Profile: Kim Jong Il
Kim Jong Il was a participant or observer in the following events:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il invites Clinton administration officials to Pyongyang, offering to sign a treaty banning the production of long-range missiles and the export of all missiles (see October 21, 1994). Secretary of State Madeleine Albright represents the US. Clinton administration officials at the negotiations between Albright and Kim acknowledge that the North Korean is, in reporter Fred Kaplan’s words, “clearly one of the world’s battier leaders,” yet they will recall his negotiations as quite sound. Clinton’s chief negotiator Robert Einhorn will later recall, “He struck me as a very serious, rational guy who knew his issues pretty well.” Albright’s policy coordinator, Wendy Sherman, will agree. “There were 14 unresolved issues, and he sat with the secretary, answering all her questions.” Einhorn will add: “When Albright presented him with the questions, at first he looked a little puzzled, as if he hadn’t known about them. Albright offered to give him time to look them over, but he said, ‘No, no, I can do this.’ He went down the list, one by one, and gave specific explanations. For example, on the question of missile exports, ‘Yes, I mean no exports of missiles of any range.’ And ‘Yes, I mean to ban the export of missile technology, not just the missiles.’ On issues where it was clear he didn’t want to be drawn out yet, he skipped over them. He understood where he wanted to be clear and where he wasn’t going to be.” The negotiations bear no fruit; Clinton chooses to spend the final weeks of his presidency working towards a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, but, as Kaplan will write, “the stage was set for diplomatic progress—and, in the meantime, the [nuclear] fuel rods remained under lock and key.” [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] Those negotiations will be abandoned by the Bush administration (see Mid-January 2001 and March 7, 2001).
Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung. [Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica]President Bush meets with South Korean president Kim Dae Jung (known in the administration as KDJ), and pointedly snubs Kim in an official press conference, announcing that he has no intention of following the Clinton policy of engaging North Korea in any sort of dialogue regarding North Korea’s nuclear buildup. Kim has attempted to implement a “sunshine” policy of open negotiations with the North, including economic trade and nuclear talks, but his efforts are predicated on US support. Secretary of State Colin Powell advocates working with Kim to further implement negotiations with North Korea, but loses out (see March 7, 2001) to pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who believe Clinton had been doing little more than appeasing a tyrant in negotiating with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il. Bush misstates the facts in the conference, saying that “we’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements,” when there has only been a single agreement between the US and North Korea, the 1994 agreement to freeze North Korea’s plutonium processing (see October 21, 1994). Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill believes that the gaffe is due to Bush’s lack of understanding of the complex situation between the US, North Korea, and the US’s allies in Southeast Asia, and Bush’s failure to “do his homework” before Kim’s arrival in Washington. O’Neill attempts to salvage the situation by lauding South Korea’s superb literacy rate among its citizens, earning a look of surprise from Bush. O’Neill privately mulls over the decision-making process in the White House, with Bush damaging ten years of “delicately stitched US policy towards North Korea” in just a few minutes. [Suskind, 2004, pp. 114-115] In 2004, foreign affairs reporter Fred Kaplan will offer an explanation of Bush’s behavior. To negotiate with an “evil regime” such as North Korea’s is, in Bush’s view, “to recognize that regime, legitimize it, and—if the negotiations led to a treaty or a trade—prolong it.” Bush has already told one reporter that he “loathed” Kim Jong Il. He distrusts anyone such as KDJ who has any intention of accomodating or even negotiating with such a regime. Additionally, Bush views the South Korean leader—a democratic activist who had spent years in prison for his beliefs—with what Kaplan calls “startling contempt.” Charles “Jack” Pritchard, who had been director of the National Security Council’s Asia desk under Clinton and is now the State Department’s special North Korean envoy under Bush, will later recall, “Bush’s attitude toward KDJ was, ‘Who is this naive, old guy?’” Bush and his advisers, particularly Rumsfeld and Cheney, hope not only to isolate North Korea, but to undermine Kim Dae Jung’s regime in hopes to shake his administration and drive South Koreans to elect a conservative in the next elections. [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]
President Bush makes it very clear how he feels about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. According to Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War, Bush shouts at Woodward: “I loathe Kim Jong Il!… I’ve got a visceral reaction to this guy, because he is starving his people. And I have seen intelligence of these [North Korean] prison camps—they’re huge—that he uses to break up families, and to torture people.” Bush says he will not change his opinion of Kim “until he proves to the world that he has a good heart.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 232-233]
