctions can be lifted not only for denuclearization steps but for human rights improvements. And the law sets forth what these steps are, and it includes release of political prisoners. It includes free flow of information. It includes repatriation of abductees. It includes standards for distribution of aid and monitoring. This is bipartisan legislation with strong backers in Congress. So I would just say that progress toward normalization will not move forward in a meaningful and a substantial way unless human rights is part of the equation.
Lindsay Lloyd: Thank you.
Lindsay Lloyd: Bob King, moral lapse? There’s more to it, though, as well. It’s – apart from the moral dimension, there is this sort of practical dimension that Roberta touched on at the end, that in fact we have sanctions, we have other provisions written into U.S. law talking about the human rights issues. Could you maybe speak about that for a moment?
Robert King: Yeah, one of the things that I think is particularly important is that, with regard to the nuclear program, we are trying to move North Korea in a direction of accepting standards that have been accepted and adopted by the international community. The international order that has been in place since the end of World War II has set a framework for the relationships between countries. And the enormous increase in trade and in contacts between countries and the fact that we have not had a major war involving great powers in the last 70 years, is largely the result of the international system that’s been created.
Robert King: If North Korea is going to be able to participate the way it wants to in terms of its economy and so forth, it needs to be part of that process. If we are going to be successful in terms of moving North Korea in the direction of denuclearization, it is to get the North Koreans to accept the international standards that were set up – the International Atomic Energy Agency, various other kinds of processes. Part of that process is the international commitment to human rights. North Korea is one of the 171 countries which has signed and ratified the International Declaration of Human Rights. If North Korea’s going to be fully accepted – economically, politically, and in any other way – they’ve got to be part of this broader international consensus, this international agreement on standards.
Robert King: The North Koreans clearly want to be part of that. Even in the area of human rights, the North Koreans have tried to participate. They haven’t gone as far as we’d like to see them go on human rights, but they have made progress. In the situation, for example, of the U.N. Human Rights Council, there’s a process there called the Universal Periodic Review, where every five years or so each country in the world goes through a process of evaluating – self-evaluation of its own human rights record, its achievements, its problems. And then all of the other countries have the opportunity to comment on that country’s examination of its human rights record. North Korea has participated. North Korea has been very anxious to be seen as a member of the international community. We’ve had a couple of very interesting occasions of where the North Koreans have spoken up and talked about what they’ve done. They’ve given very glowing reports about how good human rights are in North Korea.
Robert King: But the other countries who have participated have raised issues and raised questions about North Korea’s record. When North Korea went through the process the first time in December of 2009, North Koreans presented, you know, a rosy scenario of how beautiful human rights were in North Korea. Several countries, including the United States, raised questions about North Korea’s record, about areas where there was room for progress. There were some non-sensitive areas that were singled out including, for example, dealing with persons with disabilities.
Robert King: The North Koreans, by the time they went through the process five years later, had ratified the Convention on Persons with Disabilities, had made some progress and was quite quick to pronounce how – what progress they had made in terms of these areas. There’s a lot more they need to do and Roberta has outlined a lot of those areas.
Robert King: But it seems to me that if we don’t involve North Korea and press the North Koreans on human rights, we are not encouraging North Korea’s full participation in the international system, which includes limitations on nuclear weapons and other kinds of activities we’d like to see the North Koreans cease carrying out. So I think that’s an important part of what we need to do in terms of moving forward with North Korea. We need to press them on human rights.
Robert King: Unfortunately, this administration has taken human rights as, largely, an instrument with which you beat the North Koreans until they pay attention to you, and as soon as they make positive signs, no word about human rights. Trump spent – in his first State of the Union speech in January of 2018, he spent 10 percent of his speech talking about North Korea and particularly North Korean human rights. There were North Korean defectors in the hall of the House of Representatives. There were family members from the Warmbier family who were there who were recognized, acknowledged. Human rights was given great attention.
Robert King: Three months later, Trump and Kim Jong-un agreed to meet in Singapore. Not a word since then about North Korea’s human rights. Not mentioned in the State of the Union earlier this month. We’ve got to move beyond the point of where we think of human rights as simply a way you beat up on the North Koreans to make progress in other areas. It’s an integral part of moving North Korea in a positive direction.
