US State Department Responds to North Korean Threat

And as I suspect, your primary area of interest today involving North Korea, our interagency team led by Ambassador Steve Bosworth is in Tokyo this evening, having visited Seoul over the weekend. They will be in Beijing tomorrow before returning to the United States. Obviously, North Korea’s claim to have a uranium enrichment program, if true, contradicts its own pledges and commitments and violates its international obligations regarding CBRN management.
This reinforces, however, our longstanding concern about North Korea’s clandestine uranium enrichment activities. We will not be drawn into rewarding North Korea for bad behavior. They frequently anticipate doing something outrageous or provocative and forcing us to jump through hoops as a result, and we’re not going to buy into this cycle. As Ambassador Bosworth himself said, this obviously is an issue of concern, not a crisis. We are going to consult with our partners and coordinate a unified response to North Korea’s actions.
QUESTION: So on this, P.J., what does it say about your – about the last two years of North Korea – of U.S. policy towards North Korea that they managed to construct this facility? And why do you keep saying "if true"? Do you think that what Sig Hecker and the others were shown was some Potemkin village-type thing?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we don’t know. We are going to – we’ve talked to Dr. Hecker and others who have visited North Korea. We will continue our consultations with them and try to understand what they were shown and what the potential implications are. They were given a brief glimpse at a capability. We’re going to assess exactly what we believe that capability represents. North Korea says it’s about enriching LEU for a civilian power plant. As Secretary Gates said, he is highly skeptical of that claim. But we’re going to take our time, work through the information that’s available to us.
But certainly, this doesn’t surprise us. Going back many years to 2002 and beyond that, we’ve had strong suspicions of a clandestine enrichment capability or North Korea’s pursuit of that kind of capability, but we will review the implications of this information and then chart a way forward with our parties – our partners.
QUESTION: But what does it mean for the policy, for the last two years of this Administration’s policy?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think it validates the concerns that we’ve had all along about North Korea.
QUESTION: Well, it may validate the concerns, but I think a lot of people out there would say that it invalidates your policy because they’ve been – it calls into question whether that – whether what you were doing was, in fact, the right thing to get the North Koreans to go along.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, we’ve had a long list of concerns about North Korea and this potentially adds one more concern to that list. North Korea has nuclear programs. North Korea has, for a number of years, we believe, been looking to see how to develop an enrichment capability, so this is not new. As Ambassador Bosworth said, it’s not really a surprise, per se.
But this is clearly a violation of North Korea’s international obligations of its commitments. It remains our view that North Korea must take complete verifiable and irreversible steps towards denuclearization. That is our policy. Our policy remains intact. And we will consult with our partners on the way forward.
QUESTION: Can – and then my last one on this – can you just talk a little bit about the timing, what happened after he – after Dr. Hecker got back, when he presented you or the Administration with what he had been shown when the decision was made to send him out to the region – when the sigh of relief was when you realized that this was Thanksgiving week and he would actually be able to make the trip – (laughter) – and what you’ve --
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have a tick-tock. We’ve met with the various individuals who have gone to Pyongyang recently in a private capacity. We’re still assessing that information. There will be further meetings with Dr. Hecker and others as we sort through the implications of this information.
QUESTION: Where do you think North Korea acquired the technology, which I’m told included not merely centrifuges, but also such modern things as flat screen computer displays that Dr. Hecker and his colleagues saw? Where did it get that stuff?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we’re – Arshad, we’re still assessing exactly what – the implications of the information that they brought back. We do not believe that they have acquired any nuclear technology since the passage and enforcement of Resolution 1874 last summer, but beyond that, anything I say at this point would be speculation.
QUESTION: Well, why do you not believe that they have acquired --
MR. CROWLEY: We have no information that they have acquired further capability since 1874 was passed.
QUESTION: But your ignorance is not a guarantee that they have not acquired it; it just means you don’t know.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m – as you know, a lot of information that we have on this comes through intelligence sources. I’m just not going to go down that road.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, in regard to this, how effective do you think your sanctions regime has been, given that regardless of whether it was before 1874 or after 1874, they appear to have managed to have obtained what at least Dr. Hecker thought were hundreds and hundreds of centrifuges?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I understand the question. We are going to go through our own assessment of this information, compare it to information that we have through other sources. We’re, at this point, not going to pass judgment about the implications of this until we’ve done our thorough review and come to a conclusion about the implications of what has been seen. That’s why I say "If true." But it’s been no secret that North Korea has been interested in and actively pursuing an enrichment capability. But we will assess exactly where we think they are, what stage they’re at.
QUESTION: One more on this. You opened by saying – using a line that has been used by a great many people before you from that podium, numbers of – many of whom have – the statement has subsequently proved to be false – "We’re not going to reward North Korea for bad behavior." That statement was notably uttered after the 2002 disclosures that the administration – that the then-Bush Administration – believed that they had a uranium enrichment program. And I think it’s perfectly reasonable to look at the 2005 agreement as rewarding the North in various ways, including removing them from the state sponsors of terrorism list.
Two questions: One, why is it not a reasonable strategy to offer them incentives that get you some kind of benefits? For example, the destruction of the cooling tower at Yongbyon – why is that not a reasonable thing? It may not eliminate their nuclear capability, as manifestly it has not if these reports are true, but it at least mitigates it. So why is that not a reasonable strategy, to offer them incentives to give up some of their nuclear programs?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, let me talk about the – this year and last year. I’ll not comment on actions that preceded the Obama Administration. What we have seen over the past couple of years is a series of significant provocations by North Korea, from missile tests to nuclear – missile launches to nuclear tests, to the sinking of the Cheonan and now to this at least publicity stunt that obviously, we are going to evaluate further.