State Department officials, led by Undersecretary of State Jim Kelly, fly to Pyongyang, North Korea, and confront Kim Jong Il’s foreign ministry with evidence that North Korea is working on centrifuges for processing enriched uranium—a necessity for the production of nuclear weapons. The State officials are surprised when the North Koreans admit to owning such centrifuges. The new threat is not particularly imminent, as it takes years to process the amount of uranium needed for even a single atomic bomb, but the US officials are unsettled by the North Koreans’ ready admission. The North Koreans also have a supply of radioactive fuel rods from their nuclear power plant in Yongbyon; these rods could be processed into plutonium and then into atomic bombs in a matter of months. Under the so-called “Agreed Framework” (see October 21, 1994), an agreement brokered by the Clinton administration and negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter, those fuel rods are locked in a storage facility and monitored by international weapons inspectors. Unfortunately, after the US and North Korea match each other in threats and belligerence, North Korea will throw out the weapons inspectors, open the storage facility, and begin reprocessing them into bomb-grade plutonium. Instead of careful negotiations and diplomacy, the US in essence goads the volatile North Koreans into breaking the agreement and restarting their nuclear weapons program (see October 27, 2002). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] One administration official will later call the negotiating tactics “no carrot, no stick, and no talk.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later term the negotiating failure “catastrophic,” noting that by 2006 the North Koreans will not only have produced enough plutonium for 10 nuclear weapons, they will have tested one. Scoblic will write: “Often frustrated by their failures, their inability to rid the world of evil (see December 19, 2003), Bush officials assuaged their moral sensibilities by ‘calling evil by its name.’ Conservatives, who were fond of deriding treaties as mere pieces of paper, had actually opted for an even less forceful alternative: taunting.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 234]
The US announces that North Korea has admitted to having a secret nuclear arms program during arms negotiations (see October 4, 2002). Initially, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il says he will allow United Nations weapons inspectors to look over his nation’s nuclear facilities, but that offer will not last. [BBC, 12/2007]
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sends a letter to President Bush saying, “If the United States recognizes our sovreignty and assures non-aggression, it is our view that we should be able to find a way to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demands of a new century.” The Bush administration has already ignored one recent proffer from North Korea (see October 27, 2002); it responds to this one by cutting off the monthly shipments of heavy fuel oil as mandated by the Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). In turn, North Korea declares the Agreed Framework dead. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239]
Senior Bush administration officials say that their private hope for curtailing North Korea’s “rogue” nuclear weapons program (see January 10, 2003 and After, February 4, 2003, and August 2003) is for regime change—for the dictatorship of Kim Jong Il to fall. One official says the best way to deal with North Korea is to, in essence, use economic and diplomatic embargoes to “starve” the Kim regime. Providing Kim’s government with food and oil, even in return for nuclear concessions, is “morally repugnant,” the official says, and he does not believe North Korea will willingly give up its nuclear weapons anyway (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002). “If we could have containment that’s tailored to the conditions of North Korea, and not continue to throw it lifelines like we have in the past, I think it goes away,” the official says. “It’s a bankrupt economy. I can’t imagine that the regime has any popular support. How long it takes, I don’t know. It could take two years.” (Numerous Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and State Department official John Bolton have all said publicly that North Korea’s regime is bound to collapse sooner or later.) When asked what the North Koreans will do during that transition period, the Bush official replies: “I think it’ll crank out, you know, half a dozen weapons a year or more. We lived with a Soviet Union that had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, including thousands of them pointed at us. We just have to cope.” Asian and American nuclear experts are horrified by the Bush administration view. As New York Times columnist Bill Keller notes, the argument “has some rather serious holes. First, North Korea, unlike the Soviet Union, will sell anything to anybody for the right price. Second, a collapsing North Korea with nukes may not be as pretty a picture as my official informant anticipates. Third, if this collapse means a merger of the peninsula into a single, unified Korea—that is, if South Korea becomes a de facto nuclear power—that will bring little joy to Japan or China.” Another Bush official says that if North Korea shows signs of expanding its nuclear arsenal, a military strike to eliminate that threat would be considered. “The only acceptable end state [is] everything out,” he says. To tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea would send a message to Iran (see February 9, 2003) and other nations: “Get your nuclear weapons quickly, before the Americans do to you what they’ve done to Iraq, because North Korea shows once you get the weapons, you’re immune.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
The US takes part in another round of multilateral negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see April 2003). The US has failed to destabilize the North Korean government, and the North Koreans have been unsuccessful in luring the US into bilateral talks. Instead, both sides agree to “six-way” talks that include Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea.
