U.S. Policy Toward North Korea
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Chairman Kerry, Senator Lugar, and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today on North Korea, one of our most enduring foreign policy challenges. I would also like to personally thank this committee for its leadership in advancing discussion and opportunities for American engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. Today, I would like to use this occasion to focus on the Administration’s North Korea policy through a broader regional context.
The primary strategic objective for U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region is to promote a peaceful and stable security environment that advances the interests of the United States, our allies, and partners in the region. Essential to this approach is the security and stability that our alliances with Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines provide. These relationships underwrite peace and security in the region and provide a context for the region’s tremendous economic dynamism and vitality. In addition, our alliances are buttressed by a network of partnerships ranging from Indonesia to New Zealand and an evolving regional political and security architecture that will help create rules of the road for this rapidly evolving and strategically critical region. China is also a key U.S. partner in promoting peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and globally, and the Joint Statement issued during President Hu’s January 2011 to Washington underscored that “in coordination with other parties, the United States and China will endeavor to increase cooperation to address common concerns and promote shared interests.”
Despite the tremendous opportunities in Asia that have become part of our popular discourse, one country stands out as an outlier, and in fact an impediment, to the region’s promising future: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK). The DPRK’s brazen attack on the ROK corvette Cheonan in March of last year, its recent disclosure of a uranium enrichment program, its shelling of Yeonpyong Island that resulted in the tragic loss of South Korean lives, and its ongoing human rights violations underscore the threat that the DPRK’s policies and provocations, including its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and proliferation activities, pose to regional stability and global security.
The verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is the core objective of the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, is an essential ingredient to the Asia-Pacific region’s long-term success and to our own security. Progress toward this goal requires close coordination between the ROK, Japan, and the United States, as well as with China and Russia. Our Northeast Asian alliances play an essential role in maintaining regional security, deterring North Korean provocations, providing a reliable and robust strategic deterrent posture, and bringing maximum leverage to bear on the DPRK to change its current course and become a member of the community of nations. To this end, we have actively engaged our regional partners to ensure robust implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1718 and 1874 on North Korea, and though there is still work to be done, strong regional cooperation, particularly with Japan and South Korea, has made it more difficult for North Korea to successfully engage in proliferation and other illicit activities. We will continue to take steps to enhance and broaden our bilateral political, economic, and security relations, as well as make progress on key alliance modernization initiatives. We will also work to develop a more integrated trilateral framework for cooperation and coordination between Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington. Furthermore, we are taking steps to enhance coordination with China and Russia – both of which have important relationships with North Korea – to create a more favorable context for denuclearization and peace and security. In addition to the aforementioned five key parties, we are working more closely with other stakeholders like the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), India, and Australia to broaden region-wide efforts to compel North Korea to abide by its denuclearization commitments and obligations, as well as with the UN Security Council.
The Republic of Korea
The U.S.-ROK alliance is grounded in the threat that North Korea poses to the ROK. However, over the course of the past few years, the United States has undertaken steps to expand alliance cooperation in both regional and global settings. In 2011, we will aggressively pursue initiatives to increase collaboration in the peninsular, regional, and global contexts.
The ROK’s security is critically affected by North Korea due to their complex historical relationship, geographic proximity, and the tangible threat that North Korea’s conventional military capabilities, nuclear programs, and ballistic missile developments pose to South Korea. As President Obama stated during his November 2010 visit to Seoul, “In the face of these threats, the U.S.-ROK alliance has never been stronger…The United States will never waver in our commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea.” Following the attack on Yeonpyong Island, President Obama stated that we will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the ROK and reaffirmed our commitment to its defense. This commitment is being translated through efforts to bolster ROK defensive capabilities. For example, last November the ROK participated in USS George Washington Carrier Group exercises. We continue to hold regular joint military exercises to enhance extended deterrence, interoperability, and the readiness of alliance forces to respond to threats to peace.
Over the last 60 years, our alliance with the ROK has continued to expand from its military roots into one of the most vibrant, full-spectrum strategic partnerships in modern history, encompassing dynamic political, economic, and social cooperation. The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement is a way not only to strengthen U.S.-ROK economic ties and increase American jobs through exports to Korea but also to enhance the enduring strength of this strategic relationship. Regionally, we are working closely with the ROK on a number of key issues, such as improving maritime security through the ASEAN Regional Forum and advancing the capacities of countries in the Lower Mekong region. We welcome and support the ROK government’s efforts to realize its “Global Korea” vision, expanding its global reach to be commensurate with its economic status. We applaud the ROK’s leadership in addressing global concerns, such as proliferation, counter-piracy, and development assistance. Last year’s G20 Summit in Seoul and the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul in 2012 are a testament to the ROK’s global leadership.
