North Korean officials threatened to reconsider existing agreements with the United States in a recent meeting in Singapore, two sources familiar with the discussions told The Cable.
The North Korean warning comes as analysts speculate that Pyongyang may be preparing a fresh nuclear test, a development that could raise tensions in Asia and embarrass U.S. President Barack Obama in the middle of a closely fought re-election campaign.
Top U.S. experts held a "track two" meeting in the island nation in late July, during which the North Koreans hardened their negotiating position and rejected any return to the latest deal struck between the two sides, but nevertheless left the door open to further talks with the United States and the international community.
The meeting was the first of its kind since North Korea tried and failed to launch a rocket into space in April, which precipitated a U.S. withdrawal from the Feb. 29 bilateral agreement to give North Korea food aid in exchange for concessions on the country's nuclear and missile programs.
At the secret meetings in Singapore, the North Koreans told two U.S. experts they were no longer interested in resurrecting that arrangement and said they were reconsidering their previous agreements to eventually denuclearize as well.
On the North Korean side of the table were Han Song-ryol, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations and Choe Son Hui, the deputy director-general of the North American affairs bureau in the DPRK foreign ministry. On the American side were six experts led by Joel Wit, a former U.S. nuclear negotiator, and including Corey Hinderstein, vice president of the international program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Some reports said that there was a also a July meeting in New York between Han and Clifford Hart, the U.S. special envoy to the defunct Six-Party Talks.
"The agenda [in Singapore] focused on a variety of issues. One important topic was the future of U.S.-North Korean relations," said one source familiar with the meeting. "The other topics were nuclear safety, nuclear security, cooperative ways of monitoring denuclearization, and the whole raft of issues people discuss at nuclear summits."
When the conversation was on the future of bilateral relations, the North Korean side made clear it was no longer interested in the Feb. 29 agreement, which included a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing, a return of international inspectors, and 240,000 tons of food aid, both sources said.
The North Koreans now want the United States to make concessions up front.
"Their position has shifted. Whereas before, under the Leap Day deal, it was simultaneous actions, as with the September 2005 joint statement, simultaneous actions were one of the key aspects. There is now emphasis on unilateral action by the U.S. and then the North Koreans may respond," one source said.
The North Koreans told their American interlocutors they were thinking internally about whether or not to scuttle the September 2005 joint statement altogether. That statement committed North Korea to eventually getting rid of its nuclear weapons program.
An Aug. 9 article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists written by Frank Pabian and Sigfried Hecker speculated that North Korea may be only weeks away from completing the preparations necessary to conduct a third nuclear test using either a plutonium or highly-enriched uranium (HEU) device or both. At the Singapore meeting, the North Koreans didn't broach the topic.
"They didn't make any explicit statements about their nuclear program," one source said, "but I think it's very clear that their program is moving forward. That doesn't necessarily mean nuclear tests. It's quite likely their HEU program is also moving forward."
The source noted that as part of their formal presentation, the very first point the North Korean officials made was that their new leadership is not changing the late leader Kim Jong Il's line that North Korea has no eternal enemies or eternal friends.
"That's a very clear signal that they still want to make continuing efforts to improve relations with the U.S. and are indeed are interested in that. But they are toughening their position and that's in part because they are feeling pretty good about where they are," the source said.
The North Koreans believe they have weathered the Obama administration's policy of "strategic patience" -- waiting for Pyongyang to make the first move while strengthening ties with U.S. allies in Asia.
"The North Koreans feel pretty confident in their position. They are still keeping the door open to improving ties with the U.S. but the price is getting higher and it's becoming more difficult," the source said. "At some point somebody will be back to the table with them. They are getting ready for that with a much tougher negotiating position. They think they're sitting pretty."
Of course, North Korea still faces a food crisis, devastating floods, and an economic crisis. Pyongyang might seek to trade nuclear concessions in exchange for aid, as it has in the past. But as long as the country continues to get assistance from China, its motivation to make concessions is low.
"They probably can continue to progress economically while avoiding making concessions on the nuclear front with the support of China and that seems to be the option that they've chosen," the source observed.
The State Department said Tuesday that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a U.N. agency, didn't violate sanctions by giving U.S. technology to Iran and North Korea, rebutting a charge by top lawmakers in both parties that the agency is stifling congressional attempts to investigate the matter.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and her Democratic counterpart Howard Berman (D-CA) cancelled a scheduled committee briefing today on the matter and accused WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry of refusing to allow to senior WIPO staffers to testify.
"Director-General Gurry is obstructing this Committee's investigation of WIPO's transfer of U.S.-origin technology to rogue regimes under international sanctions-a transfer that occurred on his watch," both lawmakers said in a joint statement. "By refusing to commission an independent investigation and by obstructing an investigation by the Congress of the United States, whose citizens provide so much of the funds that keep WIPO operating, Director-General Gurry sends the message that he is not committed to transparency, accountability, and reform."
Questioned about the situation at today's State Department press briefing, Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the Obama administration shares congressional concerns about the alleged transfer of U.S. technology to Iran and North Korea. But she also said that the administration doesn't think WIPO broke U.N. rules.
"Our own preliminary assessment -- but we are still seeking more information from WIPO -- is that there doesn't appear to have been a violation of U.N. sanctions," she said. "However, this has now been referred to the sanctions committee for them to make their own determination."
WIPO shipped 20 Hewlett-Packard Compaq desktop computers to Iran in either late 2011 or early 2012 and gave North Korea more advanced computers and data storage devices. The transfers were financed through the Beijing office of the U.N. Development Program.
Nuland said the administration couldn't determine whether the WIPO transfers had violated U.S. law until WIPO comes back to the administration with more information. She also said the administration does not agree with Ros-Lehtinen that WIPO is stonewalling on the issue.
"We have seen a number of positive steps from WIPO with regard to their procedures going forward that are important. For example, they have agreed to a commission that will have an external and independent auditing ability with regard to their projects to try to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future," Nuland said.
Last week, Ros-Lehtinen and Berman wrote to the administration to say that WIPO's own internal investigations would not be enough to satisfy congressional concern over the technology transfers.
"We will accept nothing less than an independent investigation, full cooperation, and complete accountability," Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Berman wrote in the July 20 letter.
"We have written to WIPO demanding an independent, external investigation of how WIPO could have provided sophisticated U.S.-origin technology to rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran. Instead, the WIPO leadership has announced that it will institute a mere 'review,' which falls far short. What's needed is an immediate and credible investigation," they wrote.
In a July 19 statement, WIPO's Gurry reiterated that the transfers were being referred to the U.N. sanctions committee for guidance and that new measures would be put in place to examine future transfers before they take place.
"While the legal advice received with respect to the technical assistance provided to DPRK [North Korea] and Iran was that the technical assistance was not in breach of U.N.sanctions, it is hoped that the measures outlined above will provide assurance that the organization is treating this matter with the seriousness that it warrants," he said.
Singapore - Security in the South China Sea, tensions in North Korea, and the changing nature of Asian security will top the agenda this weekend at the Shangri-la Security Dialogue, the largest annual gathering of Asian and Pacific defense officials and experts in the world.
Your humble Cable guy is already on the ground as the top delegations from 28 countries, including 16 defense ministers, convene on the island city-state this weekend for the 12th annual iteration of the conference, run by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) out of London. Last year's event was packed with news, as when then Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled a new U.S. plan to increase the U.S. military commitment to Southeast Asia.
Gates met with Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie at last year's event and Liang fought off verbal attacks from several regional powers on China's aggressive activities in the maritime domain. He even answered several questions posed by The Cable. Although the United States and China tried to portray an image of improving U.S.-China military ties, last year's event highlighted the deep disparity between the two country's visions for the region.
This year, the United States is sending a large, high-level delegation led by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and including Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Mark Lippert.
There will also be a hefty U.S. congressional delegation here in Singapore, including Senate Armed Services ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (D-Samoa), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Panetta, who is also traveling to Vietnam and India on the trip, will focus his speech in Singapore on the U.S. military shift toward Asia. He previewed those remarks in a May 29 speech at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.
"America is a maritime nation, and we are returning to our maritime roots," Panetta said. "America's future prosperity and security are tied to our ability to advance peace and security along the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean and South Asia. That reality is inescapable for our country and for our military, which has already begun broadening and deepening our engagement throughout the Asia-Pacific."
Panetta will travel to China for the first time as Defense Secretary later this year. For Washington, the conference is a chance to drive home its commitment to Asian security, said John Chipman, director-general and chief executive of IISS. For China, the conference is an opportunity to defend its actions and intentions toward its neighbors.
"This year the U.S. will reaffirm its rebalancing to Asia, what they earlier called the ‘pivot' to Asia that they are now calling ‘the rebalancing,'" Chipman said. "China has had a challenging year with the region, which is simultaneously attracted and intimidated by Chinese power."
In a change from last year, China won't be sending an official at the defense-minister level. Sources familiar with the discussions said that due to the sensitive nature of China's impending leadership transition, the Chinese government is being unusually cautious about its public interactions.
That will shift some of the attention to the other regional powers, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and Malaysia. For example, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will give the opening keynote address. Thai defense minister Air Chief Marshal Sukumpol Suwanatat will attend for the first time, as will the defense minister of Myanmar, Lt. Gen. Hla Min. Indian defense minister A K Antony will deliver another one of the keynote speeches.
"We know what the U.S. and China think. It will be interesting to see how the medium powers seek to frame the discussion," Chipman said. "Indonesia sees itself now not just as a leading country in Southeast Asia but as a G-20 power. It wants to play a larger role in defining the security agenda in the region."
As with many of these conferences, much of the real action will take place on the sidelines -- in a series of bilateral, small group, and off the record meetings that will occur alongside the official festivities. This year there will be an off-the-record session on tensions in the South China Sea in which Chinese and Filipino officials will participate.
Other special sessions will cover the role of armed forces in international emergencies, the evolution of submarine warfare, cyberwarfare, and the emergence of new military systems such as unmanned vehicles.
The United States, Japan, and South Korea will use the opportunity of the conference to hold a trilateral side meeting, where the North Korea nuclear issue is expected to be discussed. Indonesia, Australia, and India will hold another small multilateral meeting, possibly including Japan.
There will be more than 200 bilateral meetings in Singapore as well, in addition to the dozen or so small multilateral gatherings. That's the whole idea of bringing these officials to Singapore for three days, Chipman said.
"Almost all the defense ministers refer to it as ‘the indispensable forum' for defense discussions," he said. "It really allows for a larger variety of discussions that no other forum in Asia -- official or unofficial -- permits."
We'll be blogging and tweeting (@joshrogin) the entire time. Watch this space.
JASON REED/AFP/Getty Images
Frustration with North Korea's ongoing nuclear weapons and missile programs has pushed Congress to reopen the debate in Washington over whether the United States should reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea.
The House Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment to the fiscal 2013 national defense authorization bill that supports "steps to deploy additional conventional forces of the United States and redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to the Western Pacific region," and mandates that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta submit a report on the feasibility and logistics of redeploying forward-based nuclear weapons there, "in response to the ballistic missile and nuclear weapons developments of North Korea and the other belligerent actions North Korea has made against allies of the United States."
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), was approved by a vote of 32-26, with all Republicans, except for Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), and two Democrats in favor. It comes only weeks after another committee member, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), demanded the administration investigate North Korea's apparent acquisition of Chinese-made mobile ICBM launchers.
"We in the last many years have appealed to China to help us negotiate with North Korea to bring them in line in the quest for peace in the world... In fact, China has now embarked on selling nuclear components to North Korea," Franks said at at the committee's Wednesday markup. "Consequently it's become time for us as a nation to look to our deterrent and our ability to take care of ourselves and work with our allies to do everything we can to deter and to be able to defend ourselves against any future belligerence or threats from North Korea."
The United States stockpiled nuclear weapons in South Korea for 33 years before President George H.W. Bush removed them in 1991 as part of his effort to withdraw all overseas tactical nukes, except a few in NATO countries. Since then, every so often South Korean politicians raise the idea of reintroducing them as a response to North Korean aggression.
One senior South Korean politician argued this week that North Korea's ongoing belligerence justified a new discussion about the issue.
"There is no reason not to respond in a proportional manner [to the DPRK's military threat]," Conservative Party lawmaker and presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon said in a press conference in Seoul on Thursday. "The threat of a counter-nuclear force may be the only thing that can change North Korea's perception of South Korea."
In early 2011, the White House WMD Czar Gary Samore told a South Korean reporter that the U.S. would be willing to deploy tactical nukes to South Korea, after which the White House quickly backpeddled Samore's remarks and insisted the issue was not under discussion.
"Our policy remains in support of a non-nuclear Korean peninsula," Robert Jensen, deputy spokesman for the National Security Council, told Yonhap News Agency after the Samore comments. "There is no plan to change that policy. Tactical nuclear weapons are unnecessary for the defense of South Korea and we have no plan or intention to return them."
China may be helping North Korea develop long range ballistic missiles that could reach the United States, and one Republican congressman wants the Obama administration to do something about it.
"As you have likely seen, the press is reporting that North Korea unveiled a new mobile missile at a military parade in Pyongyang in honor of the founder of that dictatorship, Kim Il Sung," Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), wrote in an April 17 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, obtained by The Cable. Turner is the Chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee.
