Stephen Biegun, Soojin Park, and Ross Tokola break down various dimensions of United States-Korea relations and their connection to other major regional powers, including China and Japan. January 21, 2022.
0:00:10.7 John Ciorciari: Welcome everybody to this special event on diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula. I'm John Ciorciari, I'm the director of the International Policy Center in the Weiser diplomacy Center here at the Ford School. And this is our lead off event for a Midwest Korea symposium, supported generously by the Korea Foundation. Our symposium gathered students from Albion College, from Wayne State, from Ohio State and here at the University of Michigan. And tomorrow we'll have some student activities including an expert panel with experts from the Wilson Center in the East West Center in Washington, as well as a simulation ran by the Korea Economic Institute on North Korea and today's keynote open to the wider UM community will tackle that subject. No one better to share analysis on North Korea diplomacy than our guest today, Steve Biegun. Secretary Biegun is a proud graduate of the University of Michigan where he studied Russian language and political science. He has more than 30 years of international affairs experience in the public and private sectors. From 2019 to '21, he served as deputy secretary of state, confirmed by the senate with a remarkable 90-3 bipartisan vote, a rarity these days, but a testament to the great respect that he has earned in Washington.
0:01:27.7 JC: Before that, Secretary Biegun served as US special representative for North Korea, directing US policy and leading diplomacy on North Korea. Among his many other important roles, he served as national security advisor to senate majority leader, Bill Frist, executive secretary of the National Security Council, chief of staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a senior staff member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Right after the Cold War in the early 1990s, he served in Moscow as the resident director in Russia for the International Republican Institute. Before his recent government service, he was vice president of International Governmental Relations for Ford Motor Company. It's wonderful to welcome Secretary Biegun back to the Ford School. He'll start today by offering some brief remarks, I'll then ask some questions to get the conversation started before opening to your questions, which you are able to enter through the Q&A box at the bottom of your screen. So, Secretary Biegun welcome back to the Ford School, we look forward to your comments and to a great conversation on North Korea.
0:02:30.8 Stephen Biegun: Well, thank you very much John and thank you to the Ford School and the University of Michigan as well as to the Korea Foundation. This is an excellent and timely subject for consideration. For those like me who continue to follow North Korea closely, you'll have seen plenty of recent signs that this issue is going to find its way closer to the top of priorities for governments around the world. And so it is a very, very timely consideration of what the issues are, how we can tackle them and how we can break through the current stalemate, which quite honestly has persisted since this diplomacy began in 1994 with fits and starts and us and others getting close but not getting across the finish line. I regret, but understand the necessity that we had to shift at this conference to a virtual format. The symposium would have been great to do in person and certainly to do on my beloved home of Ann Arbor on the campus but I recognize it's the case and I think it's probably also a timely reminder of the circumstances and conditions that we have to operate in in terms of international diplomacy, from approximately February of 2020 through the end of the previous administration just a year ago yesterday, we were virtually unable to meet with the North Koreans to continue our diplomatic endeavors because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
0:03:58.6 SB: In fact, North Korea reacted with one of the most draconian quarantine and isolation policies of any nation around the world. Truth be known, imposing significant economic penalties on themselves and their own people to do so, but desperate to protect the North Korean population from the ravages of the pandemic for which they had little protection and not much healthcare to help them in the case that the virus began to spread. And so one of the considerations and I'll make a few points here in the course of my remarks, but the intention will be not just to share some perspective and some experience of what's been tried in the past, but also very much to inform the participants in the remainder of your symposium, who're going to be working through a set of issues tomorrow, some of the challenges around diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula, to help them put themselves in the place of what are the constraints today and how could we possibly undertake the kind of diplomacy that's necessary to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
0:05:05.1 SB: So before we get into our exchange John, I thought it would be useful maybe for me to spend a few minutes talking about three broad sets of issues. The first is some of the choices, some of the obstacles, some of the barriers, some of the considerations that diplomats have to make as they embark upon diplomacy with the North Koreans, particularly American diplomats. Second, I'd like to very briefly describe the choices we made in the Trump administration and assess on where we succeeded and on where we failed. And lastly, maybe just a couple of comments on how this issue of diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula fits into the larger US South Korean relation, US-ROK relationship. I know we have an informed and expert community joining this discussion. I'll frequently refer to DPRK and ROK rather than South Korea, North Korea, only because that was not only the training that I had, but also in the case of North Korea, they do prefer to be referred to as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. And it has becomes so ingrained to me that that's how I do, but in case the terminology confuses anybody, which I hope it does not, that's my inner thoughts.
