Opening Remarks for the NATO North Atlantic Council

Remarks
C.S. Eliot Kang
Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
Brussels, Belgium
May 5, 2017


Thank you, Secretary General Stoltenberg for your introduction, and thank you to the members of this Council for inviting me to speak to you today.

Also, thank you to our Asia-Pacific partners for joining.

Your collective presence underscores the value of NATO as a forum to discuss security challenges that affect us all and explore ways we can enhance our cooperation to increase security and defend our shared values and a rules-based global order.

I am the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation at the U.S. Department of State. For over two decades my bureau and its predecessors have been at the forefront of U.S. efforts to curb proliferation of WMD and conventional weapons. And my own experience with the D.P.R.K. spans this time as well, including as a negotiator for the Six-Party Talks.

In 2005/2006, I was deeply involved in diplomatic outreach with North Korea through the Six-Party Talks, both during each of the plenary sessions, and also in the Denuclearization Working Group. These were roles that took me to North Korea on a number of occasions in pursuit of the goal of a denuclearized peninsula.

The Six-Party Talks produced the 2005 Joint Statement, and with it the partial disablement of three key facilities at the DPRK’s Yongbyon nuclear complex. Today, unfortunately, these facilities are back in use, including the 5 MWe graphite-moderated, gas-cooled reactor. It is from this reactor’s spent fuel that the North extracts plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The original fuel fabrication facility though is gone — replaced by a modern, state of the art, centrifuge facility that we believe may be producing highly enriched uranium — the second North Korean path to nuclear weapons capability.

I stand before you now, having seen firsthand — as Secretary Tillerson noted at the UN Security Council last week — that years of well-intentioned diplomatic efforts to halt North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions have failed. It is now clear that North Korea has little interest in engaging in the type of negotiations that we saw in the days of the Six-Party Talks.

It is also clear that, in 2017, the nature of the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs has become far more acute than it was just a year ago, let alone ten years ago. The D.P.R.K.’s proscribed programs have advanced rapidly, far outpacing our initial estimates and expectations.

Ten years ago the focus was on North Korea’s ability to produce enough fissile material for weapons development.  Now, North Korea pursues development and testing of a number of different platforms to deliver nuclear weapons; it claims to have incorporated nuclear weapons into its war-fighting capability; and North Korea’s stated objective is to be able to attack U.S. and allied cities with nuclear weapons.

The D.P.R.K. has become far more capable and far more dangerous, despite our best efforts to get Pyongyang to fulfill its commitment to abandon its nuclear program. The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul or Tokyo is real, and it is only a matter of time before the D.P.R.K. develops the capability to strike North America and even U.S. allies located outside of the Asia-Pacific.

North Korea’s growing capabilities are extending the reach of its rhetoric—making the threat truly global in scope. You don’t need me to tell you that the D.P.R.K. can point its missiles in all directions.

My colleague from the intelligence community will provide a detailed presentation on recent advancements in the DPRK’s proscribed programs, but before I turn the floor over to him, I would like to outline the Administration’s new approach to the D.P.R.K. and relay Secretary of State Tillerson’s views on this topic. After careful and thorough review, the new U.S. administration determined North Korea to be a top national security priority.

As President Trump stated last week at the White House during his meeting with members of the UN Security Council, “The status quo in North Korea is unacceptable… [North Korea] is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not…it is a problem we have to finally solve.” Solving the North Korea problem cannot be done by applying the same types or levels of pressure as we have in the past.

A campaign of maximum pressure is required, and we have been working actively these last few weeks on a new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measures to counter the D.P.R.K. threat, including through enhanced cooperation with allies represented here today.

During his speech to the UN Security Council last week, Secretary Tillerson emphasized what U.S. policy is and is not. One thing that it is not: regime change. The goal of the United States is not to change the North Korean regime. Rather, we seek to change its thinking and, when the time is right, restart meaningful dialogue, a dialogue that leads to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Meeting these goals will require significantly increased diplomatic and economic pressure on the North Korean regime. To this end, Secretary Tillerson called on all UN Member States to take the following actions:

  • Fully implement all UNSCRs, including 2270 and 2321.
  • Suspend or downgrade diplomatic relations with the D.P.R.K.
  • Isolate the DPRK financially including by taking bilateral action above and beyond the UNSCRs.

A hallmark of our new policy is a willingness to assume higher levels of risk (all options are on the table), including pressing China to do more.

China alone holds decisive leverage over the Kim Jung Un regime and both President Trump and Secretary Tillerson have discussed with China the need for it to convince or — if necessary —compel North Korea to rethink its strategic calculus before North Korean provocations create a real crisis.

We have invited China both publicly and privately to be part of the solution — and we ask all of the allies gathered to here to the same.

In closing, my presence and that of my colleagues today reflects our great concern over the current situation with North Korea, and signals our resolve.

In response to the serious threat facing us and our Allies, the United States has redoubled efforts to show the D.P.R.K. that the only path to a secure, economically-prosperous future is to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs; . . . but our efforts will be successful only with the broad cooperation of an international community united against the DPRK’s increasingly dangerous and destabilizing actions.

We look forward to coordinating closely with every country represented here towards this end and plan to continue to brief this Alliance as we progress. Your commitment to publicly condemning North Korea’s unlawful actions and increasing the pressure on the Kim Jung Un regime is appreciated. We also appreciate the useful role NATO plays in supporting our Asia-Pacific partners.

In this sense, we encourage Allies and Partners to explore new areas where cooperation with NATO can enhance security in the Asia-Pacific region. With that, I’d like to turn the floor over to my colleague.