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Richard L. Armitage Interview by Radio Free Asia

Interview by Radio Free Asia

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State

Washington, DC July 2, 2003

QUESTION: (In progress.) What is the U.S. position on this, and is China a dependable partner in our strategy on North Korea?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We have found China to be a very excellent partner on North Korea, something that I was able to reiterate to Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi yesterday when he was kind enough to come in. And Secretary Powell dropped by to reiterate the same point.

We have found Russia a much more interested interlocutor of late, a feeling that they are coming to a greater understanding -- do you want to start over? Why don't we just start over. It'll be the same thing, but --

QUESTION: Okay.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Want me to start over?

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: We find China has been a very dependable and important partner in searching for a peaceful solution to North Korea. I was able to express our appreciation yesterday to Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was kind enough to come in. Secretary Powell dropped by to deliver the same message of appreciation.

I think regarding Russia, Russia has become much more interested, and although our Russian friends can speak for themselves, it clearly is not in Russia's interest either for North Korea to develop further these nuclear capabilities.

So the short answer is we have found China to be an excellent partner, Russia to be becoming a much better partner, and we'll continue the search for a peaceful solution.

QUESTION: But the resolution at the UN has been blocked by China and Russia for the second year in a row. Is that a divergence?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I think I don't like the term "blocked." They have some concerns about this. I think they're not the only ones who have some concerns. We, who are often accused of being unilateralists, are interested in trying to resolve these issues in multilateral fora like the United Nations, but we're taking into consideration the views of others, such as China and Russia.

QUESTION: Well, why do you think it is so difficult for us to present our case? This is the second time in a row that this has happened in over two years. Last year it was also -- I know Negroponte put that forward and that wasn't accepted either, and China and Russia were the two that refused to sign off on it.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think that I would have actually put a different spin on this. It seems to me that a year or so ago, no one could have imagined the kind of cooperation we've had with China on this issue, and no one could have imagined this kind of cooperation for the Russian Federation. It's true that some things, some movement toward the United Nations, has not gone as rapidly as possible. It's always an avenue open to us. But it's equally true that the hosting of the trilateral talks by China, the continued involvement of China in trying to seek a peaceful solution, has been something that has greatly satisfied the United States.

QUESTION: What is the next step in the follow-up to the Beijing trilateral? I know that there are efforts to have sort of a five-party meeting. Where is that currently?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, we would, as we've said, prefer to expand the Beijing trilateral talks to include the Republic of Korea and Japan, who have very large equities and immediate equities involved in the peaceful resolution. We have not seen much interest of yet from the authorities in Pyongyang, but we will continue our efforts to develop their interest and heighten their interest in such an endeavor.

QUESTION: The United States has recently been trying to build a multilateral sort of alliance on interdiction of, you know, sort of North Korean vessels on the matter, I suppose, of illegal stuff around the world. It seems to me that there are two things happening here. We're trying diplomacy on one hand and we're trying to build this larger, global sort of multilateral forum to block North Korean trade of various kinds. How --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Oh, no. You cannot use the term "to block North Korean trade." North Korea has a right to legitimate trade. I think the initiative you're talking about is a proliferation initiative. It is our view -- and this is a global concern, not strictly a regional concern with North Korea -- that the present mechanisms involving nonproliferation -- the NPT, the different legal frameworks, or the frameworks that exist in the international community -- are good, they're very welcome, but they're not sufficient.

And so the President of the United States announced in Poland his support for a broader proliferation initiative. We've gotten very good interest. We had a meeting in Madrid. We're going to have another one in Australia, in Bridgeman, Australia, with quite wide participation internationally. It's not simply a matter that concerns North Korea. It's proliferation globally.

QUESTION: In terms of the diplomatic track, it seems like there are spurts of activity. There was a meeting in Beijing and now there have been, you know, reports in the press lately that their nuclear program might actually be more advanced than was originally. What is going on, in the sense that is it really progressing at the pace, or is like one step forward, two steps backwards?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I don't know how I would characterize it in terms of a journey, but I take some issue with the characterization that this is diplomacy in spurts. And I'm sure Jim Kelly and his interlocutors in the Republic of Korea and Japan would take some exception to that, as well as our friends in China, because we've had TCOG meetings, we've had constant diplomacy. This question of North Korea was something that Secretary Powell raised at the ARF in Cambodia. It's something that we talk about constantly diplomatically.

So there has been a lot of activity. Occasionally, there are so-called press leaks or press stories, one of which recently appeared in the press that surprised me not at all. The United States has been saying for some time that the North Koreans, we believe, possessed one or two weapons. So there is very little new in that article.