"Whether this missile is the new road mobile intercontinental missile (ICBM) the administration has been warning about is, as yet, unclear based on these public reports," Turner wrote. "Of deeper concern, however, are allegations that the missile, unveiled at the recent military parade in Pyongyang, is based on Chinese technology, in violation of international obligations and a threat to the national security interest of the United States."
Turner wrote that the photographs of the missile "suggest cooperation and support" by the Chinese government and he quotes missile-technology expert Richard Fisher as saying that the 16-wheel transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) was "very likely" a Chinese design and that there was a "possibility" it was actually manufactured in China for North Korea's use.
Turner asked Clinton and Clapper to report back to Congress if the U.S. government has any evidence that China or Chinese companies are helping North Korea acquires mobile launchers for ICBMs. He also wants to know whether the administration has done anything to confront China on the issue, whether the administration believes China is helping North Korea with ballistic missiles at all, and whether the administration will sanction Chinese entities for aiding the North Korean missile program.
"Indeed, the possibility of such cooperation undermines the administration's entire policy of investing China with the responsibility of getting tough on North Korea," Turner wrote.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
U.S. President Barak Obama's push for engagement with North Korea, which was effectively ended by yesterday's missile launch, was not a failure and actually shows that this administration is tougher on Pyongyang than its predecessor, a top White House official said today.
"What this administration has done is broken the cycle of rewarding provocative actions by the North Koreans that we've seen in the past," said Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes, speaking to reporters on Air Force One Friday.
The Cable detailed yesterday the Obama team's extensive efforts over the past year to enter into a new round of negotiations with the North Korean regime, which included offering North Korea 240,000 tons of food aid and asking the North Koreans to refrain from enriching uranium and firing off any missiles. The deal fell through Thursday when North Korea launched an Unha-3 rocket with a "satellite" attached.
Rhodes argued that the Obama administration's stance was tougher than George W. Bush's, given that Bush's top negotiator Chris Hill held several rounds of protracted negotiations with North Korea and even got North Korea to sign an agreement in 2005 to end its nuclear weapons program in exchange for security and economic guarantees from the West.
"Under the previous administration, for instance, there was a substantial amount of assistance provided to North Korea. North Korea was removed from the terrorism list, even as they continued to engage in provocative actions. Under our administration we have not provided any assistance to North Korea," Rhodes said.
He also seemed to abandon the administration's claim that the food aid was not "linked" to the nuclear and missile discussions, a claim most observers scoffed at because the two issues were negotiated at the same time by the same people and because the food aid was cancelled after North Korea announced the missile launch.
"When this new regime took power after the death of Kim Jong Il, we had discussions with them about potentially an agreement where they would freeze their enrichment activities and take some other steps towards denuclearization, and that we as a part of that might provide food assistance," Rhodes said. (Emphasis added.)
He also repeated the administration's contention that North Korea could not be trusted to deliver the food aid to its people because the regime in Pyongyang could not be trusted to uphold its international commitments.
Rhodes said the United States would discuss with its allies and partners "additional steps" that might be taken to punish North Korea for its latest provocation, but he couldn't name any specific steps that under consideration. He also said there was concern that North Korea could conduct another nuclear test soon.
The U.N. Security Council issued a statement Friday condemning North Korea for the launch but no new punitive measures were announced. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said it was "premature ... to predict or characterize the form of the reaction."
Speaking to reporters, Rhodes also criticized North Korea for inviting journalists to visit, saying, "The North Korea government is trying to put on this propaganda show over the course of the last several days, inviting journalists in to take a look at this particular rocket launch."
After three years of practicing "strategic patience" with North Korea, which basically amounted to ignoring Pyongyang, the Obama team took a political risk by engaging with the North Korean regime and then announcing an "agreement" even though there was no single set of items that the two sides actually agreed upon. Each side issued its own unilateral statements about what it thought the deal included.
Republicans are already pouncing on what they portray as a naïve mistake by the administration.
"Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food-aid deal that proved to be as naïve as it was short-lived. At the same time, he has cut critical U.S. missile defense programs and continues to underfund them," GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in statement. "This incompetence from the Obama administration has emboldened the North Korean regime and undermined the security of the United States and our allies."
The Obama administration requested $7.75 billion for missile defense in fiscal 2013, which is $810 million less than Congress appropriated for the program this year.
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) piled on.
"Once again, Pyongyang has demonstrated its complete disregard for international sanctions and its proclivity for worthless commitments. Moreover, North Korea's actions and gathering of global media to witness the launch make a mockery of the recent ‘Leap Day agreement' with the Obama administration," he said in his own statement. "The administration should abandon its naive negotiations with North Korea (and Iran), and instead focus on fully funding missile defenses that can protect the United States from ballistic missile threats."
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
North Korea's apparently unsuccessful launch of an Unha-3 rocket with a "satellite" attached marks not only the 100th birthday of the country's founder Kim Il Sung, but also the end of the Obama administration's year-long effort to open up a new path for negotiations with the Hermit Kingdom.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned earlier Thursday that the promised launch by North Korea would scuttle the deal the Obama administration negotiated with Pyongyang and announced on Leap Day Feb. 29, which would have provided North Korea with 240,000 tons of U.S. food assistance over the next year. She lamented that the North Koreans had thrown away the progress made.
"If Pyongyang goes forward, we will all be back in the Security Council to take further action. And it is regrettable because, as you know, we had worked through an agreement that would have benefited the North Korean people with the provision of food aid," she said. "But in the current atmosphere, we would not be able to go forward with that, and other actions that other countries had been considering would also be on hold."
The Obama administration worked behind the scenes for months on the deal, and had been set to announce it last December, but North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died the day before the announcement was set to be made. In February, administration officials traveled to Beijing to try again and proudly announced on Feb. 29 that Pyongyang had agreed to a host of concessions, including a missile-test moratorium.
Since then, there has been much debate in Washington over whether or not the administration knew that the North Koreans planned all along to go ahead with their "satellite" launch, which had been scheduled before Kim Jong Il's death. The fact that the two sides issued separate statements on Feb. 29, neither of which addressed the issue of a satellite launch, led many close observers to believe the administration erred by not getting Pyongyang to commit to canceling the launch in writing.
Arms Control expert Jeffrey Lewis explained at length how U.S. negotiators Glyn Davies and Clifford Hart might have flubbed the negotiations by assuming that telling the North Koreans a satellite launch would scuttle the deal and hearing the North Koreans acknowledge the U.S. position was tantamount to an agreement.
"Administration officials are screaming to high heaven that Davies told the North Koreans that a space launch was a missile launch...The problem is that telling the DPRK is not the same thing as the DPRK agreed," Lewis wrote.
Regardless, while the North Koreans surely knew that the U.S. side viewed a missile launch as a deal breaker, it's not clear that the North Korean officials sent to negotiate with the United States had the authority to stop a missile launch ordered by the Dear (dead) Leader Kim Jong Il.
It's also true that the North Koreans sent a letter to the Obama administration asking for a resumption of talks following the planned launch and the administration rejected that proposal. In between Feb. 29 and today's launch, U.S. experts and North Korean officials also met for three unofficial "Track 2" meetings to try to salvage the deal, none of which produced any progress.
Lewis participated in one of the Track 2 meetings, held in late March in London. Another Track 2 meeting was held in New York and included experts Victor Cha, Tom Hubbard, Scott Snyder, Evans Revere, Don Zagoria, Frank Jannuzi, and Keith Luse. A separate Track 2 meeting in Germany included Jannuzi, Tom Pickering, Bob Carlin, and Nick Eberstadt.
No progress was made at any of those meetings, partially because neither the U.S. experts nor their North Korean interlocutors were empowered to negotiate.
"Track 2 is useful for what it can do. What it can't do is negotiations. North Korean delegations at that level are on an incredibly short leash. They are at best letter deliverers and receptors of comments," Eberstadt told The Cable.
And so the launch went forward, and despite its failure, the United States and North Korea now find themselves returning to a familiar pattern of diplomatic tit for tat that will lead to another stalemate and crush the prospects of further bilateral negotiations, much less a return to any multilateral discussions such as the defunct six-party talks.
"The North Koreans will stick to the view that it is their sovereign right to launch a peaceful satellite test and let all the rest of the legal argumentation go where it will," said Eberstadt. "The North Korean government is trying to get the world used to treating the DPRK as a nuclear weapons power. So each time they break an agreement we twitch a little bit less than we did the time before."
Cha told The Cable Thursday, before the launch, that there's little the United States or the international community could do about North Korea's missile test aside from going through the motions at the U.N.
"The administration will condemn it and they'll go the United Nations Security Council to try to get a [presidential] statement, not a resolution. That will be it, and it will look horrible," he said. "And privately they will press hard on China to finally play ball and put real pressure on Pyongyang."
China could indeed do more, such as increasing inspections on its border with North Korea to clamp down on proliferation, Cha said. But in the end, no matter what the Obama administration does, there's no politically viable strategy that can solve the problem.
If the administration plays down the launch and tries to act as if it's not significant, it may look incompetent. If it tries to go back to the negotiating table, conservative critics will cry appeasement. If it presses for more sanctions, it will look ineffective and risk wasting political capital needed to press for international sanctions on Iran and Syria.
"All the options are equally bad for the administration," said Cha. "We have to either accept that they are a nuclear-weapons state and figure out how to try to live with it, or we have to go in the other direction and find a way to take this regime down."
The launch destroys the previously held conventional wisdom that North Korea avoids provocative actions while sitting at the negotiating table, Cha said, and whatever strategy the administration had to deal with North Korea has now been overtaken by events.
"This requires a complete reset in how we deal with North Korea," said Cha. "We got ourselves into this and there isn't an easy way to get out of it."
UPDATE: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's statement on the launch:
Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea's provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments. While this action is not surprising given North Korea's pattern of aggressive behavior, any missile activity by North Korea is of concern to the international community. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations, and is fully committed to the security our allies in the region.
The President has been clear that he is prepared to engage constructively with North Korea. However, he has also insisted that North Korea live up to its own commitments, adhere to its international obligations and deal peacefully with its neighbors.
North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry. North Korea's long-standing development of missiles and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not brought it security - and never will. North Korea will only show strength and find security by abiding by international law, living up to its obligations, and by working to feed its citizens, to educate its children, and to win the trust of its neighbors.
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
The United States has halted plans to provide food aid to North Korea after North Korea promised to launch a missile into outer space next month, although the Obama administration maintains there is no "linkage" between the two issues.
Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, testified Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee that after North Korea announced it would use a long-range missile to launch a satellite into space, violating the missile moratorium it agreed to last Leap Day, the United States decided not to send the 240,000 tons of food there it had promised in that very deal. But the Obama administration is not using food as leverage, Lavoy insisted. The administration simply can't trust the North Koreans to honor their commitments now, even when it comes to ensuring that the food is delivered to its intended recipients.
"The North Koreans have announced that they will launch a missile. We are working very closely with allies and other partners in the region to try to discourage North Korea from launching this missile as they've intended. But we believe that this reflects their lack of desire to follow through on their international commitments," Lavoy testified. "And so we have been forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance to North Korea largely because we have now no confidence that the monitoring mechanisms that ensure that the food assistance goes to the starving people and not the regime elite, that these monitoring mechanisms we have no confidence that they would actually abide by the understandings."
Some lawmakers were skeptical that the administration was not punishing the North Koreans for their upcoming missile launch by withholding the food aid, but Lavoy insisted the two issues were not linked, even though they were announced in the same Feb. 29 statement and negotiated at the same time with the same officials.
"We don't believe that nutritional assistance should be a lever to achieve a political outcome. It is a humanitarian effort that we have intended. And again, it's regrettable that this has stopped," Lavoy said. "So the reason, again, why we're not providing that food assistance at this point is because our confidence in their ability to meet their agreements has been diminished. We do not use it as a lever to change their policies."
State Department Spokeswomand Victoria Nuland also said Wednesday that the issues aren't linked, but she implied that the food aid could be restored if the missile launch is scuttled.
"We don't have confidence in their good faith. If they want to restore our confidence in their good faith, they can cancel the plans to launch this satellite," she said. "They are separate issues, but they come together at the point of whether the government's acting in good faith."
During the talks that led up the Feb. 29 statement, the U.S. side made clear to the North Koreans that any missile launch, even a satellite launch, would be a deal breaker, Lavoy said.
Lavoy also warned that the North Korean leadership might do something else provocative on or around the April 15 celebration on the 100th birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, perhaps as a way for new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to establish his power and legitimacy.
"Our suspicions about North Korea using its celebrations this year to enhance its missile program were confirmed when North Korea announced on March 16th that it plans to conduct a missile launch between April 12th and 16th," Lavoy said.
Lavoy also said that the North Koreans intend to launch the missile in a southward direction, although nobody knows where the missile or its debris might land.
"A number of countries are potentially affected. The debris on fall on their countries. It could cause casualties. This affects South Korea, of course, but also Japan, Okinawa, the island of Japan, and the intended impact is probably somewhere close to the Philippines or maybe Indonesia," he said.