0:06:27.6 SB: You know, the first question, you have to grapple with in embarking upon diplomacy with North Korea is who's gonna be at the table, it sounds like a simple question, but it's not. Of course, we wanted to be at the table... The United States and we wanted North Korea at the table. But the Korean Peninsula is actually a divided peninsula between North Korea and South Korea, between ROK and DPRK. And ROK is a sovereign country and we're talking about issues that are fundamental to their livelihood and to their safety and future security and so you have to have the ROK at the table with us in that discussion. So when you start into this, you start with the US and DPRK, then you add the ROK, but then you begin to feel the pressures around the previous rounds of diplomacy and the shared interests in the region from the Japanese and the Russians and the Chinese. And fairly quickly, you could get yourself six parties at the table that the construct of diplomacy conducted decades ago was the six party talks.
0:07:30.4 SB: Beyond that, you have many interested parties who aren't necessarily in the region, but the European Union... The European Union is very interested, you have the members of the UN Security Council who are interested in the developments on the Korean Peninsula and of course, many of our European countries who are also our allies in NATO or allies like Australia in the Indo-Pacific have a deep interest. And so as you think about who is at the table, you also have to think about how the North Koreans see this and the DPRK, I think in their first preference would like direct talks with the United States of America. Historically, they've sought to downplay the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea, South Korea and also at times, North Korea has had tensions with China and so as we entered into this round of diplomacy, we started with a direct US-DPRK negotiation, another challenge or another consideration you have to make, is how to structure that diplomacy, the Trump administration, it's well known, chose leader-level diplomacy as its opening gambit in a summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un in Singapore that produced the first leader-level agreement in the history of US-DPRK diplomacy.
0:08:54.5 SB: It was long said in rounds of negotiations by North Korean counterparts, that if the leaders could agree, then all things were possible. And this proposition was tested, there was a four-part joint statement released with commitments of the leaders that I'll come back to in a moment. And so the process did start at the leader-level, but we also felt it absolutely essential to have sustained working-level negotiations because of the complexity and nuance in these issues and also mindful of the fact that past diplomatic agreements fell apart because of the lack of detail or agreement on what exactly the meaning or requirements were for the agreements. And so we sought also to layer a substantial amount of working-level negotiations like in that case by me and my team. There's the question of whether you in that face-to-face contact, whether you prostrate, the North Koreans tell you what their priorities are, you tell them what your priorities are. Or, something they have a very strong preference to, which is you simply write down everything you want them to do, you write down everything you're willing to do and you forward that to them and they pick from it like a menu and send it back to you.
0:10:06.3 SB: Generally reshaping it to almost be a one-sided set of agreements and we saw... We had an experience with this during my tenure as well, in 2018, after a summit meeting between the President of South Korea and Chairman Kim at the DPRK, a joint agreement called the Comprehensive Military Agreement was agreed to. It was a set of commitments to: Reduce tensions on the dividing line between North and South along the DMC, military pull back, certain types of equipment not to be positioned, exercises restructured to avoid provocative behaviors. It was unbalanced, I think, a very constructive agreement. I think it took some positive steps, like eliminating some of the guard posts that stood between North and South Korea that potentially became sources of provocation in the past, but in the end, when you assessed the Comprehensive Military Agreement, it actually ended up being a series of commitments that South Korea made to North Korea. It was very little that North Korea did under the terms of that agreement, I'm not criticizing the agreement, 'cause I think it was an important first step and we hope to build on it with some additional commitments that the North Koreans might make in later rounds of diplomacy, but nonetheless, that's the paper offers where you slide it back and forth.
0:11:22.0 SB: And the risk there, of course, is also you begin negotiating with yourself, you say, "Hmm, this is asking too much of them, maybe I should ask for less or I need to offer them this, maybe I need to offer them more, because that way then they won't come back." You begin strategizing and you begin negotiating with yourself and it's a real challenge to negotiate through that way versus a face-to-face exchange and within those forms of engagement, there's different models and these models come with, are fraught with political histories of themselves: Step-by-step, Salami slice, Libya Model, All-for-All, Unilateral Sanctions Relieved, all of these things are models that are tied to lengthy policy debates and philosophical divisions, they're undermined by a lack of trust on both sides and they each have slightly different nuances in how you would proceed. In step-by-step, you might say, "Okay, the North Koreans get rid of 10 missiles, I'll lift some sanctions." That's a simplistic example, but that's step-by-step. Another way those step-by-step is the North Koreans say that in the next 10 years they're gonna get rid of all of their missiles and they're gonna get rid of 10 this year, 10 the next year, 10 the next year and we're gonna lift these sanctions each year in parallel with what they're doing, a step-by-step approach towards an agreed end point.