Lindsay Lloyd: OK. Jung Pak, are you optimistic this is going to be topic one for the U.S. – the Hanoi Summit, that –
Jung Pak: Yes.
Lindsay Lloyd: – there’s going to be a conversation about human rights?
Jung Pak: Oh. No, I am pessimistic about the whole summit 2.0 to begin with. But I would have to say that not having human rights on the agenda of denuclearization is like locking the front door but then leaving your garage and your back door and your front porch wide open or it’s the effect of having – just opening up the refrigerator and taking all your food and straight – and putting it straight into the trash.
Jung Pak: I think human – before any sanctions could be lifted by law it has to pass the human rights smell test. But, you know, let me step back and talk about credibility. Putting aside the credibility of U.S. negotiations in general, I think we’ve all seen all of the reports that suggest that there is a little bit of policy dysfunction, a lot – and a bit of disarray in how the U.S. and the Trump administration is approaching the summit and so – and the inconsistencies between what the big progress that President Trump has been touting versus what the intelligence community and what the reports and the various satellite imagery are reporting about North Korea’s ongoing activities. They’re below the surface, literally, right, with the – with the missile bases and the underground facilities but also that the North Koreans themselves have been pretty clear about what they’re willing to give and not give.
Jung Pak: And there’s disagreement within the Trump administration itself, despite all the progress that has been touted. Special Representative Biegun and Secretary of State Pompeo and others have said that – and National Security Advisor Bolton have said that there is nothing happening on the nuclear issue; that’s why the president has to meet with Kim again.
Jung Pak: So let’s put that aside, despite the fact that I spent two minutes on it. But let’s go to the credibility of the – what the Trump administration is offering to North Korea – the big bright future – and that – the bright future for North Korea. Kim wants a bright future for the North Koreans. We believe in Kim. Look at all this real estate that Kim has right smack in the middle of – in a very strategic position among the second, third, and eleventh largest economies in the world. Great location. So and the way the president has been couching this is, you know, give up your nuclear weapons and you’re going to have this wonderful bounty. That’s the refrigerator. Not raising human rights is like putting that bounty into the trash because I think that without – as Victor and others have mentioned and, Victor, in your – in your op-ed – you know, if you don’t have human rights improvements in North Korea you can’t get investors.
Jung Pak: You can’t get – you’re not going to be drawing lots of people, and also without improvements in human rights like loosening of the information blockade and freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and the ability for entrepreneurship to thrive, that is not possible. A brighter future for North Korea is not possible with all of that happening.
Jung Pak: So, you know, the Trump administration has talked about how they’re going to be different. They’re going to be different because they’re going to not waste all billions of dollars and squander billions of dollars on making very small or no improvements in North Korea nuclear issue. But we’re at the – it’s in danger of doing just that. Why would Kim be incentivized to trust the Trump administration, especially given the jettisoning of the Iran deal? Why would he trust the treasured sword of nuclear weapons to a U.S. president who is hampered by lots of, you know, domestic issues?
Jung Pak: So I think, you know, the human rights issue has to be part of this conversation for – even just for the Trump administration policy of this brighter future for North Korea.
Lindsay Lloyd: Victor, you have said kind of a similar thing in this rights-first approach. Can you talk about why that matters and maybe give us your thoughts on the likelihood that this is even going to come up in Hanoi next week?
Victor Cha: Sure. Yeah. Well, so the first thing I’ll say is I’m not on the second panel because I like being on the stage so much but we actually invited somebody else – a U.S. official – to join and they did not get approval to join, which may be an indication in and of itself about how much this is going to come up in Hanoi.
Victor Cha: So let me sort of take off from where Jung left off. I mean, the first thing is that the human rights issue is important to the overall strategy of the president, even though he doesn’t realize that, right. If we are going – if – I mean, Singapore – if Hanoi is really going to be a success, then, as we said in the last panel, there are things that the North Koreans that’ll put on the – will put on the table that we’ve seen before and so they need to put something new on the table to get us, all the skeptics, to say, all right, maybe it’s different this time, right, and so in that sense, doing something on human rights might be one of those things they could put on the table that would cause, you know, like, skeptics like Sue and others to go, OK, that’s different, right.