HASC Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) said the upcoming missile launch was further evidence that the North Koreans never had any intention in engaging in real denuclearization talks and that the regime's stance has not changed since the death of Kim Jong Il.
"This is typical behavior shown by the regime, a cycle of provocations and reconciliations designed to get what they want without giving up their nuclear weapons program," McKeon said. "It's becoming clear that the same aggressive, reckless cycle will continue under the new North Korean dictator. Although the Chinese and Russian governments publicly expressed concern about the planned missile launch, they have been unable or unwilling to bring their North Korea ally back to the negotiation table."
Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) pressed Lavoy on President Barack Obama's hot mic comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvdev in Seoul, in which Obama asked Medvdev to ask Vladimir Putin to give him "space" on the missile defense issue until after the November election.
"Are you aware of the deal the president has with Medvedev and with Russia that would be revealed to us after the election that perhaps isn't secret to you that would limit our missile-defense capability, either in deployment use or scope, that, of course, is a serious -- you know, a serious concern to this committee as we look to the rise of North Korea?" Turner asked. "Are you aware of the subject matter of the president's missile-defense deal, secret or not, with the Russians? And if you're not, why are you not?
"No, sir, I am not," Lavoy responded. "And I can assure you that we do believe that missile defense and our phased-adaptive approach to missile defense in the Asia-Pacific region is very much alive. It's very much part of our comprehensive approach to deal with the threat posed by the North Koreans. And it's something we're committed to."
"OK. I would greatly appreciate it if you would ask the president what are the details of his deal with the Russians concerning missile defense that cannot be disclosed until after the election," Turner replied.
The Obama administration is close to finalizing a deal to send 240,000 tons of food aid to North Korea, but there are at least 5 U.S. senators who think that constitutes "appeasement" of the North Korean regime.
"We write to express our serious concern about the administration's decision to provide food aid to North Korea in exchange for hollow commitments on denuclearization," reads a March 15 letter to President Barack Obama signed by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), James Inhofe (R-OK), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Cornyn (R-TX), and James Risch (R-ID), obtained by The Cable.
"Despite continual assurances from senior administration officials that past mistakes of both Republican and Democratic administrations would not be repeated, it is evident to us that the Obama administration is embracing a policy of appeasement with Pyongyang."
The senators argue in the letter that giving food aid to North Korea in exchange for promises related to its nuclear program sends the wrong message to other would-be proliferators. And they charge the administration with breaking its promise not to reward Pyongyang for "buying the same horse twice," as former Defense Secretary Bob Gates once put it.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Glyn Davies and Special Envoy to the Six Party Talks Clifford Hart traveled to Beijing for meetings with top DPRK officials last month, the first U.S.-North Korean direct talks since the December death of Kim Jong Il. After those meetings, the State Department said that the DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities, and agreed to the return of IAEA inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at their Yongbyon nuclear site.
The administration argues that the food aid and the nuclear discussions are not linked, but the food aid deal was announced at the same time as the agreement on the nuclear concessions.
And already, there are signs the agreement may be in trouble. Today, North Korea announced it would use a long-range missile to launch a satellite into space next month to mark what would have been the 100th birthday of founding father Kim Il Sung.
"Such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea's recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
The United States and North Korea have each issued statements about the results of last week's meetings in China, but the two sides seem to be reading from two different sheets of paper.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Glyn Davies and Special Envoy to the Six Party Talks Clifford Hart traveled to Beijing for meetings with top DPRK officials Feb. 23 and 24, including North Korea's top nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan. These were the first U.S.-DPRK direct talks since the December death of Kim Jong Il. Today, the State Department sent out its statement on the meetings as well as the DPRK's official news agency's readout of what was agreed. Apparently, something was lost in translation, because the two readouts just don't match.
"[T]he DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities," the U.S. statement said. "The DPRK has also agreed to the return of IAEA inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon and confirm the disablement of the 5-MW reactor and associated facilities."
Regarding the pending deal to give North Korea 240,000 tons of U.S. food assistance, the U.S. readout explained, "We have agreed to meet with the DPRK to finalize administrative details necessary to move forward with our proposed package of 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance along with the intensive monitoring required for the delivery of such assistance."
The United States has always maintained that nuclear negotiations and food assistance were not linked and the Obama administration must appear it is not being lured into the time-honored tradition of what critics see as "bribing" North Korea to talk. But the State Department admitted last week that the food-assistance issue might come up during the nuclear talks, and in fact, it did.
The State Department didn't say anything meaningful about sanctions on North Korea in its statement, only promising to increase people-to-people exchanges in areas such as sports and pledging that "U.S. sanctions against the DPRK are not targeted against the livelihood of the DPRK people."
And what about Pyongyang's interpretation?
If you read the North Korean statement on the meetings, which hasn't yet been posted on the KCNA website but was sent around to reporters Wednesday morning, you would have a somewhat different idea of what happened in Beijing.
"The U.S. promised to offer 240,000 metric tons of
nutritional assistance with the prospect of additional food assistance, for
which both the DPRK and the U.S. would finalize the administrative details in
the immediate future," the North Koreans said. "Once the six-party talks are
resumed, priority will be given to the discussion of issues concerning the
lifting of sanctions on the DPRK and provision of light water reactors."
The United States hasn't publicly discussed the idea of providing light-water nuclear reactors to North Korea since the KEDO project terminated its activity in 2006, due to what U.S. officials say is North Korea's failure to live up to the deal under which KEDO was begun.
As recently as Feb. 27, the State Department was insisting that no decision has been made on providing food assistance to North Korea, which is opposed by many in Congress.
"As they always do, the North Korean side also raised the nutritional assistance, so we did discuss that," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said about the Beijing meetings. "As you know, the United States does not link these issues. There's no deal to be had here. But we did continue to discuss the questions that the U.S. has with regard to need, with regard to how we might monitor nutritional assistance if we are to go forward with it. So no decisions have been made either on the six-party talks side or on the nutritional assistance side."
Former Pentagon Asia official Dan Blumenthal, now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that the confusion over the meeting was due to a lack of a clear strategy for achieving U.S. goals in North Korea beyond just scheduling more talks.
He also said that North Korea is never likely to give up its nuclear weapons, which is the stated U.S. goal, so the basis for the negotiations is flawed from the outset.
"The DPRK statement is just the public rhetoric part of their strategy, which is to get accepted by the U.S. and others as a nuclear power and meanwhile to extract other concessions that alleviate their economic problems," Blumenthal said.
But other analysts saw the deal as an incremental step forward and left open the possibility for real progress.
"These steps are modestly significant," said Richard Bush of the Brookings Institution. "They could indeed be an initial step on a path towards serious negotiations, negotiations that Pyongyang scuttled by its own actions. Or they could simply be a ploy to get nutritional assistance and meddle in South Korean politics. North Korea's record suggests the latter, but we shall see. I think it is safe to say that no one in Washington, Seoul, or Tokyo is holding their breath."
UPDATE: A senior administration official gave more detail on the food assistance discussions in a Wednesday background briefing with reporters. The United States put forward an offer of 20,000 tons of food assistance per month, but not the rice and grain that the North Korean government wanted, because that could be easily diverted to the military.
“And we’re talking about foods that would be appropriate for young children, in particular those under five or six years old, pregnant woman as well because we want to make sure we address the sort of the first 1,000 days as the administration has wanted to focus on,” the official said. “We’re going to have things like corn-soy blend, we will have vegetable oil, some pulses, and then there will be probably a modest amount of the ready-to-use therapeutic foods depending upon the number of children that we see with acute malnutrition.”
The official explained that monitoring mechanisms would have to be firmly in place before food aid can begin to flow. “If we are successful in finalizing the details that I’ve just laid out, this will be the most comprehensively monitored and managed program since the U.S. began assistance to the DPRK in the mid 1990s,” the official said.
As of last Friday, President Barack Obama's administration was considering announcing a new package of food aid to North Korea and working toward the resumption of talks about North Korea's nuclear program. Today, that whole plan has been upended due to the death of Kim Jong Il, forcing the administration to grapple with a whole new set of North Korea problems.
On Dec. 15-16, the State Department's Special Envoy for Human Rights Bob King met with North Korean foreign ministry official Ri Gun in Beijing to work out the details for monitoring the distribution of huge new shipments of food aid from the United States to North Korea, which claims to be in dire need. The South Korean press reported on Dec. 17 that an agreement had been struck for the United States to send 20,000 tons of food aid a month to North Korea for the next 12 months, or a grand total of 240,000 tons of food assistance.
The U.S. Special Representative on North Korea Glyn Davies was also in Beijing Dec. 15 and 16, coincidentally. On Dec. 17, news reports quoted an anonymous diplomatic source as saying that Pyongyang had agreed to suspend uranium enrichment -- one of Washington's key demands for the resumption of Six Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear program, which have been defunct since 2008. Davies was supposed to travel to Beijing to firm up the details of that arrangement with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan on Dec. 22.
All of those arrangements are now on hold indefinitely, as the United States regroups with allies Japan and South Korea to try to assess the current situation inside North Korea, prepare for the downside risk of a violent transition, and figure out how to proceed in dealing with a regime that has nuclear weapons and a very uncertain future.
"Where we were headed was the giving of food aid, the restart of the [prisoner of war] remains recovery project (to return U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean war), and these would be the two goodies that North Korea would get to undertake the pre-steps to restarting the Six Party Talks. The administration was going to announce the food aid this week and Davies was supposed to be in Beijing by Thursday," said Victor Cha, former Asia director at the National Security Council, who now holds the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Now we've got a whole new problem, not just seeing if we can get back to where we were Friday," said Cha. "This transition may not go well. It completely changes the whole character of the North Korea problem overnight. A runaway nuclear program, the sudden death of Kim Jong Il, and we know nothing about the new leadership. You can't imagine a worse problem than this."
At today's State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland emphasized that no final decisions had been made on granting food aid to North Korea or sending Davies to Beijing. In fact, she said that there was supposed to be a high-level interagency meeting today at the White House with King and Davies to make these very decisions.
That meeting did take place early on Monday, but did not focus on food aid, uranium enrichment, the Six Party talks, or any other bilateral issue, according to Nuland.
"Meetings that might have happened today with our travelers who just got back instead were focused on maintaining close contact with our other partners in the Six Party Talks and on ensuring calm and regional stability on the peninsula," Nuland said. "So we have yet to have the internal review of these issues that we need to have."
Nuland also said that the Obama administration wanted "to be respectful of the North Korean period of mourning," so no further negotiations are expected for a while. North Korea does not intend to invite foreign delegations to Kim's Dec. 28 funeral.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was briefed on the situation in North Korea twice on Sunday night by Davies and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. She just happened to be meeting Monday at the State Department with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, after which told reporters, "We both share a common interest in a peaceful and stable transition in North Korea, as well as in ensuring regional peace and stability."
Clinton said that Obama had spoken with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Sunday night, and officials were reaching out to their counterparts in Russia and China as well. Clinton made no mention of the recent U.S.-North Korea bilateral diplomacy, nor did she reiterate calls for North Korea to honor its previous agreements to denuclearize and rejoin multilateral talks on that issue.
Clinton and Gemba took no questions at their post-meeting "press conference."
One Asia hand close to the administration told The Cable today that the bilateral negotiations between the United States and North Korea were even more advanced than had been reported. According to this expert, the North Koreans had also discussed a moratorium on missile testing, which would have been announced after the resumption of the Six Party Talks. The North Koreans were also asking the United States to resume its assistance in building a light water commercial nuclear reactor in North Korea, an idea that has been part of past negotiations but was scuttled when the 1994 Agreed Framework, which was meant to govern North Korea's nuclear program, broke down in 2002.
That 1994 agreement is seen by some as a positive indicator that progress can be made with North Korea despite a leadership transition. The agreement was signed only months after Kim Jong Il took power following the death of his father, Kim Il Sung.
"We want to continue forward and see if there's continuity in their policy," the Asia hand said.. "If we're in a holding pattern for too long, things could shift in the other direction. That's the danger here."
If and when the food aid decision finally comes, it will be controversial here in Washington. Several GOP senators are opposed to what they see as bribing the North Koreans to come back to the negotiating table. In fact, some senators will likely point to assurances the administration gave Congress that it wouldn't bribe North Korea, which were made as part of the deal to confirm the U.S. envoy to South Korea, Sung Kim, in October.
The State Department always claims that food aid decisions are made on humanitarian grounds and not linked to policy decisions, but the timing of the negotiations is not seen as a coincidence by those on Capitol Hill.
"Food aid is always classified as separate, however, if the press reports are accurate it is clear that the administration was prepared to link food aid to a suspension of North Korea's uranium enrichment program," one Senate GOP aide told The Cable. "Of course food aid is a financial reward.... Leave it to North Korea -- Kim's untimely death -- to save the administration from its own worst impulses. How long they can resist repeating the mistakes of 1994 remains to be seen."