0:12:49.5 SB: The Libya model, which generated a lot of storm and rain during my tenure, essentially it's actually a misunderstanding what happened in the removal of weapons of mass destruction in Libya first, but what it's interpreted to mean is, the North Koreans would get rid of all of their weapons of mass destruction first and then we would consider whether or not to lift some sanctions and improve relations and so on. Salami slices description, it's usually used to describe how the North Koreans would like to proceed with diplomacy, which is giving the minimal commitment, slicing the Salami so thin and then getting rewarded each time they make a step, always leaving themselves plenty of capacity to reverse themselves. All-for-All, which, was at least under consideration and got some discussion at the final or the most important summit being between President Trump and Chairman Kim in Hanoi Vietnam in 2019, All-for-All would be, we're gonna lift all the sanctions, you're gonna get rid of all of your weapons of mass destruction, we're just gonna resolve all of these issues in one fell swoop. And as tempting as that is in as much as I would have loved to have seen that, the consensus build around that, it was impossible to believe that the North Koreans would ever do that.
0:14:11.4 SB: Once you get into the construct of diplomacy and how you're going to proceed then you have to also figure how to sustain communication with the North Koreans. This is extremely difficult. North Korea does have some foreign embassies around the world, but they don't have an embassy in the United States of America, although they have a diplomatic representation at the United Nations and that has been the principal way through which the United States has communicated with North Korea in recent decades, is referred to as the New York channel and here in the United States, the diplomat at Department of State has a phone number for a North Korean diplomat there, we have a designated person to maintain that communication, usually the calls come from the North Koreans somewhere between midnight and 4 AM, 'cause they're usually decisions being made and directives being issued immediately out of Pyongyang and so it was not uncommon for our designated communications person to have their phone, cell phone ring in the middle of the night with a message from the North Koreans. But the North Koreans would turn that channel on and off depending on how happy they were with the course of the negotiations or as a point of leverage, to try to force us to produce some unilateral incentive, just simply to resume communications.
0:15:25.5 SB: A constant challenge, constant challenge was the lack of communications and even when we were able to engage with our North Korean counterparts and sit down with them and talk, the significant challenge was the very, very strict limitations that North Korean negotiators were under. When I met with North Korean counterparts in Vietnam, almost two years ago now, they had no authority to discuss issues related to the central most important issue for us in the entire negotiation, the elimination of nuclear weapons, they were absolutely unwilling and unable, had penalty of severe punishment to have any discussion whatsoever on those topics and so we could discuss a number of other peripheral, important but peripheral issues, but we spent four days fruitlessly trying to get to the heart of the most complicated and important matter in this diplomacy. But they had a different strategy that their leader was going to come and try to present a specific offer to our leader and close the deal in that way in a manner and style that would have been quite favorable to them. Now, one of the things you have to be extraordinarily sensitive to in working with North Korea, is your care and your precision in your communications.
0:16:49.3 SB: The system does not allow any sort of perceived insult or slight particularly regarding the leadership of their system, to go unaddressed, to not address that or to not respond explosively to any perceived insult or slight about their system or their leadership, would again lead their negotiators to face the most severe punishments upon their return. But of course, as long as we could maintain a respectful dialogue and have that extreme care in how we communicate and we could avoid those kind of flare-ups and I'm proud to say that we never had a single one during the eight rounds of diplomatic engagement with the North Koreans.
0:17:30.3 SB: But I also was very mindful that the strength of the United States system is our agility, I could go and sit down in these negotiations and I could test different ideas and different propositions to see if we could make progress, to create progress in different ways, something that my North Korean counterparts with their strict instructions had absolutely no ability to do. But conversely, back home here in the United States of America, I had to deal with a sprawling democratic government and a democratic society in which there were... Any number of voices constantly opining or stating views or policies on how we should approach North Korea and this could provide both the source of confusion and also some opportunity for the North Koreans to exploit to say that we couldn't deliver on a certain commitment or to respond selectively to what they heard coming out of the congress, the White House, the State Department, the media, the think-tank community and so on. Our strength in America is our agility in these negotiations, our weakness is our communications discipline and the exact inverse is true, the exact reverse is true for the North Koreans.