Heavy Restrictions on US Negotiators - US chief negotiator Jim Kelly is finally permitted to meet one-on-one with his North Korean counterpart Li Gun—for only 20 minutes, and only in the presence of the other delegates. This time, Kelly is allowed to chat briefly with Li in a corner. Kelly is also forbidden from making any offers or even suggesting the possibility of direct negotiations. Kelly’s fellow negotiator, Charles Pritchard, will later recall that Kelly was told to start the chat with Li by saying: “This is not a negotiating session. This is not an official meeting.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write: “For the previous year-and-a-half, the State Department had favored a diplomatic solution to the Korea crisis while the Pentagon and key players in the [National Security Council] opposed it. The August meeting in Beijing was Bush’s idea of a compromise—a middle path that constituted no path at all. He let Kelly talk, but didn’t let him say anything meaningful; he went to the table but put nothing on it.” But even this level of negotiation is too much for some administration hawks. During the meetings in Beijing, Undersecretary of State John Bolton gives a speech in Washington where he calls North Korea “a hellish nightmare” and Kim Jong Il “a tyrannical dictator.” Kaplan will observe, “True enough, but not the sort of invective that senior officials generally issue on the eve of a diplomatic session.” An exasperated Pritchard resigns in protest from the administration. He will later say: “My position was the State Department’s envoy for North Korean negotiations, yet we were prohibited from having negotiations. I asked myself, ‘What am I doing in government?’” Pritchard had also learned that White House and Pentagon officials did not want him involved in the talks, dismissing him as “the Clinton guy.” (Pritchard had helped successfully negotiate earlier agreements with the North Koreans during the Clinton administration.) [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] A Chinese diplomat says, “The American policy towards DRPK [North Korea]—this is the main problem we are facing.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
Cheney Source of Restrictions - According to Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the restrictions on Kelly come directly from Vice President Cheney. “A script would be drafted for Jim, what he could say and what he could not say, with points elucidated in the margins,” Wilkerson will later explain. The process involves President Bush, Cheney, Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. On at least two occasions, Cheney rewrites the script for Kelly without consulting with the other principals, even Bush. According to Wilkerson, Cheney “put handcuffs on our negotiator, so he could say little more than ‘welcome and good-bye.’” In the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Cheney’s “negotiating position was that there would be no negotiations.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 185-186]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Lou Dubose, Fred Kaplan, George W. Bush, Jake Bernstein, Jim Kelly, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Pritchard, Clinton administration, National Security Council, John R. Bolton, Li Gun, Lawrence Wilkerson, Kim Jong Il
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Secretary of State Colin Powell sounds a note of disinterest when asked about the likelihood of a North Korean test of a nuclear weapon (see October 9, 2006). Powell tells reporters: “If they test we’ll take note of their test. The only reason they are testing is to scare the international community. The president has already accepted the possibility that they might test. And we will say ‘Gee, that was interesting.’” Powell adds: “The 50-year history of dealing with this regime is that they are marvelous in terms of threats, in terms of rhetoric and actions. Well, they might take an action, but this time they would be sticking their finger not just in the eye of the United States, but I think Kim Jong Il will have to think twice about whether he would do such a thing in light of Chinese involvement.” President Bush himself has answered a question about the likelihood of North Korea building as many as eight nuclear weapons by shrugging. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write that because of the complete failure of negotiations between the US and North Korea (see August 2003), “[t]he administration had little choice but to act as though nothing was wrong.” [Business Week, 9/22/2003; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
During a campaign stop, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is questioned by Pennsylvania voter Cedric Brown, who demands that Kerry identify the “foreign leaders” he reportedly claimed support his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After). Kerry responds: “I’ve met with lots of foreign leaders, but let me just say something to you, sir. Just a minute. Just a minute,” gesturing to the audience to allow Brown to continue speaking. “I’m not going to betray a private conversation with anybody and get some leader—they have to deal with this administration” (see March 15, 2004). Brown then accuses Kerry of colluding with those unnamed foreign leaders to “overthrow” the Bush presidency. The exchange becomes somewhat heated, with Brown calling Kerry a “liar” and asks if he secretly met with the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, an assertion advanced by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh (see March 17, 2004). The exchange lasts for about eight minutes. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will perform an in-depth analysis of the media coverage of the Kerry-Brown exchange, and determine that while the mainstream media (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others) generally cover the exchange by reporting both sides fairly evenly (ABC’s coverage tilts towards favoring Kerry’s point of view while CBS’s gives Bush the advantage—see March 15, 2004), the conservative media they analyze (Limbaugh, Fox News, Fox’s Hannity & Colmes, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page) report the story from Brown’s viewpoint, and work to both denigrate Kerry and marginalize mainstream reporting. [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; New York Times, 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5-6]
