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Remarks At The American Chamber Of Commerce, Korea


Christopher R. Hill
Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Grand Hyatt
Seoul, Korea
November 29, 2007

Remarks at the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea

Thank you very much Bill, and let me just say it is a great pleasure to be back here at the AmCham. I have spoken to the AmCham many times, and it's always been a very good experience. I remember when I first spoke to the AmCham. I predicted -- I think it was September 2004 -- and I predicted the Red Sox would win the World Series. And of course, they did win the World Series; in fact, they've hardly lost it since. People were impressed at how I knew that they were going to win. What I didn't tell them was I'd made that same prediction every year since 1973. [laughter]

So, it was indeed a great pleasure to be asked. In fact, I'm in some respects (here as) the partial result of a door knock group, because when Tami came through the State Department, we talked about when I might come through Korea. Of course, Tami signed me up for lunch. So, here I am.

It's, I think, a very opportune time to come here at the end of 2007. This has been, indeed, a very busy year. I've talked to some of Sandy Vershbow's staff here at the American Embassy. They have a very busy embassy these days under Sandy's leadership, cleaning out the mess from a few years ago. [laughter] Thank you, Sandy.

I know that the Embassy has been very busy, and I know that the AmCham has been very busy this year really dealing with three issues that are very familiar from my time -- three years ago, four years ago, three years ago, I guess -- which is the visa waiver program, it's gonna happen; the FTA -- I remember back in 2004 talking about the FTA and it didn't look like something that might happen in our life time; and then, the Six-Party Talks, about which I know a few details and can get to in a few minutes.

And so, when I look at how we've gone through these three issues -- which I think if they can be successful, they will help cement this U.S.-Korean bilateral relationship for years to come -- I can see that '07 was a very important year, indeed. Actually, before I mention those three issues, there is another important issue which is the issue of relocating the U.S. Forces Korea. It was great to see, just a few months ago, to see the beginning of construction down in Pyongtaek and the realization that that, too, is an issue that will help this relationship for decades to come. So, that is also moving.

Earlier this year, some several months ago, the U.S. Congress passed some important immigration legislation that has essentially cleared the way to move on the visa waiver program. Of course, we're talking about Washington, and nothing ever happens overnight there, but we can really see the road ahead. And while we see we've got a lot of things to deal with -- a lot of issues that we've got to work together with the Korean immigration authorities, the Korean Foreign Ministry -- we can see that it is possible. I mean, it is ambitious. But I think it is possible that by the end of '08, a Korean citizen can get on a Boeing 787 -- right Bill, that will happen? -- and fly off to Honolulu or San Francisco or wherever and not have to stop at Sandy Vershbow's office to get a visa. So, I think it is a vision that is really, really quite realizable, even in '08. And so I can see that all the hard work that Sandy and his team have put into it in these last couple of years and the advocacy, the very important advocacy of the U.S. Chamber, the American Chamber here, is really leading to some results. It's a pleasure to see that moving ahead as we move to the end of '07.

Similarly, the FTA, which I know is an issue very dear to everyone's heart here, has also moved ahead. And there is no institution that has been more helpful in getting that issue to move than the American Chamber. And I have to commend you all for getting this done, because I have no doubt at all that this is a very, very important development for Korea. But I also have no doubt that it is an important development for the United States. It's one of our biggest -- it is probably our biggest FTA -- that we've done in some fifteen years. I know it's very big for Korea, and we're going to get through this.

Now, I know that the AmCham has done a lot of work here with Korean business associations, and I think the educational effort here in Korea has really advanced a long way since I was here three years ago. But, we are getting going on that educational effort in Washington, and I know the AmCham door knock team was very important in that regard. You know, it was quite interesting to see the AmCham door knock committee, because often when you see AmChams come back to Washington, they come to Washington to complain about how they are getting treated out there. This AmCham didn't come back to Washington to complain about what's gone on in Korea. They came back to praise what's going on in Korea and urge the U.S. Congress to understand that and to try and get us closer together. Now, obviously we've got some issues ahead to get through ratification. I know the Korean government wants to get this ratified very soon. In the U.S. government, we also want to move on this. We have some issues we have to work on together, and I think we can because this is an FTA that makes sense for both parties. So, I think we are going to get there.

And finally, let me maybe talk a little about where we are in the Six-Party Talks. This, too, has been a labor of love. I think it has also been an area where, as we have worked together with the ROK, worked together in a multilateral setting, we have brought the U.S. and the ROK much more closely together. I work every day with ROK diplomats on how we can make progress on this issue. It was really efforts with ROK diplomats that led us to trying to approach this on a step-by-step basis. It was really the understanding that we're not going to do this all in one leap. We're going to have to get the DPRK to understand that as they move step-by-step, they will find that as they move to that next step that it is a better place to be than it was in the previous step. And they will continue to move on. And so it has required a lot more patience than I was born with. And I learned a lot of patience being a Red Sox fan, but I tell you that the Six-Party Talks has sapped a lot of that out of me. But I do believe we're making progress, and I'd like to describe a little of that progress to you.

