Seeking Dialogue with PyongyangOn December 23, 2002, I lunched with Robert Einhorn, former Assistant Secretary of State—who was, as of 2009, special adviser to Secretary of State Clinton. The purpose was to discuss ideas for my North Korean project. Very experienced, he pointed out flaws in several of my ideas. In discussions, we came up with the idea of trying to organize a visit to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who I felt would return with added influence in Washington. (“In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is King.”) And Bob provided the quid pro quo, which would be Pyongyang halting purchases abroad of equipment related to highly enriched uranium (HEU), something he suggested could be verified. So what I came to call the “quiet proposal” was, in short:
The DPRK would offer, in a private communication to the U.S. government, to:In sum, the first point would address the U.S. request for verifiable activities in the HEU matter before it would begin talks and the second point would avoid asking the United States to negotiate under threat. In return, the third point would start high-level talks and do so with the only person in this administration who was in a position to bring about a more constructive policy toward the DPRK.
1. suspend purchasing items abroad for the Highly Enriched Uranium project; and
2. to suspend the unfreezing of activities associated with the graphite reactors and their spent fuel; if
3. in return, Secretary of State Powell would travel to Pyongyang to engage in high-level discussions of these and other key issues in U.S.-DPRK relations such as sovereignty, nonaggression pacts and noninterference in economic activities.
If this were agreed, the two sides might then announce the agreement as a joint initiative designed to promote an improvement in U.S.-DPRK relations.
On December 24, 2002, I sent this proposal to Ambassador Han Sung-Joo. (Appendix)
As will be seen below, the North was trying to get a senior U.S. official to Pyongyang to discuss matters. In particular, I learned from a foreign embassy employee that DPRK was trying to get Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage to go to Pyongyang—based on a favorable article Armitage wrote and, perhaps, thinking that a somewhat lower-level official than Powell was more likely to come.
On January 3, 2003, I sent the quiet proposal to a deputy director of the Asian bureau of the Chinese Foreign Ministry with whom I was scheduled to meet in China on January 16. And I sent it also to Alexander P. Losyukov, the deputy foreign minister for Asia of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
I sought the approval and help of Robert Gallucci, father of the already negotiated U.S.-DPRK Agreed Framework, the agreement then being widely discussed. He had no objection. He also had very high standing with all the participants and so was able to pick up the phone and make prompt high-level appointments for me at the Japanese and Korean embassies. Accordingly, the day before I was scheduled to depart for Seoul and Beijing, I had appointments with the ministers for political affairs at the Japanese and Korean embassies, and the meetings went well. (Note)
A Former South Korean Foreign Minister Agrees to Help
On January 9, in Seoul, I met over breakfast with the president of Korean University, Han Sung-Joo—later to be appointed ambassador to Washington. He reminded me that we had met ten years before in Moscow at a meeting on U.S.-Russian-Korean matters when he was about to become foreign minister. He offered to mention the quiet-proposal approach to the incoming President Roh Moo-hyun at a luncheon of the Seoul Forum over which he was presiding that day and to which the president-elect was coming.
In the middle of the night, I saw that the national security adviser of the ROK government, then in Washington, Yim Sung-joon, had said Seoul wanted to play a “leading role” in the crisis but, on being asked, could not describe what it might be. So the next day, I tried to sell the Ministry of Unification on the idea of having ROK broker the proposal between Washington and Pyongyang. And when my contact there said that the ministry had not yet decided what to discuss with the North Koreans at upcoming talks on January 21, I suggested the proposal might be suitable. He was interested.
I got encouragement also from the former foreign minister, Gong Ro-Myung, and from a former South Korean ambassador to the United States.
Both Koreas Have Rewritten History
On a bus tour, a 21-year-old woman guide complained, as so many young Koreans do, that America “divided” Korea. And she was startled to hear me describe the death of two young Korean women, who were crushed by an armored U.S. vehicle, as an accident—she had been told it was deliberate. She was very sweet and said she would tell her friends what I told her about the Korean War.
It is startling to reflect that both Koreas have falsely rewritten their history to say that they themselves won the Korean War, albeit with “assistance” from a superpower ally. The North Koreans even complain that their ally, China, had insisted that the war be fought on North Korean territory. By this they mean that China refused to declare war on America but simply sent millions of “volunteers” to fight against the United States—thereby reducing the risks of having to fight on Chinese territory.
The Proposal Is Pitched to a U.S. Assistant Secretary
Later on this Saturday, I met with the chairman of a key committee of the transition team for the new South Korean president, Professor Yoon Kwan. He said he would be meeting with the U.S. Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, James Kelly, and would raise this quiet proposal with him, and he took a copy.