Our position is clear. North Korea has to take affirmative steps to denuclearize. It has to be willing to credibly show that it’s prepared to meet its international obligations. You mentioned the 2005 joint statement. In that joint statement, it was North Korea itself that committed to denuclearization. We are going to look for North Korea to work constructively with the international community. And clearly, if this program is, in fact, a uranium enrichment program, it’s a step in the wrong direction.
QUESTION: Well, just – last one from me on this. I mean, to try to get another country to do something that you want them to do that they don’t appear to want to do, you have either incentives or disincentives.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, sure.
QUESTION: The sanctions that you have imposed don’t seem to have worked, right? I mean, I don’t think you (inaudible) --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, to – I mean, this is a pursuit or an interest that North Korea has had for many, many years. I’m not going to – I’m not in a position to judge. To the extent that what Dr. Hecker and others were shown – you don’t just produce this kind of material overnight. So we are going to evaluate the implications of this. But this could very well be something that has been evolving over many, many years. It may not be a reflection of the success that we think we have had with Resolution 1874 and its implementation.
But North Korea says it wants normalized relations with the United States. If North Korea is interested in moving down that path, this is clearly going in the wrong direction.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you – I understand that Ambassador Bosworth is out consulting in the region right now, but I’d like to try to ask a little bit about where you’d like to go from here. In the past, you’ve said that the North Koreans have to do certain things before you resume talks in the Six-Party Talks. I was curious how this revelation affects that list of things you’d like them to do. And if you could be more specific, because I think in the past, you’ve been reluctant to give us specifics like --
MR. CROWLEY: And there – I mean, I can go back over our list which includes more constructive relations with other countries in the region, stopping provocative actions which create greater tension in the region. And this is clearly inconsistent with steps that we have demanded that North Korea take in order to demonstrate a credible interest in negotiations or in a different relationship with the United States or the international community. So --
QUESTION: So what would you like them to do now differently, now that you know this? And is that (inaudible) still --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, our policy remains intact. Our policy remains what it was prior to these revelations. North Korea has made a commitment under the 2005 joint statement to denuclearize. We need to see credible, verifiable action in that direction. And the revelation of a supposed uranium enrichment capability is certainly inconsistent with its international obligations. It’s inconsistent with its commitments under the 2005 joint statement. And we are consulting with others on the path forward. The – as my proverbial ball, the ball remains in North Korea’s court.
QUESTION: Given – hold on a second. Given that in the past, for such provocative actions as missile launches and nuclear tests and that kind of thing, that the U.S. has pushed for sanctions in the Security Council, is that something that – does this rise to that level, that you’d like to push for some more punitive measures?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we’re not going to prejudge. We are still assessing the information that has come in, comparing it with concerns that we’ve had for some time. And we are consulting now with our partners in this process, and we will carefully consider how to respond to this latest information, just as we took our time, consulted significantly with countries in the aftermath of the Cheonan.
QUESTION: So you’re not ruling out the possibility of sanctions, then, at this point?
QUESTION: Additional sanctions.
QUESTION: Additional sanctions.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we will take appropriate measure of what’s happened here, understand the implications of it, depending on how we assess the revelation by North Korea, and we’ll take appropriate action.
QUESTION: But what did you – then what did you mean when you said that you’re not – the U.S. isn’t going to buy into this continued cycle of North Korea acting and the U.S. reacting? What sort of reaction are you trying to avoid then?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, look – and who knows why they did it. North Korea had an agenda when it invited these scientists to visit Pyongyang. They were very clear in discussing and they were very open to showing these scientists a limited view of a supposed uranium enrichment capability. So they have an agenda, which would presume that we will be required to react and potentially to reward this new development. We’re not going to do that.
QUESTION: Any plans to speak to the North Koreans? Any plans to speak directly to the North Koreans? It was about a year ago that Ambassador Bosworth went out to North Korea.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean we will – it’s going to take some time for us to work through this information and its immediate-term and long-term policy implications.
QUESTION: So you’ve had no contacts even through the New York channel post these disclosures?
MR. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Isn’t describing these revelations as stunning cast like a sense of urgency on them? So are you responding urgently with the same kind of --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as Ambassador Bosworth said, is this concerning to us? Of course. Any association or any potential expansion of North Korea’s nuclear programs is a major concern. And why is that? Because North Korea is a serial proliferator, and as it develops potentially new capabilities their past track record would suggest that they would make the – this capability available to other countries. So our principal concern about North Korea is the proliferation risk that it represents. That’s why we’ve developed a number of tools over the years, including additional sanctions, to protect the United States and others against this proliferation risk.
QUESTION: P.J., was (inaudible) an intelligence failure, that the U.S. didn’t know about this facility until the North Koreans showed it to Dr. Hecker?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, it’s hard to say that, because we presented specific concerns to North Korea as far back as 2002, and there was --
QUESTION: About this facility?
MR. CROWLEY: About its pursuit of an enrichment capability. So I don’t see how you can reach that conclusion.
QUESTION: Well, this specific --
QUESTION: Did you know about this facility?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to talk about what we knew or didn’t know prior to the trip by the scientists.
QUESTION: Secretary Gates was pretty clear yesterday, saying that you didn’t know about this facility ahead of time.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters at the podium.