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J. DeTrani: Address to Summit 2022, Session VIa

Address to Summit 2022 and Leadership Conference,
Seoul, Korea, August 11-15, 2022


Thank you so much for inviting me. It's an honor being here. Let me just say, Mother Moon, thank you so much for this conference. Peace on the Korean Peninsula is so important. And certainly, Thomas Walsh: Thank you, sir, for all the great work you do. It’s truly appreciated. Peace. That's what we've been talking about today and for the last few days. And certainly Michael Jenkins, who's a great colleague of mine and of all of yours, for the great work he does.

I want to speak from a lot of experience working with the North Koreans. I spent about 15 years in direct contact with North Korean representatives in Pyongyang, in Beijing and Singapore and Europe.

My last meetings were with the deputy foreign minister in October 2016, and then he moved on to be the foreign minister. So it's a lot of personal experience working with North Korea on the issues that separate us.

I have strong views on the relationship with North Korea, given the years I've spent working with them. I'm a strong advocate for peace and eventual reunification, and I believe peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula are achievable. A lot of people say: North Korea will never denuclearize; look where they are now with their nuclear weapons and their missile delivery systems.

I'm of the school that believes that complete and verifiable denuclearization is achievable. It will take time. It will take patience. It will take creativity. But it's achievable.

If North Korea becomes a nuclear weapons state, this will lend itself to other states seeking nuclear weapons, regardless of any U.S. extended nuclear deterrence commitments. Other states will seek their own capabilities. We're talking about a nuclear arms race. That's very significant. I'm also talking about proliferation, the possibility of proliferating nuclear weapons or fissile material for a dirty bomb. Do we want to live in that world? I don't think so.

The other option is to accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, and we just accept the fact that there are two states: North Korea and the Republic of Korea. I hear that from some of my colleagues in the Republic of Korea: Joe, it's not achievable; they’ll never denuclearize.

As a foreigner but very, very committed and interested in issues related to the Korean Peninsula and working so closely over the years with our colleagues in the Republic of Korea, I just can't see that. You don't walk away from reunification. One people, one culture, one civilization.

Look at the impact of the Republic of Korea in the world today: the tenth largest economy. What you're doing in all sectors, science and technology, the arts. We just heard an amazing performance here a minute ago. That's the potential of a reunified Korea.

Twenty-four million people in the North are living under very harsh circumstances. I don't think we want to be there.

Let's talk about North Korea today. The nuclear program. We hear a lot about what North Korea is doing. I think the estimates are from 40 to 60 nuclear weapons. It could be more.  As we sit here today, they are producing fissile material for more nuclear weapons. And the assessment, and I'm one of them, is that they could not only weaponize that fissile material, they could miniaturize it and they could attach it to a missile delivery system. We've seen what they've done with missile delivery systems, ballistic missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles. And you've seen the short-range ballistic missiles over the years. Intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

In January of 2021 at the Workers Congress, Kim Jong Un was very clear. Usually when the North Koreans say they're going to do something, they do it. There's no ambiguity. He was very clear. In January 2021 he said: We're going to build more nuclear weapons.  We're going to build not only intercontinental ballistic missiles, we're going to build hypersonic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, cruise missiles. We've seen that in this year alone, North Korea has launched over 30 missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile.

We're talking about the likelihood of a seventh nuclear test. The last one was a thermonuclear test in 2017.

We've had three days of fact-finding discussions with senior leaders in the Republic of Korea, including the Ministry of Defense. You have great, great capabilities here: your diplomats; your military in all sectors, so powerful. But what you hear is very clearly what North Korea can do, even with conventional weapons.

They're into cyber, big time. You've experienced this here when they've gone at ATMs and other aspects of your financial infrastructure. Yesterday one of my colleagues mentioned also biological and chemical. So there's a myriad of issues here, and North Korea has put it out there of why we should be concerned. We should not be patient. How do you be patient when you see significant nuclear missile, cyber, conventional proliferation? And then when you hear some of the words that are coming out of Pyongyang?

That's why this conference is so important. Peace on the Korean Peninsula; the issues related to North Korea’s nuclear programs; weapons of mass destruction need to be addressed.

Over the last few years North Korea has been working closely with China and with the Russian Federation. The relationship with China is very tight. With the Russian Federation it's extremely tight. We've seen the position of Pyongyang in regard to the war in Ukraine, in regard to Taiwan. And what China is doing to intimidate our colleagues in Taiwan.

These are all issues that we need to address. I think we all agree not to accept that we need two states, not to accept that we have to recognize them and live with it, because that's not it. But I think South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has made it so clear and certainly President Biden has said in their meetings here in Seoul on May 21 that complete, verifiable denuclearization is the goal. That's something we're pursuing with vigor.

