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Under Secretary Feith Roundtable with Japanese, U.S. and International Media

Presenter: Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith
November 08, 2002

(Roundtable Briefing with Japanese, U.S. and International Journalists)

Feith: Good afternoon. It's good to have a chance to meet with you. I appreciate the opportunity. I have had a number of meetings today with our Japanese colleagues, and we're going to have a few more yet this afternoon. The principal focus has been the development in the United States of our strategic thinking and our defense transformation, and how it applies to our alliance with Japan. In our strategic thinking, Asia is a region of great and growing importance. We ascribe very high value to the U.S.-Japanese alliance and we view Japan as a country of growing importance and obviously great strategic and economic and political importance in this region. Our alliance is an important part-has been for decades-an important part of keeping the peace and providing a foundation for the prosperity of this region. We are interested in, as we pursue transformation in the U.S. defense establishment, doing it in a combined way with our Japanese allies. We're hoping to lay the foundation for combined defense transformation so that our alliance over the next ten/twenty years can be as important in keeping the peace in the region as it has been over the past decades. With that, I'll be happy to take your questions. We also, obviously, discussed a number of specific issues, which I am sure I can rely on you to raise, so we'll be happy to talk about it, and my colleague will be fielding your questions.

Moderator: We'll start with Howard (French) of The New York Times.

Q: I think the colleagues would all like to know about North Korea, in specific. What sorts of responses might have been discussed relating to the news from the Kelly visit to Pyongyang that North Korea may be developing nuclear weapons? Are there any sorts of actions that the United States is asking Japan to participate in together with? Or are there any initiatives that the United States may be contemplating itself which you came to brief the Japanese on?

Feith: First of all, a not so minor correction in the premise of the question. What Assistant Secretary Kelly learned in North Korea was not that they may be pursuing nuclear weapons, but that they are. He got the North Koreans' confirmation that North Korea is working to enrich uranium. This represents a challenge not only to South Korea, Japan, and the United States, who have been in close consultations on the question, but also to the whole international community. The North Korean nuclear weapons program is a serious threat. It obviously would be highly desirable to resolve this problem diplomatically, but the North Korean regime has shown its willingness to flout its international obligations and to defy the international community, which is pretty widely agreed that North Korea should not be pursuing this program. That means that diplomacy is hard to make effective, and what we have discussed is how can we organize our diplomacy so that it has a chance of being effective, because it would obviously be very desirable to have this whole issue resolved diplomatically. It's a difficult challenge. It's a matter of organizing the kind of pressure that would force the North Koreans to take seriously the concerns that we have and that we share with our allies about their nuclear program.

Moderator: Yes, Doug (Struck of The Washington Post).

Q: Will that pressure include stopping the oil shipments under KEDO and canceling the KEDO project?

Feith: We're discussing that.

Q: Was there any resolution on it?

Feith: There was no resolution. It is still being discussed.

Q: Did you advocate that?

Feith: I would say that we... I wouldn't characterize the discussions as advocacy. What we were doing was... We are agreed, I think, on a lot of the key fundamentals. There's actually widespread international agreement on the fundamentals. There's widespread unhappiness about the North Korean program. There's widespread agreement that we should try to resolve it diplomatically. There is widespread agreement on the importance of not proceeding with business as usual and finding ways to bring effective pressure to bear. When we discuss these things, we discuss them from... It's a little more analytical than advocacy. The issue is what's the best way to proceed. It's not a matter of one country leaning on another country.

Moderator: TV-Asahi, Mr. Suzuki.

Q: Satoru Suzuki with TV-Asahi. Mr. Secretary, if I may ask about the case of Sergeant Charles Jenkins, who is now living in North Korea, 37 years after he deserted from the South. Have you made any tangible progress in your discussion with Japanese officials about the possibility of pardoning him? Can you confirm some press reports that Secretary Rumsfeld firmly opposes giving him a pardon, and are you willing to try and persuade him to change his mind?

Feith: We discuss this. We know that this is a matter of great interest here, and the United States, of course, has important interests in the matter. We are consulting with our Japanese friends on the subject, and we're committed to remaining tightly linked with them and consulting with them on the matter, but no decision has been made yet, so I can't give you any kind of definitive response.

Moderator: CNN.

Q: Rebecca MacKinnon with CNN. I understand Japan and North Korea are going to hold some form of security talks later in November. This is what they agreed on in their discussions in Kuala Lumpur. Is the U.S. coordinating with Japan about what Japan is going to raise with North Korea in these security talks, and what might the U.S. be suggesting Japan raise in those talks?