I think '07 was a very important year in the Six-Party Talks because we really went from discussing principles and discussing pieces of paper in large conference rooms in Beijing to actually getting stuff done on the ground. And so our first phase was to try to get the nuclear complex in Yongbyong shut down. We were able to do that this summer. It was not easy. You have a large complex that was, frankly speaking, in the midst of producing plutonium right up to the summer. So to get thousands of people in Yongbyong to understand that it was being shut down was not an easy thing to do. Yet we did it. And we did it by working very closely with the ROK, working very importantly and very closely with China, but also with Japan and Russia. And, we succeeded in that first step.

Now, of course, the purpose of what we're trying to do in the Six-Party Talks was not just to shut down the Yongbyong facility. But rather, it was to disable, dismantle, and finally see that these nuclear facilities, these nuclear programs, and indeed, these nuclear weapons, are finally abandoned. And this is pursuant to an agreement we reached in the Six Parties back in September '05. So, I think we are now on the road to getting that done. This next month is going to be a very important month because we are going to try to complete what we call Phase Two.

Phase Two is to take the shut down of the Yongbyong facility and move it to a natural disablement. Meaning that, even if, even if the DPRK wanted to turn it back on and start up plutonium production, as has happened in the past, they would not be able to do that without a lot of expense and a lot of time. And I think we have a good program of how we are doing that. And I think, importantly, they wanted the Six Parties directly involved, and in particular, also have U.S. technicians directly involved, in undergoing and doing these technical steps at this Yongbyong facility. So, as I speak to you today, we have some American technicians, American scientists, working together with North Korean technicians, North Korean scientists, on disabling the Yongbyong facility. They are making progress. They are making progress in disabling the fuel fabrication facility, the facility that makes the fuel to go to the reactor. They are making progress in disabling the reactor so that too cannot be turned back on easily. They are also making progress in disabling the reprocessing of spent fuel, which is actually where you make plutonium. So, all these steps are very much underway. They are all happening.

I look forward to going to the DPRK on Monday morning and actually to getting out to Yongbyong and seeing the fruits of this very hard labor to make sure, to understand directly, how this is working. What I can do is assure you today that we are getting this task done.

It is not just a Six-Party operation. We have had, very importantly and very successfully, the reintroduction of the IAEA, of the international organization that regulates nuclear energy. They have been back in Yongbyong. As you recall, they left precipitously back in 2002. They are back there, and they monitored the shutdown this summer. It was very important that the IAEA was able to get there within some 48 hours of the agreement to shut down the facilities. So, we've had the IAEA there, and that is very important because we are looking ahead to when North Korea will once again rejoin the Non-Proliferation Treaty, rejoin with IAEA safeguards and have a good membership, a proper membership with this international organization. So, the IAEA has been there throughout. We have American technicians together with IAEA technicians. We have a flow of materials going in, technical materials designed to help do the task of disabling this facility. And it is going well.

But of course, disabling the facility is not the only thing we are trying to do. Another, I think, very important element of this current phase is for the North Koreans, with whom we've had many discussions on this point, to provide to us a full declaration of what is the universe of their nuclear programs, of their nuclear facilities, of their nuclear material -- what the programs, facilities, and materials all are -- so that we can look at this list and figure out how to get on with disabling and abandoning these other programs. So, we have to work very hard with the North Koreans on that. We have made, I think, a lot of progress on that. We've made a lot of progress in the denuclearization working group that took place on August 16 in Shenyang in China. We look forward to receiving, in the next few days, certainly within the next week, a comprehensive list from the North Koreans on all of their nuclear programs, materials, and facilities, so that we can move on to the next phase -- a phase that will begin at the beginning of this year -- to design what we hope will be the final phase to finish the job and denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

So, in going to Pyongyang next week, I will go down to Yongbyon and have a look at the work being done. But I will also be talking to the DPRK officials about the declaration that they are going to be providing to the Chinese hosts and to make sure that, as that is provided, we will have a consensus about what should be in it, so that as we move to January 1 -- to the next phase -- that there are no surprises and we are able to move expeditiously.

