2003 March 20 Thursday
Richard Armitage On North Korean Nuclear Weapons Program

Richard Armitage, US Deputy Secretary of State, testified on February 4, 2003 to a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee panel on North Korea. Armitage outlines the series of developments as the US cam e to appreciate the extent of North Korea's uranium enrichment program.

During the -- from the time 1994 until the present administration, the previous administration had further noticed some anomalies in procurement patterns in North Korea, so much so that in 1999, our concerns were raised with the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna.

This administration, in June of '02, had a National Intelligence Estimate which had as its primary person (sic) to make an assessment of how many weapons North Korea could possibly possess.

And they came out with an estimate of one to two weapons, possibly, based on the amount, as they understood it, of unaccounted-for fuel in 1992 which the IAEA had identified. In a very small portion of that NIE in June of '02, there was a few comments about a growing belief that North Korea had engaged in at least an R&D project for highly enriched uranium.

In July of '02, the administration received very good intelligence which made us dramatically change our assessment from the DPRK being involved in just an R&D program, and we found, for instance, an order of magnitude difference in the estimate that we'd received of how many centrifuges they might be obtaining vice what we received in new intelligence, which showed that they were receiving and acquiring many, many more than was originally thought. And it led us to a rather intensive study, which resulted in September of '02 in a memo to consumers from the Intelligence Committee which said that in our view, the North Koreans had embarked on a production program, no longer an R&D program.

This rather dramatically changed the presentation that my colleague, Assistant Secretary Kelly, was going to make in Pyongyang, from a rather bold approach that tried to address all the security concerns on the Korean peninsula in exchange for a rather robust, new relationship with North Korea, to an absolute necessity for us to confront the North Koreans with this information that we had about their program for highly enriched uranium, which, of course, Jim Kelly did.

And, much to our surprise, on the second day of his talks, the first vice foreign minister came back and not only acknowledged that there was this program, but he said that "we have even more developed weapons," which threw us into a bit of a tizzy. We didn't understand what those weapons might be. We have subsequently learned, from foreign envoys who have gone to Pyongyang and talked to the North Koreans about that, that what they're referring to is the sole and the special affection of the Korean people for the army-first policy, united behind the direction of Kim Jong Il. So it just means the will of the people is united to reject any sort of aggression.

The North Koreans were working on building a full scale uranium enrichment program at least as early as February 2000.

SEN. CHAFEE: I'm curious about what has changed and what happened since the optimistic 1994 Agreed Framework. It seemed as though we were cooperating. There was a thaw in our relationship. Even in 1999, I believe, President Clinton agreed to lift some sanctions.

You've said they were cheating. As we look back, what went wrong? What could have we done better? As now we see a very difficult situation with nuclear weapons there and the grave threat of proliferation, as we look back, what could have we done different?

It seemed as though everything was so optimistic for a while, and even as recently as 1999, as I said, the listing of sanctions.

MR. ARMITAGE: Gosh, that's a great question. I'm not sure I have a confident answer. I'm going to try. First of all, there are some good things that happened. I think it's quite clear that from 1994 to now, Yongbyon itself did not produce more plutonium, which could be turned into nuclear weapons. And so, there are dozens of nuclear weapons that North Korea doesn't have because of the framework agreement, and we have to acknowledge that, I believe. I think equally, as we look back, intelligence hindsight, just like our hindsight, is clearer. We find that the North Koreans were, at least from February of 2000, intent on going to a full-up production program of HEU, and that intelligence keeps looking back, they get more and more granularity.

I'm not sure what we could have done. Look what happened to the South Koreans, who had, I think, the most well-disposed leader of South Korea possible in Kim Dae Jung, who leaned way forward to try to accommodate Pyongyang and was basically rebuffed; he did get one summit meeting. So, I think that my view is, and I defer to my colleagues on the following panel, and Ash Carter, particularly, who had something really to do with the framework agreement. I think that Kim Jong Il was intent on having it both ways; he wanted the economic benefits from the '94 agreement, but he also was intent in his own pace in developing these weapons. That's the inescapable conclusion I come to.

Keep in mind that the North Korean Yongbyon nuclear facilty has plutonium. Therefore North Korea's moves to activate Yongbyon amount to a completely separate effort to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea embarked on the uranium enrichment program while Bill Clinton was President of the United States, Kim Dae-jung was President of South Korea, and North Korea was receiving considerable aid from the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other countries.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 March 20 11:04 AM  Korea


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