Feith: We didn't discuss those talks, as such, but we did talk about the North Korea problem. We made it clear that, from our point of view, whatever is done in U.S. policy regarding North Korea should be done through a tight linkage with Japan, and our Japanese colleagues said that they also think that it's extremely important that we remain linked. So I think we will continue to consult about the subject, but as I said, it wasn't in direct reference to this meeting that you're referring to.

Moderator: Mr. Sugita from Kyodo News.

Q: Thank you. On the joint research program on missile defense between the U.S. and Japan, currently the state of joint cooperation is research. The question is, did you ask Japanese counterparts to upgrade that level to the development level? If so, what was the Japanese reaction?

Feith: There is, I think, a common understanding that the missile threat facing the United States and Japan is serious, and that cooperation between us to counter this threat and protect our people is very useful. We have been cooperating. We're talking about the future of that cooperation. It's an effort that is in the interest of both countries and both countries see it that way, so we're going to be pursuing this. As each country decides what it wants to do, I think we're going to find that it's useful to move forward cooperatively.

Moderator: Mr. Brooke (The New York Times).

Q: Mine was pretty much on the same topic. In light of Mr. Kelly's discovery of two or three weeks ago, how do you feel-how are you sensing-the Japanese attitudes are changing towards the missile shield? I mean, it's on the front of Today's Yomiuri: "U.S. to press Japan to build missile shield."

Feith: I haven't read that, but we're... (U/S Feith is handed a copy of the newspaper, followed by laughter.) I see. I'm even featured here. Let me see what it says I say.

Q: I've underlined your name.

Feith: It says, "I will call." It's amazing. I hate to contradict it, but we're not pressing the Japanese to do anything. It's not the way we deal with our allies. The reason our alliances are strong, the reason that we can sustain them for decades, and the reason that they're useful is because they reflect common interests. We don't make a practice, as the headline suggests, of pressing our allies. If our allies don't have an interest in pursuing a particular capability, then they won't invest in that capability. We work with our allies on the basis of common interests and a common understanding of threats, and then the allies make their decisions, their resource allocations, as they see fit. In this particular case, one doesn't have to press Japan to recognize that Japan is facing a serious danger of ballistic missile attack. They don't have to press us on it, and we don't have to press them on it. That's clear. The question of how that gets dealt with, and the degree of cooperation, and how that threat compares from the point of view of demand on resources with other types of threats-those are decisions that Japan will make as a sovereign country. But if they want to cooperate with us on an area of common importance, we'll be happy to work with them.

Moderator: Mr. Kato from Asahi.

Q: In order to organize the diplomatic pressure that you were talking about, what do you expect Japan to do? Do you think it's a good idea for Japan, in light of applying pressure on North Korea, to proceed with the current normalization process?

Feith: For the pressure to be effective, it's got to be broad based, so the issue is not the United States and Japan alone. It is the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, the European Union and others. It's important that the North Koreans understand that there is a price to be paid for violating their commitments and pursuing a capability that threatens the peace and security of the region. It's not an easy subject, and lots of countries have lots of concerns that they have to balance. We do not take a simplistic view of this. This is an authentically complex problem, and that's why we've been talking for weeks now with many countries about organizing a united front.

Moderator: Mr. Zielenziger?

Q: Mike Zielenziger with Knight-Ridder. What you just said a minute ago-Japan faces a serious danger from ballistic missiles. That makes it sound almost as if this is an imminent threat. So my first part of my question is, do we have any indication to believe there's any imminence to this threat? And as a follow-up, it seems fairly clear that creating this unified front is very difficult. Is there a timeframe? Is there a wave moving forward? We're having a TCOG meeting soon, but is there also a sense that there's some kind of deadline approaching?

Feith: I don't think that anybody has set a deadline. It's just not the way we've been thinking about it. On the point about a missile threat, when we talk about threats, it's based on capabilities, and when we say there's a serious threat, what we mean is there are countries that have the capability to put missiles on the United States, and U.S. forces, and U.S. allies and friends in various places around the world, and that makes the missile threat serious. That's a different point from saying that anybody expects anybody to be launching any of those missiles on any given day. I wasn't commenting on that. I was commenting on the fact that there are missile arcs that one would draw that clearly cover Japan and that cover parts of the United States and U.S. forces, and as I said, other allies and friends that we have around the world, and that's what makes the missile threat very serious.

Q: Could I just follow-up, because what you're hearing from people in South Korea, as well as the North Koreans through their spokesman, is, "Hey, we wanted to get your attention, and we want to talk." Are you saying negotiations can't happen now?

Feith: There are a whole lot of ways that they could have gotten the benign attention of the United States. Pursuing a nuclear weapons program dishonestly, secretly, in violation of their commitments was not a way well designed to get the useful, constructive attention of the United States.