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday called on the United States to take the opportunity of dictator Kim Jong-Il's death to push for regime change in North Korea, a distinctly different message than the calls for stability and caution coming from President Barack Obama's administration
"Kim Jong-il was a ruthless tyrant who lived a life of luxury while the North Korean people starved. He recklessly pursued nuclear weapons, sold nuclear and missile technology to other rogue regimes, and committed acts of military aggression against our ally South Korea. He will not be missed," Romney said in a Monday morning statement. "His death represents an opportunity for America to work with our friends to turn North Korea off the treacherous course it is on and ensure security in the region. America must show leadership at this time. The North Korean people are suffering through a long and brutal national nightmare. I hope the death of Kim Jong-il hastens its end."
The Obama administration has taken a different tone, urging caution and patience as power transfers to Kim's third son, Kim Jong Un. Obama was informed of the reports of the North Korean leader's death at 10:30 p.m. last night, and spoke at midnight with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
"The President reaffirmed the United States' strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea" White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in statement. "The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops and agreed they would direct their national security teams to continue close coordination."
The administration's stance is to not provoke the new leader, out of concern that he may take aggressive actions to demonstrate his strength both externally and within the top echelons of North Korea's political system.
"There's concern that Kim Jong-Un may now try to prove himself," a senior government official told ABC News. "He's young, inexperienced, brash and untested. And while he had the support of his father, it's unclear if he has the respect of his generals."
North Korea fired a short-range missile off of its east coast immediately following Kim's death, in a move some analysts believe was meant as a message to the South Korean security establishment and the 28,500 U.S. troops that are stationed on the Korean Peninsula.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfieffer said Monday morning that the White House has been in close contact with its allies, Japan and South Korea. He said he was not aware of any direct, high-level talks between White House officials and top leadership in Beijing. The State Department has yet to comment.
The Obama administration has now met with the North Koreans twice and appointed two new top envoys for North Korea policy, but it has not yet consulted with Capitol Hill and has no plans to seek confirmation of the two new officials.
Glyn Davies, the newly appointed special representative for North Korea policy, attended the Oct. 24 and Oct. 25 talks in Geneva with North Korean government officials, along with his predecessor, outgoing Ambassador Stephen Bosworth. But Davies, who previously served as ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will not have his title of "ambassador" carry over to his new position, because the State Department has no intention of putting him before the Senate for confirmation.
Clifford Hart is the new special envoy to the (now defunct) Six Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear program, the second-ranking U.S. diplomatic position toward North Korea. He also does not enjoy the title of ambassador, because he was not put before the Senate for confirmation. His predecessor, Sung Kim, was confirmed as ambassador to South Korea, and is now on his way to Seoul.
All of the previous top diplomats dealing with the North Korea issue were ambassadors. Robert Gallucci, Chuck Kartman, Jim Kelly, Jack Pritchard, Joe DeTrani, Chris Hill... you get the idea. Not all went through Senate confirmation for their North Korea jobs; some, like Bosworth, were able to keep their ambassador titles from previous gigs if they had reached a certain rank. Davies hasn't reached that level.
But regardless of whether Davies and Hart will actually hold the ambassador title or face a Senate confirmation process, many on Capitol Hill concerned with U.S. policy toward Northeast Asia are unhappy with the fact that neither Davies nor Hart has met with any senators, that there have been no Hill briefings on the administration's new engagement with the North Koreans, and that Senate staffers who have worked on the issue for years had to learn about the new developments through the press.
"State has not reached out to us on these appointments," one Senate aide told The Cable. "They have responded to our requests for briefings on food aid, and they have generally been responsive for briefings when we asked. But there has been no outreach at their initiative ... which helps explain, I think, why they had the House move to prohibit food aid and why they now face a lack of confidence up here, more generally, about their approach."
After multiple rounds of negotiations between The Cable and various State Department offices, State declined to give us a comment for this story.
The law doesn't require that the North Korea special envoy be confirmed. There are laws that require other envoys be confirmed, such as for the special envoy for North Korean human rights, now filled by Ambassador Bob King, and the special representative and policy coordinator for Burma, now held by Derek Mitchell.
Hill aides point out that the jobs of North Korea special representative and special envoy for the Six Party Talks came out of what's known as the Perry Process, an interagency policy review of U.S. policy toward North Korea in 1998 that was led by then-State Department counselor and now Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman.
One of the key recommendations that came out of the Perry Process was that the U.S. government should have "a small, senior-level interagency North Korea working group ... chaired by a senior official of ambassadorial rank, located in the Department of State, to coordinate policy."
Another recommendation of the Perry Process was that the administration should develop its North Korea policies on a bipartisan basis, in consultation with Capitol Hill.
"Just as no policy toward the DPRK can succeed unless it is a combined strategy of the United States and its allies, the policy review team believes no strategy can be sustained over time without the input and support of Congress," the Perry review team, led by Sherman, wrote.
So why won't the administration keep Congress in the loop on what it's doing with the North Koreans? One Asia hand in Washington told The Cable that the administration doesn't want a public debate over its North Korea engagement, which is not likely to produce dramatic results and could be a political liability in an election season.
"They're definitely avoiding going to the Hill with these guys because they're afraid of criticism and they're afraid the senators are going to use it to criticize where the policy is now," the Asia hand said. "It's all part of their management approach, where you keep everything low key and don't want everybody to know what you're doing."
Former National Security Council Senior Director for Asia Mike Green argued in an article for Foreign Policy last week that the Obama administration is downgrading the prominence of its North Korea diplomats in order to lower expectations for the new engagement, and to keep the podium away from more senior diplomats who might act more independently.
"High profile special envoys and message discipline tend not to go together, and the Obama White House is clearing the decks for a major fight for the presidency next year," Green wrote. "Lower key professionals make sense at a time when North Korea is unlikely to yield much ground."
Perhaps the administration doesn't want senators to bring up this 2008 column by the Washington Post's Al Kamen, where he reveals that Davies worked to water down language criticizing North Korea in an internal e-mail. Here's the relevant portion of the column:
So on Friday, Glyn Davies, the principal deputy assistant secretary in the East Asia bureau, sent an e-mail to Erica Barks-Ruggles, a deputy assistant secretary in the DRL bureau, regarding some changes in the introductory language of a report on North Korea.
"Erica," he wrote, "I know you are under the NSC [National Security Council] gun," apparently to get the report done so the NSC can review it, "but hope given the Secretary's priority on the Six-Party Talks, we can sacrifice a few adjectives for the cause.
"Many thanks. Glyn."
And the changes? Eliminated words are in brackets, and additions are in italics:
"The [repressive] North Korean government[regime] continued to control almost all aspects of citizens' lives, denying freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and restricting freedom of movement and workers' rights. Reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary detention, including of political prisoners, continue to emerge [from the isolated country]. Some forcibly repatriated refugees were said to have undergone severe punishment and possibly torture. Reports of public executions continued to surface[were on the rise]."
As Hemingway might have written: For Whom the Kowtows?
The Obama administration is cautiously optimistic about the prospect of reengagement with Burma, and the State Department is busily preparing a host of new rewards for the ruling junta if and when their promises of reform ever become a reality.
"We're going to meet their action with action," Derek Mitchell, the new special representative and policy coordinator for Burma, told The New York Times. "If they take steps, we will take steps to demonstrate that we are supportive of the path to reform."
But is Burma actually on the path to reform? The main pieces of evidence that change is afoot are that the new government, led by President Thein Sein, paused construction of a huge dam being built with China, which would have displaced thousands and wrecked the local environment, released 220 prisoners, and promised to release thousands more. But those changes alone aren't going to convince anyone in the administration -- or Congress, for that matter -- that the government is really committed to wholesale reform.
While the Obama administration sees some signs of change in Burma, it has no idea why they are occurring and has communicated that the United States will only ease sanctions after Burmese reforms. Administration officials are also trying their best to be clear eyed about the possibility that the junta is only trying to appease the international community, and has no intention of instituting real, actual change.
The Cable sat down with a senior State Department official to flesh out the administration's new approach to Burma, and gauge whether the Obama team really thinks that the Burmese junta is changing its tune.The official said that State has actually taken several steps in planning exactly what the United States is prepared to do if and when the junta takes steps to increase democracy and respect for human rights.
"We're far along," said the State Department official. "We're thinking about it very actively and we have some ideas of things we might do if we see the concrete steps."
The administration's strategy is to focus on steps the administration can take without needing to go through Congress, which is always skeptical of the Junta and never eager to loosen sanctions. For example, a ban on Burmese imports was implemented through a legislative maneuver, and would therefore need congressional action to remove. A ban on investment in Burma, however, was made by executive order, so the administration could remove that on its own.
"We would be consulting with Congress on the ideas that we have," the official said. "You can't have a perfect roadmap because there are many different scenarios to their actions and we'll calibrate it accordingly. So that's the art rather than the science to all of this."
Banking sanctions on Burma were authorized through Congress, but the sanctions placed on individual Burmese officials are an executive prerogative, so the administration could remove holds on specific Burmese officials who make positive steps.
The administration is still grappling with what it can do about removing restrictions on lending to Burma by international financial institutions, a key aspiration of the Burmese government. The New York Times reported that the administration is "considering waiving some restrictions on trade and financial assistance and lifting prohibitions on assistance by global financial institutions, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund."
We're told that the administration isn't quite there yet. Rather, officials are conducting an assessment of the conditions on the ground as to what would be needed as a precursor to considering waiving restrictions. For close observers of the Burma issue, that's a small but important distinction.
The administration is also being careful not to get ahead of reformers on the ground, specifically Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
The official noted that the administration has already provided some carrots to the Burmese. It invited Burma to be an observer in the Lower Mekong Initiative, which is the U.S. effort to deepen ties with certain Southeast Asian countries. It eased travel restrictions on Burmese officials so that Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin could come to Washington last month and visit the State Department.
There is a short and clear list of things the Obama administration has told junta leaders would constitute action deserving of reciprocal action on the part of the United States. They are to release political prisoners, amend the political party law to allow Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party to run in the next elections, and stop violence against ethnic minorities in Burma's rural areas.
The official said that, despite a feeling of political change in the urban areas of Burma, government violence against civilians near Burma's borders is actually getting worse. And there is still the unresolved issue of Burma's relationship with North Korea, which may include missile transfers and nuclear weapons cooperation.
"The ceasefires have been violated and there is continued military aggression and credible reports of abuses, including against women and children, that come out, which is typical of the past in Burma," the official said.
And what if the Burmese don't actually reform or even backslide on their progress? Is the administration willing to use the sticks -- including additional sanctions?
"We would look at everything.... It's fair to say we would be looking at that if things reverse," the official said.
Special Representative Mitchell's office, created in this year, is made up of just him and one assistant. He sits inside the offices of the East Asian and Pacific Bureau at State, but he reports directly up to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and has responsibility for coordinating the entire interagency policy on Burma.
Burma experts believe the new office is useful, and see Mitchell as the right man for the job. But Burma watchers are also wary that the cautious optimism of the administration doesn't turn into naiveté.
"There's a lot of hype right now about everything is changing in Burma," said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch. "There's always a bureaucratic impulse to believe that positive change is happening in situations where a lot of U.S. diplomatic effort has been expended."
"That's the danger that there's so much positive rhetoric out there that the Burmese will think, aha, we don't actually have to do these things, all we have to do is talk about them," Malinowski said.
The State Department official said the administration was well aware of that risk, and was making sure the Burmese knew that they would have to implement real reforms to renew their relationship with the United States.
"I think [Burmese leaders] recognize that folks are waiting and see what's going to happen. People are restraining themselves from assuming that individual moves are somehow representative of something fundamentally different," the official said.
The other main administration officials involved in U.S. Burma policy are Adam Szubin, director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, Senior Director Dan Russel and Director Colin Willet in the NSC's Asia team, NSC's Senior Director Samantha Power on human rights, East Asia Pacific Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell and Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Yun, and Southeast Asia Office Director Patrick Murphy at State.
Wendy Sherman, President Barack Obama's nominee for a top State Department post, told senators on Wednesday that the U.S. will surely veto a Palestinian request for recognition of statehood if it reaches the U.N. Security Council, seemingly getting out ahead of the Obama administration on the issue.
Sherman's remarks came toward the end of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in an exchange with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who pressed her to comment on the Palestinian Authority's plan to seek full member state status at the United Nations later this month.
"The administration has been very clear as well ... if any such resolution were put in front of the Security Council, that we would veto it," Sherman testified. She also said that the administration did not expect the issue to come up at the Security Council, as administration officials were working hard to seek an alternate path.
"So it sounds like you're very confident that the United States would remain committed with great resolve to the veto threat," Lee said, making sure he heard her correctly.
"The United States is very resolved to a veto threat in the Security Council. What we are very resolved about as well is urging the parties to enter into direct negotiations again," Sherman responded.
Sherman noted correctly in her testimony that the issue could be raised in the U.N. General Assembly, in which case the United States would not have a veto option.
In his May 19 speech on the Arab Spring, Obama said that symbolic Palestinian actions at the United Nations "won't create an independent state" and that efforts to delegitimize Israel "will end in failure."
State Department officials, however, have avoided promising a veto or making any other direct commitments on U.S. actions, although officials have said repeatedly that they don't believe the Palestinian strategy is a good idea or would be constructive in their drive for a peaceful two-state solution.
"We are going to continue to work right up till the U.N. General Assembly, if necessary, to get these parties back to the table, and we'll continue to work afterwards," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Tuesday's briefing. "And as you know, we will continue to oppose any one-sided actions at the U.N. and we're making that clear to both sides."