Revising the Forty-Year-Old Sino-Korean Friendship Treaty
On Monday, standing in the lobby of my hotel, The Chosen, I saw one man adjusting another man’s coat and, under the coat, I saw a gun—it meant that Assistant Secretary Kelly had arrived; this was the security detail.
At the Chinese embassy in Seoul, I was told that the DPRK was racing to get security guarantees before an Iraqi war because it feared that North Korea would be next.
At this meeting, I had a brainstorm and asked whether DPRK might be told by China, as a form of pressure, that China would want a revision of the forty-year-old friendship treaty if the DPRK became a nuclear power. I was told that the Chinese did not want to make the mistake called: “The fish will be dead but the net will be broken.” But I tried this idea out later in Beijing with more success.
With regard to the Chinese reluctance to put pressure on the DPRK, I told them the story about Deng Xiaoping saying in Pyongyang during a visit: “That sure is a lot of gold on that statue of Kim Il-Sung, considering that Pyongyang is a poor country.” It is said that the gold came off in a month.
Presidential Adviser Lim Dong-Won Who Had Met Kim Jong-Il
At this time, the most senior adviser to the Seoul government on North Korea was Lim Dong-won, special adviser to the president for National Security and Unification. He had actually met with Kim Jong-Il four different times and, once, for five hours. The ninety-minute breakfast turned out to be a love fest. (Note)
In August 2002, Lim had delivered a message asking for the State Department’s Charles L. “Jack” Pritchard to have permission to go to Pyongyang so he understood the importance of high-level visits to Pyongyang. And he said the North had told James Kelly that “all can be resolved with a high-level visit by Washington to Pyongyang.” But State, at that time, had turned this down.
Lim loved the quiet proposal and actually thanked me for encouraging the Unification Ministry to turn South Korea into a broker for this idea. But he thought the hawks in Washington would veto it. (Which, of course, was why I was trying to round up so much foreign help in support of the visit.)
Lim thought that Kim Jong-Il was even more powerful than his father and consulted less. But he was a careful listener and had even let Lim run on for forty minutes while taking notes.
Later, Evans Revere, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy, said that “Kelly was aware” of my activities, and Revere indicated he was impressed with all the people I had seen.
Questioning Hwang Jong Yap: Had I Caused His Defection?
As my book, Every Man Should Try, shows in Chapter 22, page 248, I was the guest of Hwang Jong Yap in Pyongyang in 1991. (More info) He was then the twenty-fourth most powerful person in North Korea. He was its most famous educator and the president of Kim Il-Sung University. More important, he was the main interpreter of the self-reliance ideology called juche—an ideology that substituted for Marxism-Leninism in other communist countries.
I had sought for five years to get him permission to make a return visit to the United States. This required the agreement of the U.S. government (for the visa), the agreement of the South Korean government (who had a veto over such visas), and, of course, the agreement of the North Korean government. And Hwang had made it clear that he needed to be instructed to travel to America—he could not ask—so I had to ask the Pyongyang government to send him.
After five years of strenuous efforts—in three campaigns—the constellation of forces seemed, in March 1996, to fall into place. But immediately thereafter something went wrong and, from subsequent letters smuggled out by Hwang in the fall of 1996 to South Korea, it seems the authorities began attacking him on May 9, 1996. (See the footnote 407 in Every Man Should Try).
The trip to Washington fell through and, a year later, in February 1997, Hwang defected to the Beijing embassy of South Korea and ultimately made his way to South Korea itself.
I was eager to determine whether my securing permission for him to come to America had been a reason for his downfall. In the meantime, I secured from a journalist friend an English-language translation of December 1999 of a book he wrote in South Korea: “I Saw the Truth of History: Memoirs of a Defector.”
The book reveals that Hwang knew Kim Jong-Il well even in the latter’s youth and was a mentor for him.
How Kim Jong-Il Manuevered as a Young Man
Hwang was President of Kim Il-Sung University when Kim Jong-Il, the son of President Kim Il-Sung, came to the University. Hwang says of Kim Jong-Il . . .
It appears that Hwang had defected in an effort to help bring the Korean people together—he saw himself as an agent of constructive change. He claimed that he told his wife. “The life of a nation was more important than the life of a family.” In his book, he said that Kim Jong-Il was about to provoke war. Seeing that Kim Jong-il was immersing himself solely in war preparation while letting a large number of people die of starvation, I could not stand it any longer. Also the military leaders in North Korea were saying that even with the presence of U.S. forces, the odds of winning a war were definitely in favor of North Korea.”