Moderator: Mr. Hayashi from the Yomiuri.

Q: You just talked about the existence of the price to pay as a result of North Korean incompliance to the agreement. What kind of price are you talking about, from the Pentagon's view? That's number one. Number two, how important is the issue of Iraq and possible cooperation between the U.S. and Japanese militaries in the future?

Feith: The question of the price to pay, and how to organize it, and how to impose it, is precisely the subject of these discussions that I mentioned that the United States is conducting around the world with various countries that have an interest in the North Korean nuclear program. As I said, the challenge is devising a way of imposing a price so that diplomacy can work. Your other question was about Iraq. We discussed today the Iraqi situation. As I think you all know, within hours-I'm a little vague on the time difference here, but from what I gather, within hours-in New York, the UN Security Council is going to be addressing the Iraq resolution. It would certainly be desirable if disarmament could be brought about without war, and that's the goal. But the failure of Iraq to disarm represents a violation of a whole series of UN Security Council resolutions, most prominently 687, and it represents a most serious threat. The goal right now is to see if we can get this resolution adopted and have it work. There is a lot of interest in this subject all around the world, so wherever I travel it's a topic, and it was a topic here too. The hope, as I said, right now is that a military operation will not be necessary.

Moderator: Mr. Ina from the Nikkei.

Q: Do you have any joint military exercise plan with Japan as a sort of message to Pyongyang? For example, in the Sea of Japan or something?

Feith: No.

Moderator: Mr. Moffett (The Wall Street Journal).

Q: You say that the North Korea weapons program is a serious threat there, enriching uranium. How close are they to actually making a workable weapon, which could be sort of used, tomorrow or...

Feith: As Secretary Rumsfeld has said over recent weeks, the United States has assessed for some years now that the North Koreans have one or two or so nuclear weapons.

Q: So they actually have them, ready to use. Thank you.

Q: Which are not from the uranium program per se?

Feith: No, no. This goes back some years.

Moderator: Time for about one last question.

Q: But subsequent to those Rumsfeld comments, I saw reports that the Chinese intelligence estimates are actually substantially higher numbers of nuclear weapons in the North Korean arsenal. Are you familiar with those Chinese estimates, and do you have an opinion about them?

Feith: I don't have an opinion about them, but I will say that your question highlights a very interesting point, which is North Korea is an astonishingly closed and secretive country. Our knowledge of what they are doing and how far they've gotten in their various programs is sketchy. It is just whatever we happen to learn, so we don't think we have a complete picture of their capabilities. What we know, we know. What we know is very troubling, and in some ways you could say... They don't have less then we know they have, and they may have a lot more. But intelligence is often a matter of picking up just small glimpses of a big picture. So we have our glimpses. Those glimpses are very disturbing. In this particular case, what is so interesting is, as opposed to many cases where you get a glimpse of intelligence and then you get a big debate over what does it mean, and have we arrived at the right conclusion from the little piece of intelligence that we happened to have gathered, in this case we have a somewhat different situation. We had enough of a glimpse into North Korea to see that they were pursuing a program of uranium enrichment in violation of their commitments, and we did not go public with that. We went and sent Assistant Secretary Kelly and a delegation to North Korea quietly, privately, diplomatically to raise the issue. And lo and behold, the North Koreans came back and said, after at first denying it, a few hours later came back and said, "You're right, we do have a uranium enrichment program." So this is not one of those cases where, because your intelligence is sketchy, you can debate what's going on. Here we have the North Koreans admitting to it. And it's very disturbing. I don't mean to suggest that the admission was in any way the form of a confession. They were not apologetic about it whatsoever. It was rather brazen and confrontational. But at least it resolves the issue of fact here. So in this case, this is something that we know. There is much that is going on in North Korea that we don't know about.

Moderator: I'm afraid we're out of time.

Q: Just a quick one?

Moderator: The world's shortest question. Go ahead.

Q: Richard Lloyd Parry from the Times. To resolve another question of fact, I think the North Koreans said that the reason, or one of the reasons, they have this program is because U.S. troops in South Korea have nuclear weapons. Is that true?

Feith: I don't believe that's what they said. What they said, as I recall, was we have this program because of President Bush's "hostile policy", where upon it was observed that this program goes back before this Bush Administration. So that statement was as false as their initial denial of Assistant Secretary Kelly's presentation. Unfortunately, what the North Koreans say about many subjects is just plain false, and their claimed reason for their enrichment program just doesn't hold up.

Q: Do U.S. forces in the South have nuclear weapons?

DASD Lawless: I don't think we comment on that.

Moderator: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.