Administration officials are ramping up their diplomacy on the issue this month. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. Also, the National Security Council's Dennis Ross and Acting Special Middle East Envoy David Hale are in the Middle East and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and Abbas today.
"My understanding, from briefings I've had at the State Department, is there has been a very broad and very vigorous demarche of virtually every capital in the world, that this is high on the agenda for every meeting the secretary has with every world leader," Sherman said.
Overall, Sherman was well received by the committee members and, for the most part, skillfully handled a barrage of questions on issues ranging from foreign aid to Libya.
Sherman was once chief of staff for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who introduced Sherman at the hearing. "She is a strategic thinker, a seasoned diplomat, and an experienced and skilled negotiator," Mikulski said.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the committee, didn't talk much about Sherman in his opening statement, but rather used his time to criticize what he saw as a broad lack of strategic direction in the Obama administration's foreign policy.
"I remain concerned that our national security policy is being driven without sufficient planning or strategic design. The expansion of the Afghanistan mission and the intervention in Libya, in particular, have occurred with limited reference to strategic goals or vital interests," Lugar said.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) focused on the case of Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Menendez is calling for Megrahi to be rearrested by the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC).
Menendez said he will introduce today the "Pan Am 103 Accountability Act" which would require the president to consider Libya's cooperation on the Lockerbie investigation and would condition the thawing of frozen Libyan assets on the administration's certification that the NTC was cooperating with the United States on the issue.
The only critical comments directed at Sherman came from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who compared what he saw as two philosophies in current American foreign policy: One that he described as "strength," "firmness," and "verification"; another that depends on "friendliness," "appeasement," and "trust." He said Sherman's time as North Korean policy coordinator in the Clinton administration might indicate she was in the latter camp.
Sherman humored DeMint and said if she had to choose, she favored "strength," over "appeasement," but she also said that DeMint was offering up a false choice.
"I don't believe that engagement is the antithesis of strength and verification," she said.
The United States and North Korea will hold their first direct talks since December 2009, as the Obama administration explores ways to return to multilateral talks on the Hermit Kingdom's nuclear program.
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan is already on the way to New York for the talks, which are supposed to happen either Thursday or Friday, according to State Department officials. The State Department hasn't announced its delegation to the talks, but we're told by two informed sources that Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, the State Department's special representative for North Korea, is expected to participate. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited the delegation.
Following the Bosworth-Kim meeting, the North Korean delegation will meet with a group of U.S. experts and academics organized under the banner of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP), led on this project by former diplomat Donald Zagoria. NCAFP is hosting the meetings, as they did in October 2009, when North Korean negotiator Ri Gun came to New York under similar circumstances. At that time, Zagoria was joined by former diplomat George Schwab, Korea Society president Evans Revere, and former Ambassador to China Winston Lord.
Ri was spotted at the Beijing Airport with the North Korean delegation.
In a short phone interview, Zagoria told The Cable that the experts' meeting with the North Korean delegation was scheduled for Monday, Aug. 1, as a "Track 2" discussion -- diplo-speak for unofficial talks conducted by trusted private individuals. He declined to speak about the bilateral meeting, only saying that the experts' meetings had clear boundaries and realistic expectations.
"We started these meetings in 2003. We've had a number since then when it was possible," Zagoria said. "We hope to have frank discussions on the all the relevant issues. Our goal is to help both sides clearly understand each other's positions."
Joel Wit, a former U.S. nuclear negotiator who met with the North Koreans in Germany in March, told The Cable that the talks could signal the Obama administration's willingness to move away from its policy of "strategic patience," which basically amounts to waiting for the North Koreans to make positive moves while strengthening its alliances with Japan and South Korea.
The New York meetings are the second step of a three-step process to resume multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear program, said Wit. The first step was for the North Koreans and South Koreans to resume discussions, which has already occurred. The second step is for the United States and North Korea to meet. And the final step is to resume the Six-Party Talks, which also involve China, Russia, and Japan.
Taking that third step won't be easy. The Obama administration has made clear it won't return to the Six-Party Talks until the North agrees to abide by its previous commitments on denuclearization. The DPRK now says that denuclearization must be achieved by both sides simultaneously and has started an ambitious uranium enrichment program.
Wit said that despite the gap in positions and the aggressive North Korean behavior, the United States should act now to jumpstart negotiations rather than allow the security situation on the Korean Peninsula to deteriorate further and let the North Korean nuclear program advance unchecked.
"We're rapidly approaching a point where we're going to have to make a serious decision about what we're going to do about their [uranium program]," said Wit. "So that means seriously considering some incentives, like reactor assistance.... It's something we've got to deal with before it gets out of hand."
Victor Cha, a former NSC director for Asia, said that North Korea's bad behavior since the Six-Party Talks were abandoned in 2008 shouldn't give anyone confidence that they are negotiating in good faith.
"It has been almost three years since a full round of Six-Party Talks, and since the last round, the North has done just about every heinous act in violation of the letter and spirit of the agreements that had been negotiated," he said. "No one expects North Korea is serious about denuclearization, and Pyongyang has done nothing during Obama's tenure to demonstrate otherwise."
The Obama administration has been quietly putting pressure on the South Korean government to relax its demands for an apology from North Korea over the sinking of the Cheonan warship and its shelling of a South Korean island, Cha said. The administration believes that North Korea will be less aggressive if talks are underway, he said.
"So there are clear tactical reasons for the U.S. to re-engage. But does anyone have a strategy? Pundits will call for a bigger and better agreement this time, but after 25 years and two agreements in 1994 and 2005, I am less confident that such an agreement is attainable," he said.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland set the expectations for this week's meetings low in Monday's press briefing.
"We see this as a preliminary session where we're going to lay out very clearly our expectations for what will be necessary to not only resume Six-Party Talks, but to improve direct engagement between the U.S. and the DPRK," said Nuland.
A senior State Department official, speaking to reporters during Clinton's trip to Asia, said that China was on board with a more active policy of engaging North Korea.
"I think despite the fact that China, in meetings with the United States, will rarely displays open displeasure, I think you can sense behind the scenes, there is substantial unhappiness with what's transpired with respect to Pyongyang's intransigence and provocative actions," the official said.
The Obama administration will expand sanctions on Iran and countries that do business with it, but new congressional legislation is unnecessary, according to Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg.
The House and Senate have each unveiled a bill that would tighten existing sanctions, compel the administration to enforce penalties already on the books, and levy a host of new sanctions against members of Iran's regime and companies that aid Iran's energy, banking, or arms sectors. The bills are a follow-up to the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA) that Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed in July 2010.
Lawmakers are increasingly frustrated that the administration has decided not to use CISADA to penalize many companies from third-party countries such as China that are believed to be violating the sanctions, while only punishing a couple of firms from countries such as Belarus. The new bills are meant to force action on Chinese companies. But Steinberg said that the administration doesn't support another round of sanctions legislation and will proceed with enforcement on its own timeline.
"We think we have powerful tools, and we've welcomed CISADA and we think CISADA is a powerful tool, and what we've seen, not just with China but with everybody, is that the availability of that has caused countries and companies to stop doing things that they might otherwise do," Steinberg told The Cable in a June 6 interview on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore.
Steinberg fundamentally disagreed with senators who believe that China has not been adhering to the sanctions and allowing its companies to backfill the business in Iran left open by the departure of firms from U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea.
"I think the [Chinese] record has been reasonably good in terms of what they've done. It's not perfect, and we continue to work with them, we continue to keep some actions of theirs under investigation and review," he said.
"I think people -- if one would have asked two years ago, for example, on dealing with Iran, how much we would be in sync with China -- I think they would be amazed how well this has worked, both in terms of the formal stuff in the Security Council, but also in the P5+1," said Steinberg. "The Chinese have been fully on board, they haven't undercut it, they've been very clear and consistent with the need for Iran to meet their obligations and they've worked as a partner with us on that. They've been very restrained in their political and economic engagement with Iran."
Will the administration ever sanction Chinese companies for doing business in Iran, which, according to the Government Accountability Office, continues to this day?
"It depends what they do," Steinberg said. "As we've said to the Congress and to everybody, in the first best instance what we want is to see countries do it voluntarily, and we've seen a number of cases where we've raised issues of concern with China, and we've had some progress."
The lawmakers who spent months drafting the new sanctions legislation and who are planning to push it through Congress this summer fundamentally disagree with Steinberg's reading of Chinese behavior.
"I worry that the Obama administration has given Chinese banks and companies a get out of jail free card when it comes to sanctions law, and they should not," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) said at last month's AIPAC conference in Washington.
In a Tuesday interview with The Cable, Kirk said that the Senate bill has strong leadership from both parties, including lead sponsors Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and many others.
"The hollowness of the administration's enforcement is evident when you compare how much the U.S. and Iranian economies grew last year. Because Ahmadinejad's economic growth was faster than Obama's, that underscores our concern that the results are meager at best," Kirk said.
"We have overwhelming bipartisan consensus here and in the House as well, so I would say to Secretary Steinberg, prepare for incoming legislation."
Former President Jimmy Carter and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari were hoping to visit the State Department this week to brief officials on their recent trip to North Korea, but nobody at the State Department was available to meet with them.
Carter and Ahtisaari, both Nobel Peace Prize laureates, had been eager to give their readout of their meetings in North Korea April 26 and 27 to U.S. officials and press their case for a resumption of food aid to the Hermit Kingdom. The two are members of the Elders, a group of senior figures who have been informally engaging with regimes that official governments won't deal with, in the hopes of finding pathways to peace. They traveled to North Korea last month with former Irish President Mary Robinson and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Bruntland. Other members of the Elders include Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi.
But no one at the State Department would meet with them, so the trip to Washington was cancelled.
"The trip was arranged at short notice and due to busy schedules and given everything else going on we were not able to arrange meetings at the right level," a spokesman for the Elders told The Cable. The State Department offered no comment on the situation.
The Chinese, however, had time for the Elders. They spent two days in Beijing April 24 and 25 and had dinner with foreign minister Yang Jiechi. Neither the North Korea nor South Korea leaders met with them, but they did get meetings with high level officials in both countries. Ahtisaari and Brundtland also had meetings in Brussels last week with President of the EU Herman Van Rompuy and several other EU officials.
But while the State Department might be too busy to hear from the Elders, your humble Cable guy has a bit more free time. Before the cancellation, The Cable had an exclusive interview with Ahtisaari, who at that time was very excited to brief State Department officials on his first visit to North Korea. He even held out hope for a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ahtisaari called on the international community and the Obama administration to resume food aid to North Korea and to delink humanitarian assistance from political negotiations. He said the World Food Programme had better monitoring capabilities than before, better access, and there was less chance the DPRK would divert food aid to feed its military
He also called for the beginning of a political dialogue with the DPRK on all outstanding issues and said that the North Koreans were interested in both bilateral talks and discussing a return to the Six Party Talks on its nuclear program. Ahtisaari also said the Elders were told that Kim Jong Il was prepared to join a summit meeting with his south Korean counterpart, Lee Myong Bak.
"I'm not asking anyone to believe every word that the North says, but we have to take seriously when they say they are prepared to talk," Ahtisaari said. "How do you expect your present policy of not talking to solve any of the issues you presumably you want to be solved. I don't have any other answers but to sit and talk."
It's no secret at all that the Elders' trip to North Korea was viewed as extremely unhelpful by the governments both in Washington and Seoul. Chris Nelson reported on April 29 that Clinton reacted strongly when asked in a morning meeting if she wanted to meet with Carter. From the Nelson report:
The performance of President Carter and his delegation in N. Korea this week was either shameful or fatuous...or both...and exemplifies why Carter had no...zero...USG support going in, and even less coming out, per an alleged eye witness account of Sec. St. Clinton at the morning meeting the other day:
"Do you want to meet with Carter?" Clinton is looking at papers, and just says "No." Then she pauses, looks up and adds, "HELL no!!!"
Besides going to North Korea without any administration support, Carter alienated Washington's policy community when he declared at a Seoul press conference on April 28 that "to deliberately withhold food aid to the North Korean people because of political or military issues not related is really indeed a human rights violation."
Former NSC Senior Director for Asia Victor Cha just happened to be in Seoul that day, staying in the same hotel as the Elders, and said that people in South Korea were very upset at Carter's remark.
"People who work on the food issue with North Korea know the very real problems of diversion to the military, and Carter's statement implied that China -- because it gives food unconditionally to North Korea -- is more of a human rights upholder in North Korea than the others, which was not well-received," Cha told The Cable.
Ahtisaari wouldn't say that he agreed with Carter's statement, but tried to explain the context.
"What he simply wanted to do was to make a dramatic appeal to everybody, because we have seen due to the political constraints there has been unwillingness to assist the North in a humanitarian way," he said. "It's totally unacceptable to mix politics with humanitarian assistance."
Ahtisaari criticized the Obama administration's policy of "strategic patience," which basically amounts to focusing on ties with allies and not engaging North Korea until the regime admits guilt for recent violent attacks against the South and recommits to its promise to denuclearize.
"Your approach is not terribly trustworthy either, because if the other side says they are willing to discuss all outstanding issues, I say ‘let's test them.' The process has to start; this situation of simply talking past each other doesn't mean anything," Ahtisaari said.