Over about 30 years of negotiations with North Korea, there is understandably a lot of negotiation fatigue.  Discussion fatigue. Some people say: Let's just give it up; maybe if we ignore them, they'll go away.

North Korea certainly is not going away. But we've had some success, and I think we lose sight of that. And that's so discouraging. We lose sight of the fact that we've had success with North Korea that speaks to complete, verifiable denuclearization in return for, obviously, what North Korea needs and demands: security assurances, the path of normalization, economic development assistance, and acceptance as a legitimate nation-state that has a right for civilian nuclear energy.

During the six-party talks, on September 19, 2005, in a joint statement we said very clearly: You can get all of the above and even civilian nuclear energy.  Come back to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. That means complete, verifiable denuclearization.

We got an agreement in September of 2005, but in 1994, we had an agreement. The closure of the Yongbyon nuclear facility in return for building two light-water reactors in North Korea, providing them with heavy fuel oil to those. Two light-water reactors were built.

The Republic of Korea, Japan, the European Union and others worked so hard on those programs. Unfortunately, they didn't continue. They didn't continue when we discovered North Korea was pursuing a highly enriched uranium program. I repeat that: a highly enriched uranium program. So those who negotiated with North Korea thought we were just working with one path of nuclear weapons: plutonium. And then people discovered that they were pursuing nuclear weapons with highly enriched uranium. It was very disconcerting, obviously. But the point is, we've walked away.

I think when we do a postmortem and we look back on lessons learned, it's a question of staying at the table. You've heard over the last few days, and I think it's a high point when [former] Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo, who spoke so eloquently yesterday. The great work he did with President Donald Trump. And you heard President Donald Trump yesterday and the work they did in Singapore, where they had a statement from North Korea talking about the transformation of a relationship with the United States.

Complete, verifiable denuclearization and the return of those who were lost in the Korean War. That was pursued. That was a high point. This was a president who changed the paradigm. He was working from the top down. He said, Let's engage now. Unfortunately, in Hanoi it didn't succeed. And if you want to look back to Hanoi, you want to say maybe we should have stayed at the table. And if North Korea could have stayed at the table, we could have worked through some of the issues there, and so forth. But there were high points, ladies and gentlemen.  Because if we're not successful in the complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the possibility of accidental war or intentional war is great. I mean, with nuclear weapons.

Putin put this on the table when he invaded Ukraine. He put nuclear weapons front and center. He said, we have nuclear weapons; be mindful of that. So we're mindful of that. And I think Kim Jong Un has made us even more mindful of that in his recent statements in which he's saying, I could even pre-emptively use nuclear weapons if there is a threat to the security of the DPRK, or perceived threat to the security of the DPRK. Pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons. Ladies and gentlemen: miscommunications, misunderstanding—what are we talking about?—where are we going?

This is not a time for patience. This is not a time to be not engaged. This is a time to be engaged, to be moving forward. And President Yoon Suk-yeol has made it very clear, and we will hear in the next few days when he talks about an audacious plan to present to North Korea on the complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

And I'll note this, and I go back to the Six-Party Talks. Six countries: the Republic of Korea leadership working with the United States, working with Japan, but also certainly the leadership that the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation brought to the table working with the DPRK.

It failed in 2009 on the issue of verification, permitting monitors to get out of the Yongbyon facility and visit non-declared suspect sites. In retrospect, should we have sat down before? They wouldn't permit it. Should we have sat down with them and spent a little more time saying, you know, you really need to do that if you want to get some momentum here. Because in the final analysis, from years of negotiating with North Korea, they want security assurances. They want economic development assistance. They want sanctions lifted. They want to be accepted as a normal nation-state, not a pariah state. They want normal relations with the United States and the Republic of Korea and other countries. They want access to international financial institutions. We heard this from Kim Jong Un, and certainly we heard it from him in Singapore. So why not pursue that? Well, we are pursuing it.

The Republic of Korea and the United States and others, we've said we want to negotiate, come to the table, and they're not coming to the table. Does that mean we stop? No. So hopefully when President Yoon presents his audacious plan—and I can tell you, the United States is as committed as the Republic of Korea in moving forward on these issues for the complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we're talking about North Korea.

So let me end on this note. Do not be patient. Do not give up on reunification. The goal is reunification of the Korean Peninsula, but with a denuclearized North Korea. And I think that is achievable. So I commend all of you here, and I can't say enough about this conference. Dr. Walsh and Mother Moon, what she's doing to work for peace on the Korean Peninsula. It's inspirational.

So pursue it. Eventually you will be successful. But don't give up on that. Thank you so much.



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