QUESTION: But does that, the fact that it is now out there, does it make it more sort of imperative that the process somehow be accelerated?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No. It's been out there for several years. There are many people who are very interested in rushing the international community along on this issue of North Korea. This is one that's going to require dialogue, it's going to require, I think, a lot of patience. And although it may be somewhere considered that patience is an Asian virtue, it's something that the United States has. And the President has expressed his desire time and time again for a peaceful resolution of this question through dialogue in a multilateral context, so we'll continue to search for that solution.

QUESTION: What is the United States position on KEDO right now?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: It's in discussion with TCOG. We've listened to our various partners and we're doing to have to take a look at it. We've made no final decision.

QUESTION: But is the United States -- is the Agreed Framework still alive and well in terms of its relationship to KEDO? Because as --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I mean, I think the North Korean authorities have pronounced the Agreed Framework as -- they used some term, but it appeared to be dead. KEDO is slightly different. As I say, we're consulting with our partners, primarily the Japanese and the South Koreans and the EU as part of this, and we'll have to make a decision. We're not there yet.

QUESTION: Are we concerned, though, that any kind of aid given to North Korea in the nuclear sort of field, whether it's peaceful or otherwise, could be --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, wouldn't you think it's somewhat ironic that the same time we're trying to reason with the North Korean authorities to dissuade them from developing a nuclear capability that we actually provided one? I mean, isn't that a great irony?

So I think that's very unlikely that we'd move down that path. But when you talk about aid as a general matter to North Korea, our President has continued the provision of humanitarian aid separate from every other issue because he wants to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people.

QUESTION: The United States has refused steadfastly to have bilateral meetings with the North Koreans. Is it time, perhaps, to reconsider that decision?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No. It's very interesting. The United States would, if we had had a meeting with the North Koreans, we'd immediately tell our friends in Seoul, our friends in Beijing, our friends in Tokyo, exactly what went on, exactly what we said, exactly what the DPRK said. We have made that point to the DPRK. If they have something they want us to hear, they can speak to us directly at a multilateral forum and we will respond to them directly. We have no secrets from our friends, particularly those friends whose equities are more immediately at risk.

QUESTION: Is regime change a desired goal in U.S. policy towards North Korea?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, the desired goal is a government in Pyongyang that eschews the possession of nuclear weapons, that is, a denuclearized peninsula, and a country which is not a threat to our friends in the Republic of Korea and which treats their population with dignity and respect. That is the goal.

QUESTION: Do you believe that goal can be achieved with the current regime?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, it's a question that you ought to ask in Pyongyang.

QUESTION: But what is the U.S. view on that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: The U.S. view has been put forward by the President, and he said that we continue to believe that there can be a peaceful solution to the problem through dialogue, and that's what we're seeking. And we want a comprehensive solution. We want a solution in which the peninsula is denuclearized; the Korean people, those living in North Korea, live with dignity. We want a lessening of the conventional threat to the Republic of Korea from the North. So we want a comprehensive solution.

QUESTION: If I may --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Please.

QUESTION: -- add a couple of questions. Can you comment on the risks of new kind of report on North Korea's approaching (inaudible).

QUESTION: The miniature nuclear warhead.

QUESTION: Yeah, miniature nuclear program.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, didn't understand that portion of the article, and I'm not sure where it came from, and I'm not sure what miniaturization means. If it means that one would try to put a warhead on a missile, that's an obvious step. But I, personally, am not informed of some new development. That's what I was saying earlier to the question. Some elements of that story I found baffling.

QUESTION: And do you think North Korea has crossed this red line, what described red line, like the reprocessing?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I think there's a lot of confusion as to what North Korea has actually done, because sometimes she says one things and -- one thing, and we don't see a change on the ground, and sometimes North Korea doesn't say something and we do see changes. The story seems to change with fair regularity. So we haven't pronounced that North Korea has gone over any red lines, and I think there is some doubt as to just how far North Korea has proceeded down a path of reprocessing.

QUESTION: To go back on these three-way talks, I remember when you visited Japan recently, maybe later this month or early August these talks will resume, like resume. This what I saw in this reports. That's from Tokyo. And do you still optimistic about resumption of these talks?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Multilateral talks?

QUESTION: Yes. This time the talks including Japan and South Korea --

QUESTION: The five-party.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: The five-party? Well, Mr. Kelly, as you know, is discussing with his -- even now, this minute probably -- the Japanese and his Republic of Korean colleagues just what our next steps were yesterday. We did express to our Chinese visitors our desire to expand this, to try to make it very clear to the North Koreans that we're not a threat to them, we simply want a resolution of the issue that leaves the region of Northeast Asia in much better shape for all citizens.