"I have seen worse conflicts than this one, so start talking."
Meanwhile, there are reports that Ambassador Robert King, the special envoy for North Korean Human Rights, would visit North Korea next week, but at Tuesday's State Department briefing, spokesman Mark Toner said no decision had yet been made. Toner also said Ambassador Stephen Bosworth was in South Korea now discussing the food aid situation.
"Our position on food aid is entirely separate from any political decision we may make or any policy decision we may make vis-a-vis North Korea," Toner said. "Our food assistance program... is based on a credible, apolitical assessment of the needs and also autonomy over how that food assistance is delivered."
For the third time in two years, hundreds of Chinese officials are meeting with hundreds of their U.S. counterparts to discuss dozens of bilateral topics in dozens of meetings. After the first day of the two-day event, there aren't any new bilateral agreements to announce, and officials say there aren't any expected soon.
"Now more than ever, with two years of dialogues behind us, success depends on our ability to translate good words into concrete actions on the issues that matter most to our people. So as we begin this third round, we will keep that goal in clear focus," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her Monday morning remarks at the opening of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which is being held at various locations in downtown Washington.
She praised the new high level participation of senior officials from China's People's Liberation Army and rattled off a long list of issues that would be discussed, including: military-to-military relations, the situation in the Middle East, the need to rebalance the global economy, Iran sanctions, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and human rights.
Vice President Joseph Biden delivered the strongest message on Chinese human rights practices in his Monday morning remarks, when he said, "We have vigorous disagreement in the area of human rights."
"We've noted our concerns about the recent crackdown in China, including attacks, arrests and the disappearance of journalists, lawyers, bloggers and artists," Biden said. "I recognize that some in China see our advocacy [on] human rights as an intrusion and Lord only knows what else. But President Obama and I believe strongly, as does the secretary, that protecting fundamental rights and freedoms such as those enshrined in China's international commitments, as well as in China's own constitution, is the best way to promote long-term stability and prosperity of any society."
Jeffrey Bader, the recently departed senior director for Asia at the National Security Council, wrote in a Brookings Institution policy brief that the dialogue "was not conceived as a mechanism to deal with bilateral crises or to produce specific ‘deliverables,' but to develop a richer, more intensive dialogue between senior officials on the two sides than would be possible in the usual quick in-and-out visits, and to break down bureaucratic stovepipes among agencies, particularly on the Chinese side, not accustomed to coordinating effectively with each other."
On Sunday, Clinton awarded Bader the Secretary's Distinguished Service Award, standing alongside Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo.
Critics of the Obama administration's China policy see the event as yet another example of the administration placing style over substance, and raising expectations of progress in the U.S.-China relationship without delivering results.
"By far the most important economic issue for America and China is the related imbalances in our economies," wrote the Heritage Foundation's Derek Scissors. "The U.S. recognized this several years ago and has repeatedly raised the matter. Result: Both economies are now more imbalanced than when the dialogue began. The main reason is simple: Neither country wants to bear the pain of rebalancing. Instead, they take to telling the other side why it should rebalance."
A senior administration official, speaking to reporters after the conclusion of the first day's meetings, said that the primary discussion of tough economic issues will be held on Tuesday.
"Tomorrow the focus is on how the U.S. and China can rebalance our economies so we can strengthen our recoveries. Monetary and exchange rate policies are certainly be a focus of those discussions," the official said. But he warned not expect any major announcements. "[The Chinese currency] is not moving enough and no one's satisfied, but it's appreciated more than 5 percent against the dollar [over the last year]," he noted.
Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats took the Chinese to task for their policy of giving regulatory, financial, and legislative support to state-owned enterprises.
"The biggest challenge in addressing these issues effectively is forging a common understanding that state-controlled competition is not competition, and that competitiveness cannot be bestowed by decree. The trade distortions created by the ‘China Model' are disadvantageous to our U.S. companies trying to compete for opportunities around the world, and a direct threat to U.S. jobs and competitiveness," Hormats said.
And Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Monday afternoon that climate change, specifically short-term climate change forces, was a major topic of discussion between Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and his Chinese counterparts.
As for the military component of the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters last week that the United States intends to engage "not just traditional players in the Foreign Ministry but also other players in the Chinese government, including the military."
Dan Blumenthal, a former China desk officer at the Pentagon and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that while increased military dialogue and the building of relationships is good, the administration must not depend on such dialogue to halt the growing tension in the bilateral security relationship.
"The Chinese are moving very cautiously, the political leadership in China is very adverse to making any bold decisions, and the PLA has very little interest in talking to us about anything of substance," he said. "The summits matter less than what we are doing on the ground in response to what China is doing."
The Obama administration is appointing the first-ever U.S. special envoy to Burma, but the potential absence of any significant change in U.S. policy toward the country calls into question whether he will be able to produce an improvement in the brutal Burmese regime's behavior.
President Barack Obama appointed Pentagon official and Asia hand Derek Mitchell to the post of Burma Special Envoy on April 14, about 18 months after the State Department rolled out its new Burma policy, which was meant to mix limited engagement with the prospect of additional pressures. But the junta simply continued its long record of attacking ethnic minorities, suppressing political dissent, and rigging elections. Following what the State Department called the "fatally flawed" elections in Burma last November, the engagement has trailed off.
A top State Department official said today that the Obama administration is not contemplating any change in its Burma policy, despite the fact that its current strategy hasn't yielded positive results.
"We will acknowledge that we've had either no or limited success, and this has been going on for a while," said Joe Yun, deputy assistant secretary of State in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. "But we do believe ultimately is that the system there in Burma is not sustainable and that we will try to improve it, we will try to change it, and we will try to bring democracy there, justice, and respect for human rights."
Asked by The Cable whether Mitchell's appointment would be accompanied by a review of Burma policy or if Mitchell will simply be adding some high-level attention to the current policy, Yun said it would probably be the latter.
"We'll have to see once he gets on board, but at this moment there is no thinking going on that we will change our policy that was announced 18 months ago," said Yun, "I think it is high-level attention, at the end of the day, that will have results."
Yun was speaking as part of a panel discussion following a State Department screening of "Burma Soldier," a documentary starring Colin Farrell that tells the story of a former political prisoner who went from being a solder in Burma's army to a pro-democracy activist. Yun was joined on the panel by Assistant Secretary Eric Schwartz, the film's subject Myo Myint, film producer Julie LeBrocquy, and Office of War Crimes Issues Deputy Diane Orentlicher.
Yun explained that the "carrots" in the current policy include the prospect of international recognition, a lifting of sanctions, and increased foreign investment for Burma. He didn't detail what "sticks" were being threatened. He also said there is no consensus among the Burmese leadership that there is something for them to gain from engaging the United States in the first place.
Aung Din, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, told The Cable that Mitchell's appointment could make a difference, even without a change in the overall policy.
"We believe this is very significant, because even though [Assistant Secretary] Kurt Campbell and Joseph Yun are handling Burma, Campbell is handling 32 countries and Yun is handling 10 countries, so I don't think they have so much time to concentrate on Burma," he said. "When we have the special envoy he will coordinate with the U.S. bureaucracies and with the other countries, and will try to concentrate on Burma on a daily basis."
Schwartz was optimistic but not specific in his prediction that positive change in Burma was in the offing. "One never knows exactly how political change takes place," he said. "And if there's anything we've learned over the past decades... is that it's very difficult indefinitely to suppress the basic will and desire of people to chart their own futures."
Myint asked the assembled crowd to focus on the freeing of political prisoners and to help the over 100,000 refugees and internally displaced people along the Thai-Burmese border.
"We hope there will be political change, but the military regime has changed everything except politics. They changed military uniform to civilian clothes, they changed city names, but not politics. So without changing politics inside Burma, the political situation is the same before the elections and after the elections," he said.
Former President Jimmy Carter will travel to North Korea next month, a State Department official confirmed.
"We have been made aware of his trip. I'm not aware of any plans we have to talk to him. He's obviously traveling in a private capacity," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, adding that Carter "does not carry an official U.S. message."
The Cable broke the news last August that Carter was set to travel to Pyongyang to rescue Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 30-year-old man from Boston who was sentenced to eight years in prison after being arrested for crossing into North Korea from China. The State Department was happy to have the Gomes issue resolved, but many within the administration viewed Carter's claim of progress in dialogue with North Korea upon his return unhelpful.
In November, Carter wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for engagement with Pyongyang.
"Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that during direct talks with the United States, it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs, put them all under IAEA inspection and conclude a permanent peace treaty to replace the ‘temporary' cease-fire of 1953. We should consider responding to this offer," Carter wrote.
But the North Korean government has been increasingly belligerent since Carter's last trip to the Hermit Kingdom. It sunk the South Korean ship Cheonan, shelled a South Korea island with artillery, and unveiled a whole new cascade of uranium enrichment tubes to visiting American experts.
The Obama administration has made clear that it won't enter into talks with North Korea until the regime takes steps to address the complaints of South Korea first.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Carter will travel to Pyongyang with former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other senior dignitaries. Perhaps this time he won't be snubbed again by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who decided to take a trip to Beijing last year just as Carter arrived.
The Carter Center did not respond to requests for comment.
Levey will resign next month and the administration will nominate Cohen to replace him next week, a senior administration official told The Cable. Levey has been serving as the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence since 2004; Cohen has been assistant secretary for terrorist financing since 2009. The Cable received e-mailed statements from several top Obama administration officials praising Levey's tenure and pledging that the drive will continue unabated to increase and enforce sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and groups that financially support violent extremist groups.
The resignation comes just as the latest round of talks between the P5+1 countries and Iran regarding its nuclear program seem to have sputtered and even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated more sanctions could be in the offing.
"It will have no effect on policy, or on our ability to execute the President's policy," said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. "David came to Treasury with well established outside expertise and has worked at Stuart's side for the last two years."
Geither said that when the Obama administration took office, Levey had agreed to stay for six months but ended up staying for over two years.
"There's no perfect time for these things. But this is as good a time as any," said Geithner.
Geither called Levey "tremendously effective" and "the best mixture of toughness and creativity," and credited him with convincing a host of public and private actors to join the U.S. government's fight to name and shame organizations that help rogue states and non-government actors finance illicit activities.
For example, Levey's team was instrumental in convincing Japan and South Korea to take step to end their business with Iran's energy sector after President Obama signed new sanctions legislation last July. In 2006, Levey's team led the drive to publicly accuse Macau's Banco Delta Asia of doing laundering money for the North Korean regime.
"Every financial institution anywhere in the world needs to preserve its reputation for integrity in order to do business globally and especially in the U.S....Stuart has been able to use that reality as an incentive to get the private sector to move to reinforce our policies," he said.
White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said in a statement that Levey's work had directly degraded the capabilities of those who seek to do the U.S. harm.
"Stuart has helped save lives, and our country owes him a strong debt of gratitude," said Brennan. "While we will greatly miss Stuart's involvement in these ongoing efforts, we are very fortunate to have someone of David Cohen's caliber and in-depth experience to build upon Stuart's outstanding work."
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said that Levey had elevated Treasury's role in the national security sphere and praised his work on devising and enforcing sanctions on Iran.
"Stuart designed and executed innovative financial strategies for targeting terrorists, proliferators, and other illicit actors, and built an international consensus around the use of targeted sanctions as an effective means of combating threats, pressuring regimes, and safeguarding the financial system," Donilon said.
The Wall Street Journal, which first reported Levey's departure, said that Levey had not yet decided what to do next. Here's how the paper described Levey's tenure:
The Ohio native traveled widely across Asia, the Middle East and Europe to press foreign governments and businesses to cut off their financial ties to Iranian and North Korean entities believed to be involved in weapons proliferation and terrorism. Since 2004, he has also built up Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence into a major cog in the U.S. national-security apparatus, with more than 700 people involved in activities such as tracking illicit financing and approving export licenses for sensitive technologies.
Treasury officials now have a prominent seat in virtually every national-security debate.
Levey's work on Iran and North Korea sanctions also earned his praise today from Capitol Hill, where sanctions hawk Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) praised Levey's impact on the overall financial sanctions regime.
"Indeed, what David Petraeus has done for counterinsurgency warfare, Stuart Levey has done for economic warfare -- completely rewriting the book on the subject," Lieberman said.
Just as President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao were trumpeting the strength and importance of the U.S.-China relationship on the White House's South Lawn, a bipartisan group of lawmakers were harshly criticizing the Chinese government from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
"As China's newest emperor has just landed in Washington and is at the front lawn of the White House, the pressing issues which separate our countries need to be urgently addressed," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the beginning of Wednesday's hearing on China. "When the Cold War ended over two decades ago, many in the West assumed that the threat from communism had been buried with the rubble of the Berlin Wall. However, while America slept, an authoritarian China was on the rise."
She said China is led by "cynical leaders" who have rejected political reform, allowed sanctions- busting weapons transfers to Iran, unfairly claimed ownership of international waters, suppressed human rights for its ethnic minority citizens, and jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife.
Former committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) took a somewhat more balanced tone, calling China "neither an ally nor an enemy," but also focused his opening remarks on China's failure to adhere to sanctions against Iran, its refusal to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear program, and its lack of respect for human rights.