Close coordination and the broadening and deepening of our security commitments with the ROK are key guiding principles for how we approach North Korea. The steps that our two militaries are taking, for example, to enhance our joint interoperability and strategic deterrent, are critical to creating a security environment that deters North Korean provocations, increases our collective leverage on Pyongyang to change course, and maintains peace and stability in the broader East Asia environment. A U.S.-ROK relationship that will only grow stronger and continued close bilateral coordination on our strategies for the way forward on North Korea will reinforce our common message to Pyongyang – that taking irreversible steps toward denuclearization, abiding by the terms of the Armistice Agreement, and improving relations with the ROK and its other neighbors is the only way for the DPRK to break free from its isolation and enjoy the security, political, and economic benefits that come with integrating into the international community.
In the short-term, the United States supports direct talks between the DPRK and the ROK to address the South’s legitimate grievances, including North Korea’s sinking of the Cheonan and its shelling of Yeonpyong Island. We believe that North-South dialogue is an important initial step toward the resumption of the Six-Party Talks. North Korea’s decision to walk out of the recent colonel-level North-South military-to-military talks squandered a valuable opportunity to improve North-South relations and demonstrate its commitment to dialogue. We will carefully monitor events on the Korean Peninsula for evidence of a North Korean commitment to improving inter-Korean relations.
President Obama underscored the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance during his November 2010 trip to Japan: “As allies for over half a century, the partnership between Japan and the United States has been the foundation for our security and our prosperity – not only for our two countries, but also for the region.” Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan alliance. This year, we are working to create a roadmap for the next 50 years to broaden and deepen this cornerstone alliance. In this context, Secretaries Clinton and Gates will co-host their Japanese counterparts in Washington, D.C. for a 2+2 Security Consultative Committee meeting. This meeting will focus on reaffirming the core mission of our alliance – the security of Japan and maintaining peace and security in the Asia-Pacific – as well as articulating new common strategic objectives and approaches that demonstrates the expanse of our relationship. Progress on key issues associated with modernizing our military relationship will continue and is essential to adapt our alliance to better manage the complex evolutions in the Asia-Pacific strategic environment, as well as promote and protect the global commons. We think that Japan should follow the ROK and take steps to accede to the Hague Convention on International Parental Child Abduction.
North Korea remains Japan’s most immediate national security concern and a key feature of our diplomatic engagement with Tokyo. North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and past abduction of Japanese citizens underscore the tangible threat the DPRK poses to Japan’s national security. North Korea’s recent provocative actions have reinforced Japan’s concerns and led to enhanced ROK-Japan cooperation and closer trilateral U.S.-ROK-Japan coordination. We welcome the commitment of ROK and Japanese leaders to deepen the ROK-Japan bilateral relationship. We appreciate Japan’s key role in working to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue peacefully and its commitment to implementing unilateral and multilateral sanctions against the DPRK to curb its proliferation activities. The United States fully supports Japanese efforts to resolve the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.
Trilateral U.S.-ROK-Japan Coordination
In addition to strengthening U.S. alliances with the ROK and Japan, we will take ambitious steps to increase trilateral cooperation to further develop a more integrated Northeast Asia security architecture. Robust trilateralism is essential to deal with the DPRK’s provocative behavior and to shape the emerging regional strategic environment. Trilateral engagement demonstrates to North Korea that its reckless actions will be met with collective resolve. The benefits of trilateral coordination were on full display when Secretary Clinton hosted Japanese Foreign Minister Maehara and ROK Foreign Minister Kim in a historic U.S.-Japan-ROK Trilateral Ministerial meeting in December 2010. At this meeting, the three countries jointly affirmed the importance of unity and ways to enhance policy coordination on myriad issues from ASEAN to North Korea. On North Korea, they declared that the DPRK’s belligerent actions threaten all three countries and will be met with solidarity from all three countries. The United States reaffirmed its security alliances with both Japan and the ROK, and all three countries jointly condemned the DPRK’s uranium enrichment facility as a violation of the DPRK’s commitments under the September 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks and its obligations under UNSCR 1718 and 1874. Institutionalization of trilateral cooperation will be an important focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts in the coming year and a point of conversation when Secretary Clinton meets with the ROK and Japanese Foreign Ministers in the coming year. Additionally, with our Japanese and South Korean allies, we are continually working to enhance cooperation with China and Russia on ways to deal with the DPRK – underscoring the strategic benefits of strong Five-Party unity and coordination in denuclearization negotiations.