So, it is a very crucial period, I fear, in some respects if we don't make progress in this next month, that if we don't complete the disablement, if we have problems with the declaration, there will be a tendency of some people to pull back from this process. It behooves all of us, certainly my government, but also the DPRK government, to really make sure that we have the courage to move forward. As long as, I think, we have that courage, and we have that resolve to complete this task, I think we are going to be able to get there. Of course, it is a difficult task to have a country that has already produced weapons-grade plutonium, to get them to give that weapons-grade plutonium back to the international community. That is, to abandon this type of weapons-grade plutonium. Clearly, to get that, to make that happen, I think, you have to widen the lens somewhat, and look at not only the task of denuclearization, but also look at some of the overall root causes in the region, as to why you might have the type of tension that could produce in one country a nuclear program of this kind.

So, one of the things that we look forward to doing in the beginning of the year as we get through disablement is to begin to have a peace process on the Korean peninsula, which will enable us to begin to deal with the problem of replacing the armistice that ended the Korean War with a treaty to end the Korean War.

We also look forward to creating a Northeast Asian peace and security mechanism. That is, a means by which the six countries, for starters, are able to come together in an ongoing discussion, maybe adding additional countries as we go forward. And as we add identifiable tasks to that Six-Party peace and security forum, we can begin, I think, the important development of a neighborhood in Northeast Asia.

Already -- and I think partly we must give some credit to the Six-Party process for this -- already we can see some improvement in bilateral relationships in Northeast Asia. We see some improvement in the China-Japan relationship; we've seen some improvement in the US-DPRK relationship. There are a number of improvements in relationships that are going on today. I think it is partly due to the fact that we have this common effort in the Six Parties. What we need to do is make sure that these bilateral relationships are improving, that we are able to put them together in a process that I think can create a much better sense of neighborhood in the region. This is a part of the world that is one of the most prolific exporters of goods and services. It now also needs to be an exporter of security, as well.

Of course, I think, every country has difficult choices to make as we go forward in this process. Certainly my country has had difficult choices to make as we've gone forward in the Six Party process. But I think that the country that has had the most difficulty facing this has been, in fact, the DPRK. I think it has been important to all of us to show the DPRK that if they make the right choice about getting away from these nuclear programs, they will see that that choice is rewarded. They will see improved relationships not only with the U.S. but also with other countries in the region. They will see less international isolation. Indeed, they will see a road ahead that will allow them to become part of the international community.

I think from the DPRK's point of view, these are very tough times because they have to think very hard about what they want. Obviously, there are some people in the DPRK who prefer a continuing sense of crisis, a continuing sense of siege mentality. But I think there are other people in the DPRK who understand that maybe it is time to try another route, maybe it is time to look for ways to reach out to the international community. Obviously, there are many changes ahead for the DPRK, and change is difficult, as the cliché goes. Certainly the DPRK will have to look at a lot of elements in its organization, and see which ones it really can preserve and which ones it really needs to move away from. Certainly it will need especially to look at its economy, an economy that is not producing the goods and services anywhere close to the aspirations of its people, or the aspirations that its people should have. So, I think, the DPRK in particular needs to make some tough choices.

What is equally clear, I think, from the DPRK's point of view, is the idea of having a militarized country, a country where the army is taking such a large percentage of the gross domestic product, a country where so much of national revenue has gone into weapons of mass destruction. They need to understand that that is, frankly, not answering their needs. I mean, not unlike, perhaps, a story one could find from Greek mythology of someone picking up something on a mountain side and thinking that this something is going to really help that person become rich. I think the North Koreans have understood that, in picking up this nuclear energy, they've actually picked up something that has caused nothing but suffering for themselves and for their people.

So, I hope that as we go forward they will see that a much better course is the one that is laid out for them in the Six-Party process. I'd like to say also that, from the United States' point of view, it has been very important that we engage in the Six-Party process. There are a lot of people that think that somehow this should be a U.S.-North Korean issue. Nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula are not just a U.S. problem; they are everybody's problem. And that is why it is very important that the U.S. engage with other parties, and that other parties engage with the North Koreans on this. And I think we are able to do that.

What I do like to believe is that, as we've gone forward in this Six-Party process, our relationships with the countries in the region have greatly improved. I think that is frankly true in the ROK, even though we've always had a very good relationship with the ROK. I think our relationship with the ROK is better as a result of the Six-Party process. I think it has also been very effective for our relationship with China, where the U.S. needs to work with China, find areas that we can work together, find areas of common interest, and then roll up our sleeves and do old-fashioned diplomacy to try and get these things done.

I think, overall, the Six-Party process -- an unfinished work that it is, nonetheless -- is one that holds promise not only for the immediate task ahead of us of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, but also looking ahead, that once we achieve that, and we must achieve that for these other accomplishments to be meaningful, that as we go forward we should be able to create a greater sense of community in the neighborhood. A greater sense of a neighborhood that is able not only to consume security, but actually produce it, and to be part of an international community and able to help other parts of the world.