He said 500,000 died of starvation including 50,000 party members in 1995. And in 1996 by mid-November about 1 million people had already died. At least 1 million died in each of 1997 and 1998.
For Hwang’s defection, his associates were punished. He later reported: “The several thousand were divided into ones who had worked physically for me and others who had served as my brain trust. They were sent into a detention camp—the most strict among various detention camps, a controlled district, or into a remote region. Even distant relatives were moved.” (This is taken from a FBIS interview for which I don’t have an exact reference).
On January 14, 2003, I was picked up at my hotel by a leading defector from the North, Hyun Seong-Il—a former North Korean Embassy third secretary who had defected in Zambia in 1996—who drove me to see Hwang Jang Yop, now in exile in Seoul after his defection in 1997.
"[Kim Jong-Il] has a merciless character. His character is that of a tormentor."
—2/10/99 interview (Note)
"[Kim Jong-Il] has a merciless character. His character is that of a tormentor."
—2/10/99 interview (Note)
I knew that it was risky for my contacts with the North Koreans in New York to meet with Hwang. Hwang was living in some seclusion inside the grounds of the Korean CIA and running an institute on unification policy that was, really, a home for the defectors. These now numbered 2,000 since the Korean War, of which 1,300 had come in recent years.
It was certain that some of these defectors were double agents sent to watch over the others. And my presence there, visiting Hwang, would be reported back to Pyongyang. (Indeed, I assume it was the reason why the North subsequently broke off contacts with me.) But I was determined to go. I wanted to know if my efforts to get Hwang a visit to the United States were responsible for his defection and all the trouble that this brought to so many people in the North.
He thought that this might indeed have been a factor but that a speech he had given in Moscow on juche had been the main factor. He was constantly in trouble for interpreting juche in too dovish a fashion.
Kim Jong-Il ordered authorities to report false numbers to Kim Il-Sung about the economy. (Note)
Kim Undermined the Experts
Kim Jong-Il ordered authorities to report false numbers to Kim Il-Sung about the economy. (Note)
He mentioned that he wanted to get an invitation to come to the United States. He thought America should not be afraid of the DPRK and should not give them a nonaggression pledge. On the other hand, it should not attack them or give them any assistance. Just ignore them and wait for their collapse. He was not for sanctions but, at the same time, against aid. They would be forced then to a market economy. Eventually there would be a coup.
I asked why the generals, who get benefits, would engage in a coup. Well, he said, “You are right, the uprising would come from the bottom and they would join in.” Asked how to communicate with the North, he said: “that is our role” (i.e., the defectors).
January 16, 2003: Exchanging Views With Chinese Experts
I arrived in Beijing at about the same time as Assistant Secretary Kelly—my Chinese hosts were going off to meet him. They reported that he said the United States had “no good solution” but that it wanted “no negotiation, no war, no subversion of the regime and no transformation.”
Still later on the same day, I lunched with General Xiong Guangkai, an alternate member of the 200-person Central Political Committee. He urged me "not to bet on DPRK collapse and to work for a peaceful solution" and said, “We don’t have an alliance with anyone.” Asked what China would do if the North decided to openly become a nuclear power, he said: “We’ll say we don't agree.”
Afterward at the Chinese Institute for International Strategic Studies that General Xiong chaired, I met with an expert on North Korea who briefed me on the situation in North Korea. He said Kim Jong-Il worked through a think-tank with army generals and party secretaries.
Encouraging China to Host the North Korean Talks
Later, over dinner, I congratulated a vice chairman of the China Reform Forum on China’s agreement to host the talks on North Korea—showing him headlines in the South China Post congratulating China on doing this and a sentence in the Asian Wall Street Journal saying the White House had welcomed China’s offer.
When he said it was a mistake, I suggested that the headlines at least proved how much good press China would receive if, indeed, it did agree to host the talks! He became interested in working on this. And he may have been helpful because, within a few days, China did agree to host the talks “if necessary.”
In contacting B.J. at home, she reported Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander P. Losyukov had responded warmly to my letter on the quiet proposal. His note said he recalled our “fruitful conversation” of May 2000 with “great pleasure.” He said: “I really appreciate all the new proposals” I had sent and was leaving today for Pyongyang and Beijing to discuss “these and other hot issues.” He said “your ideas will be quite useful in this context.” He encouraged me to stay in touch and said, “If I can be of any help to you, do not hesitate to address me at any time.” This seemed more than the usual diplomatic soft soap.
