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Under Secretary Fieth Press Conference at Yongsan Army Garrison, Korea

Presenter: Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith
November 07, 2002

(Press Conference at Dragon Hill Lodge, Yongsan Army Garrison, Korea)

Public Affairs Officer: Ladies and gentlemen, if I may, I'd like to set just a few opening remarks. We have today with us the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the Honorable Douglas Feith, also, Mr. Richard Lawless, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. General Donovan is sitting to the rear here, and Secretary Feith will make some brief opening statements to start. After Secretary Feith's opening remarks we will, of course, take questions. We will start with a Korean journalist, move to an international journalist, return to a Korean journalist, move to an American journalist and then as time allows, continue that process. The topics that will be discussed today are, of course, the security consultant meeting that Secretary Feith has been here to talk to, the Korean support for Operation Enduring Freedom, and the North Korean nuclear program.

Feith: Good afternoon, it's nice to have a chance to meet with you. I apologize that we're getting underway a little bit late. The purpose of my visit here was primarily to preview the discussions that Defense Minister Lee is going to be having in Washington in December with Secretary Rumsfeld in the Security Consultative meeting.

We also, while I was here, had very good useful talks about a number of subjects as were just mentioned, the North Korean Nuclear Weapons Program, the Republic of Korea's contributions to the global war on terrorism, the combined defense posture here on the peninsula, in particular, the readiness of our combined forces and the future of the U.S./ROK alliance. I met with the Defense Minister and I met also with the Foreign Minister and I was accompanied in these meetings by the U.S. Ambassador and also General LaPorte.

We were fortunate that the first day I was here, General Peter Pace, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff joined us in the meeting with Defense Minister Lee.

With that, I'll ask my colleague to begin the process of fielding the questions.

QUESTIONS FROM THE PRESS

Q (provided through interpreter): I have two questions. First, how far, in your opinion has North Korea gone with its nuclear weapons program. Has it been able to enrich uranium already, and if so, how much? So, could you please explain specifically how far North Korea has gone. And the second question is, if the diplomatic means to stop North Korea's nuclear efforts fail, what would be the counter measures that U.S. and Korea would take jointly? I'm sure that this topic would be discussed in the coming SEM.

Feith: Regarding your first question, we know that North Korea has a program to enrich uranium. There is much about the program that we don't know. And of course as you know, when we raised this with the North Koreans, they admitted that they have this program, you know, confirming the general point. I cannot answer with precision exactly what they have accomplished with their uranium enrichment program to date. It's, of course, significant that they have the program and that they have admitted it because they earlier promised not to be pursuing the production of fissile material.

The second question that you asked, what will the United States and our various allies and friends do if the North Koreans don't terminate their nuclear program? That's the question of the moment. And that is the topic of intense and broad-ranging negotiations that the United States is--or discussions, I should say, that the United States is conducting with the Republic of Korea, with Japan, we're talking with the Chinese and the Russians and the Europeans and other interested countries on that subject.

What we're looking to do is to find a means of making diplomacy effective. It's not easy. The North Koreans have decided to pursue this program in violation of their commitments and in defiance of virtually the entire international community.

And we're looking for the means to impose enough pressure on North Korea to begin to do what it has long promised to do, which is to renounce the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Q: Just following up on that question. You've had some interesting talks here and there is some sense of perhaps a difference of views on this topic. I'm wondering what kind of views you got in your talks with defense officials here? Where they really stand on this and whether they're behind us in their policy or whether there is some difference in these intense negotiations that you've undergone.

Feith: This is an authentically difficult subject. It is not a problem that presents an easy and obvious solution. There are debates about the best way to proceed and how to make diplomacy effective. There are debates within the U.S. government, among the Americans and our various allies and friends. It's a subject that one can debate within one's own head. It's a very difficult subject, so I wouldn't say that there is a fundamental disagreement between the United States and the Republic of Korea, we both agree on the importance of effective diplomacy. But, how one organizes that is a very difficult challenge and it's very useful for us to be discussing that with our Korean friends and with others around the world.