Already we are seeing the ROK as a very active member in peacekeeping in other parts of the world. Obviously, we'd like to see more of this coming from this part of the world.

So, I would say, as we approach the end of this calendar year, it's been a very good year in terms of U.S.-ROK relations. We've done a lot on the visa waiver program, and we can actually see the top of the mountain coming up in the next twelve months. We've done a lot on the FTA, and there, too, I think we know what we need to do. I think everyone knows what they need to do. And I think we, too, can see where we'll get in '08. Finally, on the Six-Party process, working not only bilaterally, but with the Chinese and with the Japanese, because we have had some very, very good discussions with the Japanese and there is a lot to be very hopeful about in Japan's attitude to resolving this issue, but together -- ROK, Japan, Russia, China, and, of course, the North Koreans -- we will be able to achieve denuclearization in this coming year, 2008.

So thank-you very much and maybe we'll go to questions.

QUESTION: Secretary Hill, thank you very much for coming. Really good to see you. I would like to thank you for all of us as well as outside of this room for the tremendous accomplishment and effort. As important as it is, the agreement we got on this plutonium plant shutdown [inaudible], a heckuva lot, if on the other hand they continue the enriched uranium program. I know you just said you are going to move on with the declaration which covers all of these things. But once we get that, [inaudible] of our position has been very viable. How do you verify that what they say is in fact the truth, coming from the fact that for the past 60 years North Korea has been notorious in not keeping their word? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, first of all let me just say that while trust is an important element in any negotiation - I think any businessperson here knows the role of trust - in and of itself it is not sufficient. You need to verify what's actually happened. And trust, I think, often plays a role in sort of tactical moments through negotiations. So, if someone says the check they owe you is in the mail, you can trust that they have put the check in the mail. But frankly, you're going to verify that the check actually arrives. So, fortunately with respect to shutting down a plutonium reactor complex, we're able to verify that fairly quickly through our own technical means, but also and very importantly, by the role of the IAEA onsite. But with respect to the uranium enrichment issue, there too, verification will be absolutely key, and yet, verification is more difficult in that circumstance. Now, we have had in recent months some very important and very detailed conversations with the DPRK on uranium enrichment, and those conversations are continuing. And while we do not yet have a solution as I stand here today, I thought that based on the direction of these conversations, we can have a verifiable solution by the end of the year. We are not looking to humiliate anybody in this process, but with respect to uranium enrichment we do need an acknowledgment of what has gone on. We need an explanation of how it went on, and we need a disposition of any equipment involved in uranium enrichment. So, we are pursuing our conversations with this in mind. So, I can just say in the privacy of this room, I can say we have made some progress but we do have a ways to go.

AMCHAM PRESIDENT: We have time for one more question.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, I'm sorry about that, but --

QUESTION: Yes, Tom [inaudible] with [inaudible]. Can I take you back to your opening remarks when you were, I think, thinking back to your days as Ambassador and you remarked on how rapidly some things have changed here -- progress with the FTA, the visa waiver, the base movement, etc. Let me ask you to think a bit in the future. One business-related North Korea project you didn't mention was Kaesung. I'd like you to speculate what you think it might look like five years from today.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Let me just say I think the ROK is making a bet that engagement with the DPRK -- together with its participation in the Six-Party process -- will lead the DRPK toward complete denuclearization. And as I said, we are looking for that complete denuclearization in the calendar year, in '08. And on the assumption that denuclearization is in fact achieved, I can see in the next five years an expansion not only of Kaesung itself, but of that type of project with the DPRK. If we don't achieve denuclearization, and the DPRK believes it can continue to hold onto some weapons, then I think we have a very difficult road, and frankly speaking, I don't think very much will be possible. Thanks to the Six-Party process, but also thanks to what the ROK is doing bilaterally and what some other countries are doing bilaterally, the time to settle the nuclear issue in North Korea -- in this coming calendar year - the time to settle has never been better. So, we have spent a lot of time trying to line up these various avenues of communication, these avenues of cooperation, we've spent a lot of time trying to line these up. And if we can't get to our objective through this method, through these various avenues that we've line up, then I think we have a very big problem indeed. And I think Kaesung and other such projects would also have a very problematic future.

AMCHAM PRESIDENT: And with that [inaudible] brought our Chairman up to close the meeting. And [inaudible] a small gift.

AMCHAM PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, sir. Again, especially for taking so much time out of your very, very valuable schedule. I know you collect Red Sox memorabilia, but this is just to add to your AmCham bric-a-brac.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Thank you very much.

Released on November 30, 2007

ENDS

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