Victor Cha: The other is that if the president really wants final and fully verifiable denuclearization of North Korea, it is entirely implausible that that could happen given how closed and restricted access is in North Korean society, both for domestic people as well for foreigners. How can you have fully verifiable denuclearization when nobody is allowed to move around the country anywhere, right?
Victor Cha: And then, third, I think is the point that everybody else has made, which is that, you know, President Trump has gone from calling Kim Jong-un “little rocket man” to the economic rocket, right – that North Korea is now the economic rocket of Asia. Well, you know, I think, as everyone has said, if they come out of Hanoi next week and the president says, you know, they’re committed to denuclearization – now, you know, the World Bank, the IMF, you can all go in there – you know, Pepsi, Kentucky Fried Chicken, you can all go into North Korea now, it’s all open for you, you know, including a Trump casino or whatever else, you know, again, nobody – none of that is going to happen given existing U.S. law and the fact that there are – you know, there’s forced labor, human-rights abuses, along the supply chain. You know, no company will want to be in violation of U.S. law, you know, simply to get into North Korea. It just doesn’t make sense. So for all of these reasons, it is in the president’s interest to raise this issue to achieve what he wants to achieve.
Victor Cha: Now, the point that Bob made about human rights being sort of this baseball bat we use to hit the North Koreans over the head with – I mean, the reality is that after the Commission of Inquiry report, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report that came out five years ago, it was – that called on – that the international community came behind to call for the North Korean leadership to be taken to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, you know, this was, for the North Koreans, a real vulnerability. They were quite concerned about it. And they did two things. And the first of these, I think, is not debatable. The second one may be debatable.
Victor Cha: The first thing they did was they started sending their diplomats to Russia and other members of the European Union to lobby against, both in the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Security Council, to raise the issue of human rights as a topic of debate. And that is something the North Koreans have never done, right. So they clearly felt vulnerability there.
Victor Cha: The second thing they did – and this is some – this may be debatable – is that they quietly became more open to discussions on humanitarian assistance. I mean, Bob is probably the best who could speak for this because he was in the position at the time, and possibly to discussion on human rights.
Victor Cha: But the point is that they’re not going to raise this in Hanoi unless the president raises it. And again, so for this reason I’m reminded of that famous line from Jerry Maguire, you know, help me help you, right. (Laughs.) I mean, there is an opportunity here to raise this issue in ways that are positive, not negative, for both the president’s agenda and for North Korea’s integration into the international community.
Lindsay Lloyd: Roberta, Victor just alluded to this sort of Achilles heel, that this is a sensitive issue. It’s one that provoked reactions from Pyongyang. If you had the president’s ear, where would you start? You know, what issues might you suggest this is a good place to start the human-rights conversation with North Korea?
Roberta Cohen: Let me say that North Korea has taken the view – and they’ve publicly announced it – that human rights is an obstacle to peace. And I think that, unfortunately, the Republic of Korea, South Korea, has deferred on that line. And I see even that Steve Biegun, in speaking at Stanford, refers to the fact that the United States and North Korea have different views about human rights, as if it were a kind of a think-tank discussion and that there’s a parity of views and that, on one side, we have one view, and then there’s another view, and they’re all legitimate. They’re not, because the Commission of Inquiry has found systematic, widespread crimes against humanity in North Korea. It’s a very different situation.
Roberta Cohen: So with the president’s ear, human rights is the identity of the United States. It’s not a jacket that you say, oh, we’re going to leave that by the door and take it off. It’s the history, our heritage, our laws. It’s a very strong identity. And the same should be for South Korea. So the idea that we become something else, that we do not deal with this issue, that we put it aside, is really putting aside one of our greatest strengths, what our reputation is built on, and making that a kind of a – putting that aside and deferring to North Korea. So immediately the negotiations become an agenda set by North Korea rather than set by what are in our interest.
Roberta Cohen: Now, some of the issues I believe I’ve indicated before. And they’re not – they’re issues that are American interests. As I mentioned, the arrest of Americans in North Korea is an issue that has to be taken up if there’s going to be any kind of normalization and new relations with the countries. That has to be taken up. And the reunification of families issues, these are American interests. These are human-rights issues. This also has to be a stronger point, and greater information flow and the ending of the jamming of Voice of America in North Korea.