Q (provided through interpreter): There were reports that Kang Sok Ju, the first Vice Foreign Minister of North Korea, presented evidence of their nuclear program to Assistant Secretary Kelly during Kelly's visit to North Korea. So what, specifically, is this evidence that is being reported about?

Feith: I don't know what you're referring to.

Q (provided through interpreter): I'm sorry, sir, I had it the other way around. What is the evidence Assistant Secretary Kelly presented to Kang Sok Ju when he visited North Korea?

Feith: I may not have all of the details straight, but my understanding was that it wasn't a matter of presenting evidence to the North Koreans. We didn't have to prove to the North Koreans what they are doing. They know what they are doing. What happened, as I understand it, was that Assistant Secretary Kelly made the North Koreans aware that the United States is aware of their uranium enrichment activities. At which point, after a while, after initially denying it, the North Koreans admitted it.

Q: So, we don't know if the North Koreans have enriched uranium or not?

Feith: I don't know. I can't speak authoritatively about what any--I mean--I believe we do not know that. But----

Q: It seems odd that we haven't heard more about what actually was said, what was----

Feith: This gets into--it's good that you raised this, actually. It gets into the question of intelligence. Often, in the field of intelligence, you learn about pieces of a picture. You learn about slices of information. You don't get the whole story. You don't get a comprehensive understanding of a complex subject, usually, through current intelligence. What you get is sometimes a glimpse, an insight, into a piece of a picture.

And what we learned was of the existence of this uranium enrichment program. And that fact that there is such a program that the North Koreans are pursuing is significant because of the commitments that they have made not to have a nuclear weapons program and not to pursue, as I said, the production of fissile material. So, there are many aspects of their nuclear weapons program that we would like to know more about and that would be highly significant to know, but the mere fact that there is such a program is significant. And, as I said, this is not like the kinds of debates that often arise when we get slices of intelligence and people question whether we understand the intelligence correctly. In this case, when we took the matter to North Korea, they said, "You're right. We do have this program."

Q: And just to double check, you said you believe that the U.S. does not know?

Feith: I said I'm not sure, but I believe not. I want to clarify. What I was referring to was your question of, do we know whether North Korea has succeeded through this program in actually enriching uranium? And I have to tell you, my answer on that is tentative because I'm just not----

Q: You believe that they are, but you're not sure?

Feith: I don't know for sure, but I am not familiar, personally, with information that they have.

Q (provided through interpreter): I have three questions. First, does North Koreas, pursuing the uranium enrichment program signify the nullification of the Geneva agreement? The second question, the heavy oil for November to be transported to North Korea, 45,000 tons I believe, is being transported right now. Is the U.S. government planning to stop the support of the heavy oil to North Korea? And third, North and South Korea agreed yesterday to continue with the Kyong Industrial Complex Plan, despite the fact that North Korea has acknowledged its uranium program. So, does the U.S. agree, or how do you see the South Korean government's position that economic exchanges between the two Koreas continue, regardless of the political or defense situation?

Feith: On your question about the nullification of the agreed framework, that term comes from the North Koreans. When Assistant Secretary of State Kelly met with the North Koreans on this matter, it was the North Koreans that said that they consider the agreed framework to be nullified. On the issue of the heavy fuel oil shipments, that's a matter that is being considered right now within the U.S. government and we're having consultations with the Republic of Korea, Japan, the Europeans, the various KEDO countries on what to do about that. As you know, the fuel oil shipments are being made under the agreed framework, which the North Koreans violated and have declared nullified. So, we will see what happens with those shipments.

And on your third question about the economic relationship between North and South, we understand that there are numerous interests that all of the countries involved in this matter of the North Korean Nuclear Program have. And no country, of course, has a more complex set of interests than the Republic of Korea. And it's always necessary to take into account multiple interests when you're dealing with a subject like this. And so we have to balance lots of considerations as we approach a matter like this, and so does the Republic of Korea, and for that matter, so do the various other KEDO countries that we're talking about.