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh joins the Wall Street Journal in demanding that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry name the foreign leaders who have supposedly secretly endorsed his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After, March 15, 2004, and March 15, 2004). Limbaugh goes further than the Journal by stating that he believes Kerry’s foreign endorsers are enemy heads of state. “[L]et’s name some names,” he says. “Bashar Assad in Syria, Kim Jong Il in North Korea.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The assertion was ridiculous on its face, and Limbaugh undoubtedly knew it was. Underlying Limbaugh’s trope is the assumption that any leader who would criticize US policy must be an enemy of the country.” Jamieson and Cappella will extend their argument by writing: “Importantly, introduction of the names of villainous foreign leaders exemplifies a rhetorical function that Limbaugh and the conservative opinion hosts serve for the Republican Party: expanding the range of attack by marking out extreme positions that by comparisons make the official position of the Republican candidate or party leaders seem moderate. At the same time, if some in Limbaugh’s audience take the allegation of actual talks with heads of outlaw states serious, as [conservative voter Cedric] Brown appeared to (see March 15, 2004 and After), then the association reinforces, if it does not actively shape, that person’s view that Kerry’s assumptions are extreme and disqualify him from serious consideration as a presidential contender.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 19]
A third round of the six-nation talks between North Korea, the US, China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan are held in Beijing. The talks begin promisingly, with the US offering to provide North Korea fuel aid if it freezes and then dismantles its nuclear program; Secretary of State Colin Powell meets with North Korea’s Foreign Minister, Paek Nam-sun, in the highest-level talks yet between the two countries. But the talks devolve into exchanges of insults between the US and North Korean leaders; George W. Bush calls Kim Jong Il a “tyrant” and Kim responds by calling Bush an “imbecile” and a “tyrant that puts [Nazi dictator Adolf] Hitler in the shade.” [BBC, 12/2007]
While Christopher Hill, the Bush administration’s new chief envoy to Southeast Asia, is overseas trying to shore up relations with North Korea, President Bush undermines Hill by publicly insulting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Kim “is a dangerous person,” Bush says. “He’s a man who starves his people. He’s got huge concentration camps. And… there is concern about his capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon. We don’t know if he can or not, but I think it’s best, when you’re dealing with a tyrant like Kim Jong Il, to assume he can.” In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will note that while Bush’s allegations against Kim are largely true, to publicly insult him is to make it that much more difficult to persuade the dictator to give up his nuclear weapons (see August 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 243]
As part of a panel discussion at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Aaron Friedberg, the deputy national security adviser for Vice President Cheney, says that the most dire ramification of the ongoing six-party talks over North Korea’s nuclear program (see August 2003) is that North Korea’s Kim Jong Il would remain in power (see May 4, 2003). Author J. Peter Scoblic will write in 2008 that Friedberg does not seem to realize “that the six-party process was not designed to oust Kim—and could in fact only succeed in stopping the North’s nuclear program if the regime was assured of its survival.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
In an abrupt reversal, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il apologizes for his country’s nuclear test (see October 9, 2006). He reportedly tells a Chinese delegation that he regrets the test, denies any plans for further tests (see October 11, 2006), and says he is willing for North Korea to resume its participation in international nuclear negotiations if the US agrees not to “financially isolate” his country. For their part, US State Department officials say they doubt Kim made any such statements. But the US is willing to rejoin negotiations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, “The Chinese are emphasizing the need for six-party talks to begin again and for the North to re-engage in the talks.” North Korea “urged us to be open to returning to those talks without preconditions, which for us is not difficult.” [MSNBC, 10/20/2006]
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