North Korea remains a key foreign policy issue in our bilateral relationship with China. We share the same goals of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, as well as North Korea’s verifiable denuclearization in a peaceful manner. China is uniquely positioned to influence the DPRK because of its significant economic and humanitarian aid to the DPRK, its shared border with the DPRK, and historical ties. We have urged China to press North Korea to take appropriate steps to improve relations with South Korea and to denuclearize. We also continue to work with China to enhance effective implementation of sanctions under UNSCR 1718 and 1874.
During the January 2011 China state visit, President Obama emphasized to President Hu that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs are increasingly a direct threat to the security of the United States and our allies. The President also expressed appreciation for China’s role in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula but underscored the need for China to leverage its unique relationship with North Korea to compel Pyongyang to abide by its commitment to the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks as well as its obligations under UNSCR 1718 and 1874. Both leaders agreed that the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula remains our paramount goal and that North Korea must avoid further provocations.
The Joint Statement issued during President Hu’s visit also reflects our shared concern over the DPRK’s claimed uranium enrichment program. The United States and China jointly “expressed concern regarding the DPRK’s claimed uranium enrichment program…opposed all activities inconsistent with the 2005 Joint Statement and relevant international obligations and commitments…and…called for the necessary steps that would allow for the early resumption of the Six-Party Talks process to address this and other relevant issues.” We are working closely with China and our other partners and allies at the UN to develop an appropriate UN response to the DPRK’s uranium enrichment program.
We value our continuing cooperation with Russia, another key partner in the Six-Party Talks, to achieve our shared goal of denuclearization in North Korea. As a result of its historical relationship with the DPRK and its status as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, like China, Russia is well positioned to influence the DPRK through both direct bilateral diplomacy and multilateral efforts.
In the wake of the DPRK’s provocations over the last year, we welcome the constructive role that Russia has played to press Pyongyang to refrain from further destabilizing actions, to abide by its international commitments and obligations, and to take irreversible steps toward denuclearization. Russia has publicly stated that it backs UN Security Council discussion of the North Korean uranium enrichment program, and we seek further cooperation from Russia in our efforts to affirm unequivocally that the DPRK’s uranium enrichment activities violate the relevant UNSCR.
Other Key Regional Players: ASEAN, India, Australia
Due to the security threats posed by North Korea to the entire Asia-Pacific region, our deep diplomatic activity and coordination on North Korea extend beyond the Five Parties to other key partners in the region. As a fulcrum of regional multilateralism, ASEAN has been actively engaged on regional security issues. The ASEAN-centered East Asia Summit presents a unique opportunity to engage with traditional allies and new partners on a range of areas central to U.S. interests in Asia, which may grow to include North Korea. We will continue to work closely with ASEAN to identify ways for the organization to play a more engaged role in denuclearization discussions.
India and Australia also share our goal of enhancing peace and security in the Asia-Pacific. The United States and India have discussed North Korea in our Strategic Dialogue and other bilateral and multilateral exchanges. India’s growing security and political relations with Japan and South Korea will also enhance prospects for security and stability in Northeast Asia. Australia has strongly supported international implementation of UNSCR 1718 and 1874, participated in the international investigation of the sinking Cheonan, and supported efforts to bring the issue before the UN Security Council.
The goal of the United States and our allies and partners remains a stable, peaceful Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. To achieve this goal, the United States intends to maintain strong solidarity with South Korea, Japan, and other states with a vested interest in the future of the Korean Peninsula and the stability and prosperity of Northeast Asia. We will continue to encourage the DPRK to engage in meaningful negotiations on denuclearization and to honor its commitments and international obligations. At the same time, we will work to ensure the implementation of U.S. and international sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear, missile, and proliferation networks and its involvement in other illicit activities. We will also carefully watch internal political and economic developments in North Korea, particularly as they relate to succession and the promotion of heir apparent Kim Jong-un, the third son of Kim Jong-il.
The Obama Administration has repeatedly stressed that there remains a positive path open to North Korea. North Korea has the choice to take a path that will lead to security and economic opportunity or to continue in its pattern of confrontation and isolation. The United States remains committed to meaningful dialogue, but we will not reward North Korea for shattering the peace or defying the international community. If North Korea improves relations with South Korea and demonstrates a change in behavior, including taking irreversible steps to denuclearize, complying with international law, and ceasing provocative behavior, the United States will stand ready to move toward normalization of our relationship. However, if it maintains its path of defiance and provocative behavior and fails to comply with its obligations and commitments, it stands no chance of becoming a strong and prosperous nation.
Our concerns with North Korea are not limited to the threat it poses to regional stability and global security. Human rights violations harm the North Korea people and violate international norms for the rule of law and respect for individual rights. Respect for human rights by North Korea will also be necessary for it to fully participate in the international community. Human rights are a top U.S. priority and an addressing of human rights issues by the DPRK will have a significant impact on the prospect for closer U.S.-DPRK ties.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today and I welcome any questions that you may have.