0:18:35.3 SB: Their strength is their message discipline, they literally only say what they're instructed to say but they have absolutely zero agility or flexibility in the negotiations. So the way that I communicated with them... I'll come to that in a moment. Just a couple of more thoughts on... As you think about how to engage North Korea considerations. I mentioned that the essential issue for us is denuclearization and even within denuclearization, the simplest definition would be yeah, sure, you completely eliminate their nuclear weapons program and also you eliminate the means through which they construct them, but it's far more complicated than that. You have the question of verification, how do you verify, how do you prove, how do you have the confidence that they did remove all the technology and all the weapons before you begin lifting sanctions and perhaps even enriching the North Korean economy through cooperation and assistance. You have a question of whether or not to involve the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, which is the gold standard of inspections in non-proliferation and denuclearization and the North Koreans were extremely worried about the IAEA, so we had to find a creative way to get around their neuralgia for the world's most respected Nuclear Inspection Agency.
0:20:03.1 SB: We had to grapple with what's called "the declaration" how do you identify the breadth of the program before you begin to dismantle it so that you have, on one hand, a list of everything they have and on the other hand, you then can verify that you've eliminated it. The North Koreans argued that a declaration would be tantamount to giving us a targeting list in the case the negotiations went sideways and then we could use it simply to use force to eliminate their weapons of mass destruction program. The North Koreans were very interested in something that I could never bring myself to support, but it has a logic to it and it's worthy of consideration, is whether we need to tacitly accept North Korea as a nuclear-weapons state, which it is, in a sense that it has nuclear weapons, and set aside the ambitions to completely eliminate that through denuclearization and instead pursue a strategy of arms control, limitations, reductions, transparencies, etcetera.
0:21:08.8 SB: Leaving to another day, perhaps a long way away, the actual elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. There are increasing numbers of advocates for this, as I said, it's not a policy that I would support, not just because I am a determined believer in the non-proliferation objectives of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but also because it would set loose in East Asia nuclear ambitions for other countries who both saw the opening created by North Korea or feared the implications of North Korea being an accepted or tacitly accepted nuclear-weapons state. How long would it be before the people of Japan or the people of South Korea or the people of Taiwan begin demanding nuclear weapons programs of their own to defend their own security and deter North Korea from such an attack.
0:22:03.1 SB: And we also had a challenge that when we talked about denuclearization we also meant two other very serious areas of North Korea weapons programs; biological weapons and chemical weapons, both of which independently pose formidable challenges both for our diplomacy and for our efforts to bring a safer environment to the Korean Peninsula. The North Koreans, for their part, demanded a number of things from us that are on the front page of the debates today, in fact, I mentioned earlier that this was a very timely session because of the growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and some recent North Korean short-range ballistic missile tests and also policy pronouncements suggesting... Hinting at that they might, in fact, unilaterally lift the moratoria that they'd put in place on the testing of nuclear weapons and the testing of long range intercontinental ballistic missiles. What the North Koreans have constantly called for is the United States to abandon its hostile policies towards North Korea, you'll read again, even in the press today, US spokespeople protesting the United States does not have a hostile policy towards North Korea, we certainly don't intend to attack or go to war with them.
0:23:23.5 SB: But the North Korean's definition of hostile policy includes our joint military exercises with our South Korean allies, it includes the military equipment that we sell and deliver to the South Koreans to defend themselves, it includes US military capabilities to include nuclear capabilities that do exist in East Asia. We don't have nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, but we have submarines and we have ships that have nuclear weapons that sail the waters of East Asia, we just saw a nuclear submarine surface at Guam, one of the first public sightings of a US nuclear submarine since 2016.
0:24:02.7 SB: These, in North Korea's views, are US nuclear weapons in the theater of North Korea. And then also they complain about further investments and developments in the United States of our own nuclear weapons programs and our own missile tests, putting themselves as equals with us and asking for us to take the same steps that we're asking of them. Formidable challenges in the diplomacy, I can assure you. Just a couple of last things on the diplomacy, one is managing the environment that you are in, one part of that is the three-dimensional world of first, negotiating with North Koreans, but second managing the expectations and the demands of allies and partners in the process and then the third is as a representative of the president, the executive branch, answering the mail from congress, which may have its own views and being available to come up and do oversight and to face scrutiny of our elective representatives and the congress on whether or not our policies, in their view, are sufficient to defend United States' interests.