"There is ample evidence that Chinese entities continue to invest in Iran's energy sector. This helps Tehran avoid the full impact of sanctions and facilitates Iran's continued development of a nuclear weapons capability which threatens the U.S., our allies in the Middle East and China, which is dependent on stable sources of oil from the Middle East," Berman said. "We must intensify our efforts to ensure China's full participation in the multilateral sanctions regime against Iran."
On Tuesday, Berman joined Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) to call on Chinese companies to halt their business with Iran's energy sector lest they be penalized under the recently-passed U.S. sanctions legislation signed into law by Obama last July.
The witnesses at the hearing were Larry Wortzel, commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Gordon Chang, a columnist at Forbes.com, Yang Jianli, the founder and president of the pro-democracy committee Initiatives for China who was previously imprisoned by the Chinese regime, and Robert Sutter, a professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.
Each witness was prepared to criticize a different aspect of Chinese behavior. Wortzel focused on the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and called for the U.S. to sell advance fighter planes to Taiwan.
"China's national interests are global and the PLA is becoming a force capable of acting beyond China's periphery. A more capable military accompanies a more assertive Chinese foreign policy. This can be seen in China's recent provocative activities concerning its disputed territorial claims in the south and east China seas and in its exclusive economic zone," he said.
Chang argued that China's trade surplus vis-à-vis the United States and its massive holdings of U.S. debt do not represent a strategic advantage for Beijing.
"China's trade dependence on us gives us enormous leverage because China's not a free trader. China has accumulated its surpluses because of real clear violations of its obligations under the World Trade Organization," he explained.
Yang covered China's human rights violations, including its jailing of Liu and its persecution of ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans.
"In addition to the official prison system, it is practically public knowledge that in China there exist hundreds of black jails established and run by local governments of various levels. These prisons take in numerous innocent petitioners arbitrarily," Yang alleged.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the chairman-designate of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations, concluded the proceedings with some ole' fashioned China bashing, calling Hu a murderer of children.
"This is wrong. We should not be granting monstrous regimes that are engaged with massive human rights abuses -- and in this case the world's worst human rights abuser is being welcomed to our White House with respect," Rohrabacher said.
"The people of China are America's greatest allies -- the people of China who want democracy, the people of China who want to respect human rights, and are looking forward to a more humane system at peace with the world. Those are our allies. What do we do to them when we welcome their oppressor, their murderer, the one who's murdering their children here to the United States with such respect?"
Several senior Obama administration Asia officials are set to either leave government or move to new jobs within the bureaucracy in the coming months, as the White House tries to hit the reset button on U.S.-China relations.
As part of a cautious warming of U.S.-China relations in the early days of President Barack Obama's term, his administration elected to postpone arms sales to Taiwan and a visit by the Dalai Lama in 2009. Beijing was pleased, but that evaporated when the arms sales went through in January 2010 and the visit went ahead in February 2010. That month, China responded by breaking off U.S.-China military-to-military relations.
China's aggressive stance on a range of issues, such as its claimed of sovereignty over the South China Sea, as well as Beijing's de facto defense of North Korean bad behavior, contributed to a worsening of ties. China was also seen to have worked against U.S. goals at the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2010, resisted efforts to place strong new sanctions on Iran at the U.N. Security Council, and declined to heed U.S. calls for a significant revaluation of its undervalued currency.
The Obama administration changed its stance toward China to a more competitive posture in response, codifying this policy shift during Defense Secretary Robert Gates' trip to Southeast Asia last May and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Vietnam in August. Recognizing China's increasingly aggressive diplomatic stance, the administration decided to set clearer red lines and step up its collaboration with regional allies to address their concerns about increased Chinese influence.
The United States has also joined regional organizations, such as the East Asia Summit, which signaled increased U.S. attention to the region. It has also successfully shored up its ties with South Korea and Vietnam after lull in those relationships during the Bush administration. Relations with Japan have not gone as well, but Japanese politics have been in upheaval pretty much since Obama took office.
The two top Obama administration officials responsible for driving this policy have been NSC Senior Director for Asia Jeffrey Bader and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell. Although Campbell is generally seen as more hawkish on China than Bader, the two close friends have worked together from day one.
But sometime after Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington this month, Bader will leave his post at the NSC, several administration insiders confirmed to The Cable. The exact date of Bader's departure is not set, and could still be weeks or months from now. Bader, who has been working on China since the 1970s (and was once an assistant to Assistant Secretary of State for Asia Richard Holbrooke), is rumored to be looking for the exit due to the understandable fatigue caused by working a job that has basically required a 24/7 commitment for almost two years.
The leading candidate to replace Bader, according to several administration sources, is the NSC's Daniel Russel, one of the directors who currently works under Bader. Russell is a Japan hand, having served as the head of State's Japan Desk after being consul general in the Japanese cities of Osaka and Kobe. Russell's selection might give Japan watchers hope that the White House would reinvigorate the stagnant U.S.-Japan relationship, but the likelihood is that China will continue to dominate the administration's Asia agenda going forward.
The other contenders for Bader's post are Derek Mitchell, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, Michael Schiffer, another DAS-D who works with Mitchell, and Frank Jannuzi, policy director for East Asia and Pacific Affairs at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mitchell, a top Asia hand who worked with Campbell at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is said to be looking to move because the PDAS position he holds is more focused on management than policy. Schiffer, who spent 9 years on the staff of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), has been intimately involved in a variety of issues related to Asia policy and would be able to move into the post seamlessly, Asia hands said. Jannuzi, who was a top Obama campaign foreign policy advisor, is close to the Biden team and could also be a good fit with the current Biden-heavy leadership at the NSC.
Meanwhile, back at State, there are other moves in the works. Campbell's principal deputy Joe Donovan is being considered for a number of different ambassadorships, including as the next envoy to South Korea. He would replace longtime foreign service officer Kathleen Stephens. If the White House decides to give that post to a political appointee (traditionally, Seoul has gone to a career diplomat), then Donovan would probably be offered the ambassadorship of Cambodia, multiple administration sources confirmed.
The White House announced last month that David Shear, another deputy in Campbell's EAP bureau, will be appointed ambassador to Vietnam. So that leaves two open DAS slots at EAP for Campbell to fill. The principal deputy must be a career bureaucrat, but the question remains whether Campbell will return to the tradition of having one political appointee as a deputy when he fills Shear's slot.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg has been rumored to be leaving State for a long time now, but still remains at his post and is very active on Asia policy. Our sources report that Steinberg had originally told the White House he would only stay for two years, but has not yet found the right job to justify him leaving State.
Back at the Pentagon, changes are expected sooner rather than later at the Asia Pacific office run by Assistant Secretary Chip Gregson. A shuffle in the leadership of that office would not come as a surprise to anyone, but many say that decision is on hold until there's some clarity as to when Gates will leave -- and who will replace him.
Besides Campbell, one of the only senior Obama administration Asia officials not thought to be leaving imminently is U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Despite some reports that he is eyeing a presidential run, administration officials said they haven't seen signs that he is planning to leave Beijing any time soon, and praised his work on U.S.-China relations. More on that tomorrow...
As tensions spiral upwards on the Korean peninsula, North Korea's construction of a light water nuclear reactor in addition to its new, sophisticated uranium enrichment facility, allows the regime to claim that its enrichment program is for domestic civilian power needs -- as the same argument that Iran makes -- according the first Western scientist allowed to visit the facility.
Sig Hecker, a Stanford professor who previously directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, toured the Yongbyon nuclear facility in North Korea on Nov. 12 and gave an extended briefing on his trip Tuesday at the Korea Economic Institute. He was joined by two other experts who traveled to North Korea this month, former Special Envoys Jack Pritchard and Robert Carlin. Hecker said that he saw 2,000 centrifuges set up in the facility, as well as construction on a 25 megawatt light water nuclear reactor. He could not confirm whether the centrifuges were operational, but emphasized that what he saw represents a huge leap forward for North Korea's nuclear program -- one that carries grave risks and severe implications for regional and international diplomacy.
"My jaw just dropped, I was stunned," Hecker said of the moment he saw the centrifuges. "To see what looked like hundreds and hundreds of centrifuges lined up... it was just stunning. In a clean, modern facility, looking down I said ‘Oh my god, they actually did what they said there were going to do.'"
"We must take this seriously, but not overhype it," Hecker continued, noting that by setting up a reactor to make low enriched uranium, the North Koreans have the ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) for bombs while also claiming the enrichment is for civilian purposes, exactly like Iran.
"The same technology, the same equipment can be used to make HEU. And then what you have is called the Iran problem," he said. "It's a way of admitting the uranium enrichment program with a cover story... it's the same cover story that Iran has."
But are the North Koreans getting help from Iran in constructing their facility, especially since it happens to look like the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz?
"What we saw, 2,000 centrifuges... that's about twice what Iran has done so far. So I'm not sure I would go to Iran if I were North Korea, it might in the future be the other way around," Hecker said. "But I worry about cooperation with Iran."
He said that while the design of the facility was not new, the North Koreans have a new, younger team of scientists working on the design and construction of the new facility, different from older ones he saw in previous trips there. But Hecker's chief concern is the safety of the facility, the security of the nuclear material, and having weaponized material in the hands of the North Korean military.
"Maybe we should have North Korea as part of WANO (the World Association of Nuclear Operators) to make sure they construct that reactor safely," he said.
Carlin said that it was "ironic" that Pyonyang had constructed a light water reactor, given that the international community had been working for years to build such a plant in North Korea under the auspices of the now-defunct Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. Under that program, the international community would have had control over the nuclear fuel going in and coming out of the reactors, but the effort was shuttered in 2006.
"We've been here before, we were going to build a light water reactor, and we were going to have complete control of the fuel," said Carlin. "For various reasons that remain unclear, we scrapped that program.... And it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that we had a bite at this apple once upon a time."
Carlin also said the message from North Korea was clear: They are open to negotiation but are going to keep nuclear weapons for a long time and "we better get used to it" -- unless the United States satisfy all of their security concerns and stop what North Korea calls American "hostile" policies. He also warned that Chinese leverage over North Korea was unlikely to affect a positive outcome.
"The Chinese have never said that the North Koreans can't have a nuclear program to produce electricity. And since the North Koreans say that's the purpose of their program, I suspect that's going to be where the bulk of [the Chinese] position is," said Carlin.
Hecker agreed with Carlin and Stanford's John Lewis, who argued in the Washington Post op-ed section on Monday that "U.S. policymakers need to go back to square one."
"A realistic place to start fresh may be quite simple: accepting the existence of North Korea as it is, a sovereign state with its own interests," Carlin and Lewis wrote.
"For now, the most important thing is don't let the threat grow," added Hecker, arguing for a containment strategy that would set new red lines for North Korea, namely no new bombs, no bigger bombs, and no exporting of nuclear material.
Hecker said the 5 megawatt plutonium reactor that that operated previously at Yongbyon for years is now shut down, as is the reprocessing facility for plutonium. He estimated that there are 24 to 48 kilograms of plutonium in North Korea that were produced from that reactor, enough to make 4 to 8 bombs.
The North Koreans told Hecker that they wanted to complete construction on the light water reactor by 2012, but Hecker said that was unrealistic: Most projects in North Korea are scheduled to be completed in 2012 because that's the 100-year anniversary of former dictator Kim Il Sung's birthday.
So why did the North Koreans decide to reveal their nuclear reactor now? Hecker didn't know for sure, but speculated that the construction would have been detected soon enough, so Pyongyang wanted to break the news on its own terms.
Pritchard speculated that the exchange of artillery fire with South Korea last night was not related to the revelation of the new reactor and the new uranium enrichment efforts.
"I do not think there is any connection at all" between North Korea's revelations regarding its nuclear program and the flare up Monday night, said Pritchard. But he warned that either way, there won't be an appetite to bring up the issue before the U.N. Security Council, as was done after North Korea sank the South Korean ship the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.
"I don't think we will find it going to the UNSC or additional sanctions for this," he said. "The Cheonan was a dastardly event. And the difficulty the international community had coming out with an unambiguous statement, it suggest to me that's not the route we're going to repeat here now."
Hecker's report on his trip can be found here.
Photo of Robert Carlin taken by Sig Hecker
Incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) isn't waiting until the new Congress comes into session to oppose some of the Obama administration's foreign policy positions. On Wednesday, she called for the White House to impose new sanctions on North Korea in light of a new report on Pyongyang's arms proliferation.
The U.N. Security Council released a report today that accuses North Korea of supplying ballistic missile and nuclear technology to Syria, Iran, and Burma. Authored by the so-called "Panel of Experts," which includes experts from U.S., the U.K., China, France, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The report was held up for months due to Chinese opposition to its release. The report claims that Pyongyang is flouting recent U.N. Security Council resolutions forbidding it from engaging in weapons proliferation.
"Evidence... indicates that the DPRK has continued to provide missiles, components, and technology to certain countries including Iran and Syria since the imposition of these measures," the report states. "The Panel of Experts is also looking into suspicious activity in Myanmar..."
That's enough for Ros-Lehtinen to call for the administration to back off its effort to reach out to North Korea.