As I said, the challenge that we have is ensuring that the North Koreans do not conclude that business as usual can proceed when they are doing something that is, first of all, very dangerous, and secondly, is a violation of an international agreement.

I want to stress that there is a major problem in this matter of the North Korean Nuclear Program that goes beyond the danger posed by that program itself. And the broader problem is the problem of North Korea believing that it can violate an international agreement with impunity. Now, in this case, they are violating four international agreements.

This program violates the nonproliferation treaty. It violates IAEA safeguards. It violates the North/South agreement and it violates the agreed framework. And this is a very special challenge to the international community.

It is highly desirable that there be diplomatic options for resolving international problems. But, if international agreements are not respected, then it makes it difficult to even conceive of resolving international problems through diplomacy and agreements. The whole international community has a large stake in upholding the integrity of international agreements. And that's why agreements should be entered into very carefully and seriously. And when an agreement is entered into, it should be complied with, and if a country violates an international agreement, there should be a penalty for that, and not a reward.

Q: There seems to be a bit of doubt and confusion about what actually went on in Pyongyang when Mr. Kelly visited in terms of what, if, evidence was presented, or the specifics of it. Would it be helpful to, at least, maybe release some of that to show exactly what North Korea may or may not have been up to on the uranium? And secondly, my second question concerns a press conference that Don Gregg, a former Ambassador to South Korea, held yesterday, saying that North Korea has softened its position on this, you know, or something about this. Something of the simultaneous moves of the U.S., whatever that may mean, rather than one before the other. And I'm interested in your response to that, as well.

Feith: Don Gregg is a private citizen. He went to North Korea as a private citizen. He was not representing the United States government, and to tell you the truth, I haven't read his statement. I don't know what he said, and I can't comment on it. And as for your point that it might be useful to release more details about the meeting that Assistant Secretary Kelly had with the North Koreans, my sense is that much of it, pretty much all of it that's important has been released. The problem, I think, that many people have is, there has been speculation that there was a lot more than there was, and then people are unsatisfied about the lack of detail about the additional discussions that they speculate happened.

I think the essence of the conversations as far as I know, and I got the report on them, and here is a case where here is a question where I do think I know the answer. My understanding of the essence of those conversations is that what's been reported in the press captures the essence of the conversation. I don't think there is an enormous amount there in the way of detail that hasn't been released.

Q (provided through interpreter): One last question.

Feith: Okay. Please.

Q (provided through interpreter): Two questions. First, what discussions were made regarding South Korean forces' participation in the war against terrorism that the U.S. is leading. And second, the 1994 nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula was resolved with North Korea promising to freeze its plutonium development. If it is found that North Korea has actually been developing plutonium weapons as well, will the U.S. try to resolve both the uranium and plutonium issues together?

Feith: The discussions that I had with both the defense minister and the foreign minister touched on the contributions that the ROK is making to the war on terrorism. And I expressed the gratification that the United States has that Korea is part of our coalition. The ROK has a liaison, as you know, at CENTCOM headquarters in Florida, and has contributed various assets, C-130s and others, to our effort in Afghanistan. And these are important contributions and it helps demonstrate to Americans that there is vitality and ongoing work and cooperation between the ROK and the United States that is significant, not just here on the peninsula, but as part of our global war. And I think that's an important aspect of the alliance.

And on the issue of plutonium, the spent fuel rods that could be the source of plutonium are under controls right now in North Korea. And there are American and international monitors in place keeping an eye on that potential source of plutonium. And I don't have any information that that's an issue right now. I mean, that remains under the monitors' watchful eye.

Q: That's the plutonium that the CIA thought that----

Public Affairs Officer: That was the last question, sir.

Feith: That's the stuff that's in the can in North Korea that's under IAEA and U.S. monitoring. Nice meeting with you. Thank you.

Public Affairs Officer: If you would all just please wait here for a few minutes.

Thank you.