Roberta Cohen: These are all part of what we should be promoting as our goals. And if humanitarian assistance is warranted, then there are standards. These have to be discussed. And as everybody has mentioned, we have U.S. laws. And I think that the – what was also mentioned; Bob mentioned it – part of the international human-rights system, if they are to have a place in that system, they have to move toward some kind of compliance with international standards.
Roberta Cohen: And one of the biggest blots on that exclusion of them are these political-prison camps, to which the U.N. has no access, to which humanitarian organizations have no access. And I will repeat for the third time that this has become one of the great moral lapses to look away from that, because it’s a distraction when one talks about nuclear weapons. It has to be part of the agenda.
Lindsay Lloyd: Bob King, is there any sort of low-hanging fruit? Where would you start if this were your task for the day?
Robert King: One of the difficulties with human rights is you – it’s hard to say which is the most important. And we don’t take our own Bill of Rights and say the most important provision there is freedom of speech or the most important provision is the right to bear arms or something like this. So, I mean, I’m reluctant to say, you know, let’s focus on this one.
Robert King: On the other hand, I think there are ways we can make progress with North Korea, and we probably should do that. There are a couple of things that I think are useful. One, as Roberta has said, access to information is critical. And I think if we’re going to see change in North Korea, it’s going to come about in part through access to information. We broadcast with Voice of America, Radio Free Asia. There are other broadcasting into North Korea. South Korea has extensive broadcast operations.
Robert King: Listening to the radio is an old-fashioned thing to do, but in North Korea it is one of the only ways you have of access to information. We need to do what we can to increase the availability of information in North Korea, and we need to press the North Koreans so that people in North Korea have access to that information.
Robert King: One of the things that we need to do is try to create a situation where pressure in North Korea pushes the government in more positive directions. And critical to that process is people in North Korea having access to information. So I think, you know, if I were going to prioritize, that’s one that I would put very high on the list.
Robert King: It is very difficult when you look at political prisoners and what they are forced to go through, and there have been enough defectors who’ve had experience with the North Korean prison camps to know that this is one of the most horrible experiences that a human being could endure. And we certainly need to press on that.
Robert King: I’m not sure that starting with that as the first point we need to press the North Koreans to make progress on is the best way to go. The North Koreans are likely to respond much more negatively. Pressing on rights for people with disabilities is something the North Koreans made progress on. It does not threaten the political monopoly. There are, in fact, members of the elite who have children or family members who have disabilities. And so, I mean, there’s some support for making progress in those areas.
Robert King: My sense is that you can’t go in and do the entire thing, but there are areas which maybe are less sensitive politically that we can and should push on.
Robert King: I think, in terms of, for example, providing humanitarian assistance, both through the United Nations, through private organizations, and even through United States involvement in humanitarian assistance, has benefits. We do not make decisions on humanitarian aid because that has political benefits. In fact, our laws prohibit that. But the things that are required if we are to provide humanitarian assistance, either the United States or other organizations, are certain things that are helpful in moving North Korea in a positive direction.
Robert King: One of the things that we are required by law to do if U.S. assistance is involved is to be able to determine independently the need for assistance. The United Nations agencies that are involved also are required to do that. This means that people who are making decisions on humanitarian aid in North Korea need to have access to areas where people are in need. They need to be able to go to areas which, in some cases, are off limits to foreigners. I think we need to press on that. I think we should be providing humanitarian assistance. We should insist that we be able to determine the need.
Robert King: Also in providing aid, we need to be able to monitor the distribution of assistance to make sure that it’s going to those for whom it was intended. This means short-notice visits to check on distribution and so forth. These are things that we need to do, and we can and should do.
Robert King: And so these are important humanitarian things that we ought to be encouraging. And we certainly ought to be encouraging private organizations that are involved in humanitarian aid, but we also need to make sure that the international standards in terms of assessing need and determining monitoring distribution are carried out. These are things that I think we can make progress on now, and I think we ought to be pressing on those things. That shouldn’t be where we stop, but I think that’s where we can begin.
Lindsay Lloyd: A good place to start.