"Instead of continuing its failed strategy of seeking to engage the regime in endless negotiation, the administration must ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang. At the upcoming G-20 summit in Seoul, President Obama must persuade the heads of state to call for the imposition of new and effective U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea," Ros-Lehtinen said.
"In addition, the U.S. and other responsible nations must use every means at their disposal to apply pressure on Pyongyang, the first step being to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism."
The State Department has made it clear that weapons transfers alone don't meet the legal threshold for relisting a country as a state sponsor of terrorism. And there's no sign the Obama administration's engagement with North Korea is picking up steam, considering that Pyongyang refuses to reaffirm the commitment to denuclearization it agreed to in 2007.
But Ros-Lehtinen is making it clear that she will be an aggressive critic of the administration's foreign policy positions as chairwoman, much as she was when she was ranking Republican on the committee. And she's making it clear that she's not afraid to ramp up the rhetoric to do it.
"This forthcoming report should be a wake-up call for the U.S. and other responsible nations," she said. "We must act quickly and firmly to stop North Korea's proliferation before it ends up costing American lives and those of our allies."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton departed Wednesday morning on her sixth trip to Asia, where she will visit seven countries over 13 days and meet with scores of officials and other regional actors. The highlights of the trip will be Clinton's participation in the East Asia Summit in Hanoi and a meeting with her Chinese Foreign Ministry counterpart on Hainan Island, made infamous by the April 2001 diplomatic tussle over the crash landing of a U.S. surveillance plane.
"It's a very complicated and, frankly, lengthy trip," Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters Tuesday. "At every stop, the Secretary will highlight both political and economic interactions, a desire to promote U.S. exports and see a more forward engagement on economic matters."
Wednesday morning, Clinton departed Washington and headed to Hawaii, where she will first meet with military officials including Pacific Fleet Chief of Staff Rear Adm. Joseph Walsh and Adm. Robert Willard, the head of Pacific Command. Following that she will have what Campbell called a "substantial, intense interaction" with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara that will cover "all aspects of our bilateral relationship."
Thursday, Clinton will give a "major address" on U.S. strategy toward the Asia-Pacific region at the East West Center. In addition to setting the stage for Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington (we're hearing January), the G-20 meetings next month in Seoul, and the APEC meeting next year in Japan, Clinton's speech will explain that "at the economic level, 2011 is emerging as a very consequential, in many respects make-or-break, year for the United States," Campbell said. Following that, Clinton will stop in Guam to visit U.S. troops.
On Friday Oct. 29, Clinton goes to Hanoi, where the United States is joining for the first time the East Asia Summit, with an eye toward membership in the near future. On Saturday, she will make a presentation there as "a guest of the chair." There are several bilateral meetings planned, including a conversation with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. She will also participate in the Lower Mekong Initiative meeting and meet with Indian and Russian interlocutors, Campbell said.
Sometime during her stay in Vietnam, Clinton will take a quick trip to Hainan Island, China, to meet with State Counselor Dai Bingguo. "At that session, we will review the various issues in the U.S.-China relationship, make sure that we're making adequate preparations for both the upcoming G-20 meeting, APEC, and particularly for the session that will take place in January when Hu Jintao will visit the United States, or in early part of 2011," Campbell said.
On Saturday Oct. 30, she moves on to Siem Reap, Cambodia. She will visit Angkor Wat on Sunday and meet King Norodom Simahoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on Monday. Clinton will then head to Malaysia on to meet with Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cabinet. "I think you will see the flourishing U.S.-Malaysian relationship on full display," Campbell predicted. This will be Clinton's first visit to both countries as secretary of state.
On Wednesday, Nov. 3, the team goes Papua New Guinea to meet Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and other senior government officials, women leaders, and environmental experts. The next stop is New Zealand, where Clinton will meet with senior government officials, including Prime Minister John Key and Foreign Minister Murray McCull. There the two sides will announce the so-called Wellington Declaration, "which will underscore our desire to see U.S.-New Zealand relations return to a significance in terms of coordination on a range of issues," said Campbell.
On Saturday, Nov. 6, Clinton will travel to Australia to join Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, and Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith in Melbourne for the 25th anniversary of the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) to discuss regional and global security issues. Secretary Clinton will also meet with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
She returns to Washington Monday, Nov. 8, with a final stop in American Samoa.
"We often talk about stepping up our game in the Asian Pacific region. In that formulation, the A gets a lot more attention than the P, the Pacific. You will note on this particular trip that the Secretary will be stopping in three Pacific islands," Campbell said. "This will be the longest trip of her tenure to date."
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who has been known to confuse Russia for the Soviet Union, isn't backing down from his position that the United States should build a huge missile defense system capable of defending against every possible missile attack from every possible foreign threat, including Russia.
DeMint created havoc with his missile defense proposal at this month's Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting, where he offered an amendment to the resolution to ratify the START nuclear reductions treaty that would have committed the United States to building a missile defense system to protect every American everywhere, at all times. Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) eventually worked out a compromise with DeMint that didn't include this commitment but did endorse the idea of moving away from the principle of "mutually assured destruction" that has been a cornerstone of U.S.-Russia nuclear deterrence for decades.
Undeterred (pun intended), DeMint offered an amendment last week to the defense authorization bill for the 2011 fiscal year that would require the United States "to deploy as rapidly as technology permits an effective and layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States and its allies against all ballistic missile attacks."
This amendment would constitute a wholesale transformation of U.S. missile defense policy, which would commit the United States to defending itself against the missile arsenals of Russia, China, and others. The current missile defense system is only designed to defend against rogue states like North Korea and Iran.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) also proposed an amendment that is pro-missile defense, but is not framed in such a way that explicitly antagonizes Russia, or obligates the United States to take on the costs required to build a system designed to shoot down any ballistic missile.
Corker and Kyl's amendment states clearly that the Obama administration's missile defense plan, known as the Phased Adaptive Approach, "is an appropriate response to the existing ballistic missile threat from Iran to European territory of North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, and to potential future ballistic missile capabilities of Iran." He also called on the United States to cooperate with Russia on missile defense, noting that the current plan "is not intended to ... provide a missile defense capability relative to the ballistic missile deterrent forces of the Russian Federation, or diminish strategic stability with the Russian Federation."
Their reference to "strategic stability" is key because the Russians have made clear that they would unilaterally withdraw from the START treaty if they believe "strategic stability" with the United States is upset. Corker supports the treaty, and his amendment's inclusion of this language is a bid to keep the treaty alive. DeMint is against the treaty.
"DeMint's advocacy of a nationwide Star Wars system is really back to the future, a past rejected even by George W. Bush because it was dangerous and wildly expensive," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World."The Republican Party has moved so far to the right that even Jon Kyl and Bob Corker are relative moderates -- relative to DeMint."
DeMint's advocacy for missile defense against Russia also puts him at odds with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has attempted several times to explain to DeMint that no administration, Republican or Democrat, has suggested building missile defense aimed at Russia.
"That, in our view, as in theirs, would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive," Gates told DeMint in a May 10 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
DeMint and Corker's amendments were never voted on because the Senate failed to start debate on the defense authorization bill, due to GOP opposition to repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
The START treaty, which was approved 14-4 by the Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 16, could be voted on in the November lame-duck session or might be pushed to next year. DeMint was a no-show for the committee vote on the New START resolution.
Former President Jimmy Carter may believe that the North Korean regime really wants to rejoin negotiations with the United States, but according to the State Department's top Asia official, North Korea will first have to make nice with South Korea.
In recent weeks, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity between the countries involved in the almost-defunct Six Party Talks, with U.S., South Korean, Chinese, and Japanese negotiators meeting in various configurations. The talks, which were organized in 2003 to confront Pyongyang about its nuclear weapons program, broke down in 2008. After returning from his rescue mission to Pyongyang, where he was completely snubbed by Kim Jong Il, Carter now believes that a resumption of negotiations is within reach, a position that puts him out in front of what most Obama administration officials are willing to say.
In fact, in the wake of the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, the State Department is making it clear they won't get ahead of Seoul in engaging North Korea. Almost all South Korean outreach to North Korea has been halted and the U.S. position is that a thawing of North-South ties must precede any direct engagement from the United States.
"In the current environment given what has just transpired, we think an essential first step needs to be some re-engagement between North and South Korea. And I think that is going to be critical going forward," Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. "And as we have long held, we also think that it's going to be significant that North Korea again, as we've said in the past, underscore its commitment to fulfill its commitments that it took in 2005."
Campbell was testifying alongside assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs Gen. Wallace "Chip" Gregson and General Walter Sharp, commander of United States Forces Korea.
Following high-level visits to Washington by both Chinese and South Korean officials who deal with the Six Party Talks, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, U.S. Special Envoy Sung Kim, and the National Security Council's Daniel Russell traveled to Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing to get a readout of the current state of play. Campbell traveled last week to Beijing as well, along with National Economic Council Chairman Larry Summers and the NSC's Tom Donilon and Jeffrey Bader.
Carter now not only believes that the North Koreans want to come back to the table; he also argues that "the Chinese are actively promoting the resumption of the six-party talks." Campbell is not so sure.
Following China's reluctance to blame North Korea for the sinking of the Cheonan and difficult negotiations over a presidential statement at the U.N., there is a realization inside the administration that the United States and China are not communicating as well as they should be on the North Korean issue. The recent shuttle diplomacy is meant to address that.
"The truth is that the Cheonan incident, I think, makes clear that China has a very complex calculus that they look at on the Korean Peninsula," Campbell said. "I think there was an appreciation that the United States and China must step up its dialogue on the Korean Peninsula, and we are seeking to do so."
Leading senators on the Armed Services Committee from both parties called on the administration to get tougher with China and harshly criticized the Chinese Communist Party leadership for its recent defense of North Korea's provocations.
"We've heard about stepping up dialogue with China for a long, long time, and it hasn't resulted in anything as far as I'm concerned," said Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). "You say that this event and their failure to take a decent position and response to the attack on the ship, you said complicates their relationship with South Korea. Well, it sure doesn't help their relationship with us as far as I'm concerned... So I think it's totally unacceptable and I think China ought to be told in no uncertain terms that it complicates its relationship not just with South Korea, but with us as well."
Ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) also bristled at Campbell's comment about Chinese commitment to the Six Party Talks.
"Secretary Campbell, one of the reasons why we get a little cynical around here is exemplified by the comment you made about China," he said. "‘Step up its dialogue.' Remarkable statement. The Chinese have not only not helped us with Korea over the years, they have been an obstacle to increased sanctions."
"China's response to North Korea's recent provocations calls into question its willingness to act as a responsible stakeholder in the international system," McCain said.
He also criticized what Campbell identified as the administration's policy of "strategic patience" with North Korea, which basically amounts to not giving in to Pyongyang's saber-rattling or brinksmanship with bribes or concessions, while waiting for serious indications they are willing to negotiate in good faith.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) directed his firepower at Carter, lambasting him for not even mentioning the Cheonan incident in his Washington Post op-ed, which he called "awful.'
"[Carter] fails to mention the Cheonan incident. And that certainly puts in doubt his conclusion that the leadership of North Korea that he spoke to is anxious to reengage again," Lieberman said, noting how out of step Carter's argument was with the administration's stated policy.
"Frankly, I, too, was surprised by the omission of the Cheonan in President Carter's op-ed," Campbell responded.
The South Korea government on Monday released the full version of its investigation into the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, which it hopes will offer conclusive proof to a skeptical Russia that the explosion that killed 46 sailors was due to a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine.
The South Korean report (PDF), obtained by The Cable¸ is meant to put to rest the Russian argument that the Cheonan somehow ran aground in shallow waters and triggered a mine explosion, leading to its sinking. That's the version of events reportedly contained in a Russian report that has never been publicly released.
"ROKS Cheonan was sunk due to an under-water explosion caused by an attack of a CHT-02D torpedo manufactured and used by North Korea," concluded the South Korean report. "The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine. There is no other plausible explanation."
The joint civilian-military commission that compiled the report included input from 73 experts from 4 different nations, including the United States. Despite its comprehensive nature, its findings were not enough to convince the U.N. Security Council to issue a Presidential Statement explicitly blaming North Korea.
The U.N. statement acknowledged that the South Korean investigation accused North Korea of being behind the attack, and then "takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the DPRK, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident."
South Korea's full report attempted to quell any dispute by showing, among other evidence, that the investigators found parts of the North Korean torpedo (pictured above) and parts of the explosive device that ultimately sunk the ship.
"The finding of the propulsion motor of a torpedo (the smoking gun) and the detection of explosive components illustrated to the North and the international community that even the most covert of attacks will leave evidence behind," the report stated. "Most importantly, all this entails a solemn warning to the North not to engage in further military provocations. This report is a pledge that the Republic of Korea will reflect upon this incident and not let the North exercise further military provocations."
Meanwhile, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, Special Envoy Sung Kim, and NSC Asia Director Danny Russel were in Seoul Monday for discussions on North Korea, and will continue on to Tokyo and Beijing later this week. They met with Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek, acting Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Wi Sung-lac, and National Security Advisor Kim Sung-hwan.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that the State Department is "looking to see how - through bilateral contacts and multilateral contacts we can advance towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.