Chinese Experts on North Korea
The China Reform Forum had an interesting expert on North Korea with whom I exchanged views. She had lived there for some time and gave me an extended briefing. She thought that Kim Jong-Il showed more confidence and less flexibility than his father and would not give up easily or listen much to others. I asked her if the North Koreans wanted the United States, eventually, to be its “best friend.” She said they did but had become discouraged. I had long been worried that I had been too candid with a North Korean official on this point and discouraged him. And therein lies the following story.
A Small Negotiation and DPRK’s Ultimate Goal
On October 30, 2002, I had begun my first experience in negotiating with North Koreans since my visit to North Korea in 1991 (see Chapter 22, “Every Man Should Try”). (More info) I invited the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Han Song Ryol, to Washington for a day or two to visit to “exchange views with nongovernmental or governmental organizations on ways and means of improving relations” between DPRK and the United States. I said Catalytic Diplomacy would pay all expenses and make all arrangements.
Ambassador Han decided to come with a colleague, North Korean ambassador to the U.N., Sin Son Ho, and we booked them at the Renaissance Hotel for Wednesday, November 13. They planned to attend an Asia Society meeting at which Donald Oberdorfer and Donald Gregg were going to discuss their recent trip to Pyongyang. And the next day, they were going to attend a Carnegie Endowment annual conference on security and arms control issues. (Note)
After the trip was agreed and being arranged, Han advised me that they were “not authorized” to discuss the North Korean positions in Washington—which dialogue we both knew was the purpose of my inviting them to Washington. Han said: “Will that make a difference?”
I decided to persist and agreed to invite them down for what was, really, just an orientation visit to Washington with no dialogue.
Next Han asked if I could purchase two video cameras for them—one digital and one not—so that they could film the report of Oberdoerfer and former Ambassador Donald Greeg. He said it was not critical if I couldn’t. I advised, diplomatically, that Catalytic Diplomacy could not make such gifts to foreign governments, but I offered two alternatives: If the two ambassadors would share a room at the Renaissance Hotel, we would rebate the saving to them. Indeed, if they wished to stay in my home, we would rebate all of the cost of the hotels to them and they could purchase their own video cameras.
After consultation, they decided to stay with us. Sin Son Ho confided that he had never before, in two years in New York, had other than formal meetings with Americans—certainly, he had never been in the home of an American, much less stayed in one.
Walking downtown on the Mall the next day, Han and I had a conversation that illuminated what I have come to believe is the underlying goal of North Korea, albeit an unattainable goal.
Good Friends With North Korea?
He said: “Sometimes, the worst enemies become good friends. For example, you fought a long war with Japan and Germany, but now these countries are your best friends. Perhaps North Korea and the United States can become good friends.”
I said, rather undiplomatically, “In fact, this is only because Japan and Germany surrendered to the United States after they lost the war and we reconstructed the governments of those countries to be democracies like ours. By contrast, the Russians lost the cold war but did not surrender. Accordingly, we did not reorganize their government and we are not good friends with them. North Korea is not going to surrender to us and has no plans to change its government. Accordingly, we may not become close friends.”
I sensed that this was bad news for Han. On future trips, I learned that the North was traditionally looking for large countries under which to shelter and that it was, indeed, looking for a country to replace China and Russia as its “big brother.” (Note)
Discussed an Asian Missile Regime
Back in China, I met with Ye Ru’an, former deputy director of the China Institute of International Studies and then vice president and secretary general of the newly formed China Arms Control and Disarmament Association. An old friend, we discussed the problem of creating some kind of missile regime in Northeast Asia, which I had written about in an FAS newsletter and, subsequently, tried to urge on the military think-tank in Beijing.
That evening, at 8 p.m., I met with the Russian Federation Counselor Andrei Ivanov, who explained the Russian position.
Saturday: China’s Limited Influence
I had lunch with an old friend, a very senior retired official of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. He was quite persuasive about the limited influence that China had over North Korea.
He felt North Korea was as likely to do the opposite of what China wanted as to follow its advice. The phenomenon was so pronounced that the DPRK had actually voted against having China get the Olympics in the year China failed—indeed, DPRK had been the deciding vote against it! All this in revenge for something China had done.
He felt that “lending money loses friends,” and with every good deed China had done for North Korea, a certain animosity had occurred. And, no doubt, North Korea thought China should have done more. China is particularly offended by DPRK’s attitude toward the Korean War sacrifices made by China—which, as noted, earlier, the North Koreans completely downplay and, indeed, complain about.