Lindsay Lloyd: Jung, you heard a little bit about – just now about broadcasting and information getting in. Can you offer any insights into sort of where South Korea is on these issues and why that may matter where the Moon administration is, where South Korean policy has changed in human rights in some of these issues?
Jung Pak: I think what we’ve seen in some of the reports is that the funding has been cut severely for human-rights type of organizations and defector organizations. And I think that creates a pall – even if you’re not targeted directly, it creates a pall or a fear of being singled out and being punished for bringing up human rights.
Jung Pak: And the assumption is that you don’t want to offend Kim and that you have to preserve this delicate moment of peace in this – in the summitry with Kim. But I think when you bring up human rights, if Kim makes any movements on human rights, I think that would be one of the key signposts that he was serious about denuclearization, because I think, in a way, that, you know, these would be costs would be – these are actions that would be costly for Kim to go back on.
Jung Pak: And so if he had – if he starts to – if Kim starts to loosen up, you know, the information blockade or he releases some people in the prison camps, that that would be a sign that he is willing to open up and that he is – he does envision a bright future for his country, and that that would make me much more comfortable and I think a lot of skeptics more comfortable about the Trump administration’s approach to the North Korea nuclear problem.
Lindsay Lloyd: Victor, you touched on it earlier, but the United Nations. Can you talk about what we can be or should be doing at the U.N? And how do we – we just marked the fifth anniversary of the COI, as you noted. Have we lost momentum there? And, if so, how do we regain it?
Victor Cha: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a great question. We’ve lost a lot of momentum. I mean, it was actually five years ago that we held an event in this room, and everybody here participated in it to a standing-room-only audience with members of the commission. So there was a lot of interest. There was a groundswell of international attention to the issue. And it really has dropped off quite a bit.
Victor Cha: And probably one of the lowest points has been this inability of the U.N. Security Council last fall to agree to raise the U.N. – the North Korean human-rights issue for debate in the Security Council. You know, that was one of the biggest achievements, I think, of the momentum behind – the momentum subsequent to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report. And, you know, I think many of us hope that there will be an opportunity for the U.N. Security Council to vote on this again, but it requires leadership and it requires U.S. leadership, and we don’t have an ambassador in the U.N. Roberta and Bob can speak to – well, there are other potential countries who could or a coalition of countries that could play a leading role, but China and Russia are going to make it very difficult, I think. And so I think there’s a lot of momentum that’s been – that’s been lost there, unfortunately.
Lindsay Lloyd: I want to go to audience questions in just a second. But yes, please.
Robert King: Can I add one more comment? One thing that the United States has done that has severely limited our effectiveness in pressing North Korea on human rights is to withdraw U.S. participation in the U.N. Human Rights Council. The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva is the focal point of human rights discussion in the United Nations. It’s an important institution. It’s created a lot of the procedures and the processes that we use to identify and work on human rights issues. We have not – the administration announced a year or so ago that we were not participating. That has limited our ability to use the United Nations institutions, which are critical in this process of pressing for human rights, and we’ve basically weakened our own position by withdrawing, by no longer participating.
Victor Cha: Can I just also –
Roberta Cohen: May I add one?
Victor Cha: Yeah. Go ahead, Roberta.
Roberta Cohen: I just wanted to say that the other piece that we should mention that hasn’t been done is that no one has been appointed to succeed the gentleman next to me. We have no special envoy on human rights in North Korea, so that if we did an advocate within the system. And even if there was no U.N. ambassador – and there should be – you would have this special envoy, at least, able to go up to New York and begin to strategize of how we move to a Security Council meeting. So I think that that particular lack of appointment – you told me I had the president’s ear before – well, I would raise that as well.
Roberta Cohen: Sorry.
Victor Cha: Yeah, I just wanted to say one thing on what Jung said about South Korea. I mean, I think she’s right; there’s been in this administration a real drop in support for NGO groups that are doing this. The balloon launches have stopped. And I was going to give a shout-out to Sandy, but he left – Sandy Vershbow, our ambassador who was actually one of the first U.S. officials to speak more openly about human rights abuses in South Korea and was, you know, attacked, basically, for taking that position; which, again, speaks to how there’s a political climate in Korea, particularly when you have a progressive government in power where they see this, you know, as, what did you say, an obstacle or an obstacle to peace, or – they see it as something that’s negative. And, you know, I think many of us believe that that’s wrong and it’s the wrong way to look at it in terms of both U.S. and South Korean negotiations.