QUESTION: And looking back on this issue, unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons program, its light water reactor project doomed in the long run?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, the United States is not the one who is spending the money for the light water reactors. It's not U.S. money. We were involved in the provision of heavy fuel oil. And so I don't think the United States can express the view that the light water reactors are doomed, but I did point out that I think there's a great irony, and that at a time when North Korea is surreptitiously, and now not so surreptitiously, developing a nuclear program that the international community would also be involved in providing light water reactors. It seems a little ironic.

But as I say, the United States is not spending our money on this issue, other countries were, and so it's more for them to say.

QUESTION: Regarding recent (inaudible) conference, the U.S. initiatives toward interdicting North Korea vessels --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah. Interdiction of vessels who are involved in proliferation. It's not simply North Korea.

QUESTION: Right, right. So, South Korea did not participate in this conference but Japan participated, and Japan and North Korea are very close with United States, a close ally.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the level of cooperation of South Korea at this moment in this current nuclear crisis?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, we're quite satisfied. We had a very good meeting with President Roh when he visited President Bush here. We've had excellent participation by the Korean diplomats in both the TCOG and the present discussions ongoing with Secretary Kelly.

I would note that the South Koreans themselves stopped, what 50 kilo of methamphetamines recently, which sounds to me like an anti-proliferation measure, at least as regards synthetic drugs. So yeah, we're quite satisfied. We've had very good partnership.

I'll note that President Roh is going to Beijing, I think in several days. I'm sure this will be a major topic. The whole question of North Korea will be a major topic on the agenda. We'll be interested to talk to both the South Koreans and the Chinese after his visit.

QUESTION: Can I ask just one last question?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Go ahead, go ahead.

QUESTION: In terms of sort of medium or long-term strategy, now that there are likely five players who are going to be involved in this process, who takes the lead, and how does it -- you know, the United States has always said that South Korea must take the lead in any kind of, you know, solution. But China is a heavy hitter. You know, it's a top cat in the region and it has some -- it's probably the closest to the North Korean regime.

How will the leadership issue, once this thing expands, work out?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, I think rather than talking about who leads and who follows, the better way to look at it is that success will have a thousand fathers, and only failure will be an orphan. And it may be that different countries take the lead in different aspects. Maybe in the arrangement of multilateral meetings it might be Beijing who has the most influence. Maybe ultimately in the ability to care for and feed the people of North Korea, it's the United States that has the most influence.

So I think lead and follow changes. The point is that if we all share general goals that we want to denuclearized the Peninsula of Korea, then we can have different pressure and different sort of leadership, shifting leaderships, as things move forward. I don't think there's a particular need for someone to grab the flag and hold it up high throughout these discussions. I think it will shift and change as developments occur.

You've got one more?

QUESTION: I wanted to, but --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, you go ahead. Now you've got another one. You've got another one.

QUESTION: My sort of concern about that is that if it seems like with the different interests in North Korea that it is likely that while the goal is the same, that the strategy that each country has, you know, varies enough that to formulate the sort of cohesive policy towards North Korea may become more difficult as we expand the number of players.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, may be. Equally, it might be the point that faced with a really solid array of people who are not threatening North Korea but have the same desire to have a denuclearized peninsula, the DPRK will find the sufficient confidence to move forward in a more productive way.

I don't think anyone has a crystal ball that sees the way forward with exact clarity. I do know that there may be some shifting emphasis and different emphasis. There is no difference on the five major players that we all find a denuclearized peninsula in everyone's interest, and that's a pretty good starting place.

QUESTION: Just one quick question. The new South Korea Foreign Minister Yun Yong-kwan (ph) is a -- you know, he's a -- he fondly remember your Armitage report.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Yeah, the more-for-more report. It was called the more-for-more report.

QUESTION: Sometimes for that on your report, then you think about North Korean --

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: I, personally, think that what you see generally in this multilateral approach, if you combine it with what the President and others have said about wanting to have the North Korean people with a much better life, or the so-called bold approach that Mr. Kelly pointed out, that you'll see that is, in effect, the Armitage report, which, for the record, was the Armitage-Wolfowitz-Campbell report, and a few others.

So I find a great deal of similarity in it, and maybe if everyone would look at it, they'd see that same similarity. It's basically that was the more-for-more report.

(Laughter.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

[End]

Released on July 18, 2003

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