Victor Cha: I mean, if in the end the goal is – putting aside the weapons piece, if the goal is fully normalized relations with the United States, interaction with the international business community, and acceptance in the international community, then it’s impossible to get to those things without some movement on human rights. So this should, again, be something that is part of both a South Korean and the U.S. strategy.
Victor Cha: Now, for those in the audience who don’t follow Korea closely, you might think: Progressive government, they’re against human rights in North Korea? We’ll explain it to you later. (Laughter.) It’s very complicated. But that is – that is where we are.
Victor Cha: And so I think this should – you know, as Bob said, we shouldn’t look at this as a baseball bat. There is a positive agenda here for everybody – for the North Koreans, for the South Koreans, and for the United States.
Lindsay Lloyd: Yeah. Before I go to the audience here, just can someone speak to the why this issue matters in terms of Congress, the interest on Capitol Hill and why that is – it’s another reason that the administration ought to be considering this as they – as they go forward?
Robert King: Having spent 25 yearsof on the Hill, these days there are very few issues on which there is strong bipartisan support on the Hill. North Korea human rights is an issue for which there is very strong bipartisan support. A week and a half after the summit in Singapore when human rights was not mentioned, the North Korea Human Rights Act was reauthorized by Congress. The vote in the House of Representatives was 415 to nothing. The vote in the Senate was taken by unanimous consent. That legislation is one of the few issues in the last two years or so that has come through with such strong bipartisan support. There is very strong interest in the Congress in human rights in North Korea, and members of Congress have played a very important role in terms of pressing administrations over the last 20 years to take a more active part on North Korea human rights. And I think that support is still very much in place on the Hill.
Jung Pak: And before the sanctions could be lifted it would have to pass the smell test with Congress before any – to show that North Korea is making tangible progress on the human rights issue.
Jung Pak: I think, you know, let me circle back to, you know, Victor’s comment about help me help you. The way to – if I were with the president I would say, listen, you know, you want to make sure that Kim trusts you to make this big deal, but you know that you have to have congressional approval for sanctions removal. How can you be credible if you can’t drag – you know, if you can’t – if you don’t have the support of Congress?
Jung Pak: And just yesterday or two days ago the House Intel, Armed Services, and Foreign Affairs Committees wrote a letter to the president saying that you’re not giving us any information; you’re blocking our access to information on North Korea. And so that undercuts any progress that we’re trying to get with North Korea: Trust us because we can – we can do this for you and deliver on this bright future for North Korea.
Lindsay Lloyd: OK. We’ll throw it open to your questions. If you have – if you’ll wait for the mic. Let me start up here. I don’t know where the mic runners are right now. If you can just identify yourself and if you’re representing an organization, please.
Q: Ah, I get two questions. Bill Brown again. Two short questions, actually, one on the low-hanging fruit.
Q: You know, the – President Moon and certainly Kim both seem to be focused on Kaesong.
Lindsay Lloyd: Can you hold the mic closer to your –
Q: Sorry. Yeah, I’m sorry. Yeah.
Q: Regarding the Kaesong industrial zone, it seems like this is one that actually might happen, something might happen on this. Moon and Kim both want something badly. Is there some way we could push the South Koreans – I mean, this is a South Korean project – to force, if Kaesong is reopened, that it become a bright spot for human rights? In other words, much better rules for the workers there. Just a question. Seems like that might be a low-hanging fruit, something that we could aim for.
Q: Secondly, I’m just curious. Last week this guy in the U.N., North Korean in the U.N. mission up there, said something about, oh, their rations are being cut, they really need food aid. I’m wondering how – what all of your all’s reaction to that statement was.
Lindsay Lloyd: OK. Thank you. Would you like to take on Kaesong, Victor?
Victor Cha: So that’s actually, Bill – you know, it’s a great idea. You know, I think – I mean, we know what the North Korean response will be, which is that we said no conditions, right, that that was what he said in the – Kim Jong-un said in the new year’s speech, that they’d like to see a reopening of the two big inter-Korean cooperation projects, Kaesong and Kumgang Mountain, with no preconditions. So I’m sure that’s what they will respond.
Victor Cha: But I think it’s a – it’s a very good point. I mean, one of the reasons that there was so much controversy over these projects, as you know, was that the workers were not being paid directly. South Korean managers were not allowed to have contact with the workers. The workforce was entirely women because they didn’t want a whole bunch of men commingling together. So there – you know, this was supposed to be this beacon of inter-Korean cooperation and the future of inter-Korean cooperation, and yet in the eyes of many people in the West and also in the Congress it was just, you know, a shining example of North Korean human rights abuses even when they are trying to engage with the outside world.
Jung Pak: You forgot your line, Bill, which was just pay the damn workers, right? (Laughter.) I mean, it’s a pretty simple thing to do and it’s a – it’s a reasonable demand for opening up the industrial complex.
Lindsay Lloyd: Do we have any insights on the rations being cut question?
Victor Cha: Yeah, I had heard that too. I don’t know if you – I had heard that too. Go ahead.
Robert King: It’s the normal time when North Korea runs into problems with food shortages. Basically, in the fall they do quite well. The harvest holds them. And how they’re getting to the end of the – what was harvested last year is pretty well running out. It’s not yet warm enough that you can start planting the few garden crops that will carry you through till the harvest later this year. North Korea has that problem. And there’s always a tight time this time of year.
Robert King: The difficulty in terms of dealing with North Korea on providing food assistance is there isn’t enough food because the government system controls agriculture and extracts agriculture products for what they want to use them for. It is very much the problem with the government system. This is a government-created problem. There are things they could do. There are things that a lot of other countries have done to move forward and make progress. On the other hand, people are not having enough to eat. And this puts people who provide humanitarian assistance in a very difficult situation. What do you do if people are starving? And there are probably some instances where this is the case. From the humanitarian point of view, you try to ignore politics.
Robert King: If you can determine, in fact, that there is need, if you’re able to provide assistance, and if there are ways that you can provide the assistance and monitor its delivery to make sure that it’s going to those that are truly in need, and those who are most in need – which tends to include children, women that are pregnant or lactating. These kind of things are ways that you can deal with it. There’s no easy solution. It’s not one – you know, it’s not a problem like you have in other countries where the failure of the weather is the problem. Here, it’s the failure of the government. But people are starving and there ought to be some assistance provided, if it can be provided in ways to guarantee that it goes to people who are in need, and that it’s getting to them.
Roberta Cohen: The United Nations has estimated that 40 percent of the country is food insecure. Those numbers can rise. Thirty percent of children under five are stunted. And 14 million have got limited access to safe water. Twenty-three percent have no access to basic sanitation. And here, I would say that I think the United States has an opportunity to raise with North Korea their own priorities, because these are very, very damning statistics. The U.N. is asking for $111 million. North Korea probably has that $111 million, which is used in other ways – on military programs, or luxury items, or infrastructure. And I think that should be a talking point. That shouldn’t stand in the way that we don’t – that aid is not given, but I think it has to be a discussion point.
Roberta Cohen: Agencies have been operating in North Korea for 20 years. The figures are not – maybe the stunting figures have improved, but the figures are not showing that the aid is used in any way that becomes sustainable. And I think this is really a discussion point. And I do want to just comment on – I guess we do have a slight disagreement on the panel on the issue of low-hanging fruit. At the United Nations, North Korea begins to talk about protecting children. They raise women’s issues. And they did allow the rapporteur on disabilities to come in. But – and these are their steps. These are – this is their low-hanging fruit. I really don’t think that we should be just picking the low-hanging fruit.
Roberta Cohen: And I’m not saying you’re going into some great confrontation. I think that wouldn’t make sense. But I think our goals have to be far greater. There are plenty of U.N. agencies, and committees, and other things that deal with the low-hanging fruit. But they’ve had no U.N. official given – they’ve given no U.N. official permission to come on a human rights mission. Once did, but they had linked it to a change in the U.N. resolution, to remove paragraphs from it on crimes against humanity in the report with the International Criminal Court. And when that did not happen, they withdrew the invitation.
Roberta Cohen: A U.N. human rights official should be able to go to the United Nations. And the International Committee of the Red Cross should be supported to go into the prison camps, which they do in countless countries. I mean, this maybe is not low-hanging, but really it has to be the fruit that’s being put forward in everything we do. Otherwise, I think we ourselves then would be ignoring the 300-plus pages on the Commission of Inquiry Report and everything else we know.
Lindsay Lloyd: Yeah . Victor.
Victor Cha: So let me just – so the thing about low-hanging fruit is that if we start going for the low-hanging fruit, then go talk to the nuclear negotiators, right? (Laughs.) Because that’s sort of what we got to do, is just going for the low-hanging fruit. So that’s the first one. The second is that, you know, I think on an issue like this it – you know, it requires reaching for more, but it also requires us – us, being either the U.S. or the international community – to tell North Korea what might be – what they could do, right? Largely because – and I feel it’s the same way on the nuclear issue. I don’t know if Richard feels the same way. But, like, they’re not very good with coming up with ideas. Like, we always have to give them the ideas. And so – and that was certainly the case of the nuclear side. And it may also be the case on the human rights side, to actually give them – like, to raise ideas with them of things that they could do. So, yeah.
Lindsay Lloyd: OK. I think we have a question here in the second row. Do we have a microphone?
Q: Hi. My name is Megan McNamara. I’m with the Cohen Group.
Q: And I wanted to ask a question on Kim Jong-un, kind of two-fold. Dr. Pak, you mentioned Kim’s reaction to human rights. And, you know, if he was open to that, that would mean that he’s serious about next steps. I was hoping that you could elaborate a little bit on his actual openness to that, and similarly his openness to the big, shiny future if opening – if, in fact, opening access to information, business, et cetera, realistically probably puts his own regime at risk.
Jung Pak: I would say that Kim fears his people if not than the United States. And that because the people are his most proximate threat, and that justifies – and that is the reason for the human rights violations, and the incentivizing of the elite and neighborhoods and women and children and workers to tell on, you know, various disloyal comments by their – by their neighbors. And so when you’re – when you’re incentivizing human rights violations in support of the regime and to get ahead economically, politically, in the party or elsewhere, that you have a system that is built on repression. And that repression stands as one of the pillars of regime survival for Kim. The other pillar is the nuclear weapons.
Jung Pak: So if Kim were to give a little bit on the – on that side, the repression side, it means that he’s – that he’s willing – that he would be – for me, that would be a sign post that he’s serious about this new future, where nuclear weapons are not as important, or important for his survival. So I think that – I think unless we can chip away at both pillars at the same time, I think, you know, in a lot of ways, you know, national security, it’s always about us and what we can do. But I think in the North Korea example, the change has to come from within as well. And so I see human rights as a part of the – it should be a part of the strategic conversation on how to get Kim to move on various things. But if we’re afraid to bring it up because we’re afraid Kim might be – might get angry, then there is no incentive for him to loosen any part or weaken any part of that pillar that is buttressing his existence.
Roberta Cohen: May I add one point?
Lindsay Lloyd: Yes.
Roberta Cohen: You know, in 2002 Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, decided to admit that North Korea had abducted Japanese. And that was an admission that was, obviously, a calculation that they would get some relationship and financial help and other economic benefits or political they might want from Japan. And so they admitted it, and they even allowed the departure of some of those abducted. It was quite extraordinary because for a very long time they had totally denied that they ever abducted anyone.
Roberta Cohen: So this, to me, points to that they can take steps. They wanted a summit with the United States; they released three Americans that were held. You know, they can take steps. They can do things if they feel it’s in their interest. And if it – if the United States makes it clear it’s in their interest and there are positive or incentives, then I think you can begin to make some little progress.
Lindsay Lloyd: OK. Well, we are – we are basically out of time. For my part I’d like to thank our panel for their thoughts and their opinions.
Lindsay Lloyd: Victor, I don’t know if you want to close out the conference in general, or?
Victor Cha: Yeah. Well, thank you all for coming and staying with us this morning. I want to thank our – the first panel as well as the second panel for taking time out to be with us. We’ll probably do something else after the summit next week, so stay tuned and let’s – we’ll all see what happens next week. (Applause.)