0:25:15.1 SB: I will say I had excellent interactions with the congress, but it was aided by the fact that many of the issues that I worked on were highly sensitive and could only be discussed behind closed doors in secure settings, but when you took this out of the public eye, in that respect, the level of intelligent, thoughtful feedback, engagement with our members of congress was extraordinary, they're very knowledgeable, but when you took the political element out, it was a much more substantive negotiation. That's one element of the external... The last element that I wanna touch on is the public world in which you're operating, constantly being reported on, constantly having commentary from former diplomats, I now fit into that category, from experts, from think-tankers, from political attacks.
0:26:10.4 SB: A diplomacy with North Korea is controversial, it's controversial here in the United States. I got my fair share of criticism during our efforts. And in South Korea, it's a central political issue in the campaign for the next South Korean president, the voting which will happen in just over a month and North Korea policy, North Korea diplomacy is even today one of the most volatile political issues there. There are third parties, third-party interlocutors, there's business people, former diplomats who speak to the North Koreans constantly delivering messages back and forth and then also there's NGOs and non-governmental organizations who have priorities such as human rights and insist that this be accorded a sufficient level of attention with respect to American values.
0:27:02.1 SB: None of these are influences that are impossible to manage and none of them, frankly, I would be critical of. It's just a complex environment you're operating in when you're trying to pursue diplomacy. I'm gonna come back to this at the very end with just a comment for your students who are gonna be doing the exercise, but let me very briefly tell you the choices we made, so I mentioned we did a leader-level approach and then we followed it up with the working-level, we launched with a joint statement in Singapore at President's first summit with Chairman Kim Jong-un and that joint statement had four specific commitments; to transform relations between our two countries, to build a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, to achieve the complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and what was narrowly described as recovering the remains of American soldiers and Marines who fell in the Korean War and whose remains were not recovered was later expanded to people in humanitarian assistance. We tried to deliver fast progress, we wanted to have some low-hanging fruit that we could very quickly establish positive momentum, we wanted to set up four separate work streams, one on each of these four priorities that came out of the Singapore joint statement.
0:28:18.4 SB: The way we decided to do this was to have a starting point with some first steps and an end state that defined how we would end. So denuclearization for example, we would early on get inspectors into North Korea, the North Koreans would freeze the existing program and then we would set much farther out on the calendar when we would actually eliminate the nuclear weapons program, but the idea was to identify the starting point, the end point and then work the roadmap on how you got from start to finish, the same could be said for transforming relations, we wanted to put US diplomats into Pyongyang immediately. Eventually, the end state would be the full diplomatic recognition of North Korea by the United States of America, that might have been a long way away and had a lot of other issues, but we would have defined the starting point, the end point and some early steps to proceed. I know that you distributed for your participants at the symposium in advance, my speech that I delivered at Stanford. Let me first say that one of the ways that we dealt with this challenge of communications between the United States and Korea, is I only delivered prepared remarks during my tenure as North Korea negotiator.
0:29:32.9 SB: You'll remember that one of the locations I chose for those remarks was the University of Michigan in Ann arbor in the fall of 2019. John, when I did those remarks, I was of course speaking to the assembled students and faculty and interested parties here at the University of Michigan, but my remarks were primarily directed at the North Koreans and I heard them. I got a response from that speech that I delivered from a podium here at Hill Auditorium on the campus of University of Michigan, the North Koreans were listening to everything, but the Stanford speech, the reason why I suggested you share that, for those of you who haven't read it, I would encourage you to. That was where we were telegraphing to the Koreans how we wanna do this. And I have to say the feedback for that was also quite positive and so positive that I was sitting in Pyongyang less than a week after I delivered that speech in Palo Alto, California and my counterpart had a copy of it on the table in front of him and we had delivered it to them. We decided in these different roadmaps, work streams, we were gonna pursue parallel and simultaneous progress, that's the main theme that you would have heard in the Stanford speech and our idea was to advance on improving relations or peace on the peninsula, denuclearization or people to people.
0:30:54.2 SB: And if one slowed, the other could carry the load and that we could build a multi-vector approach to this that would keep forward momentum even as we ran into difficult issues which we were sure we would especially in the denuclearization. In advance, we priced for what we would give up in return for what we would want the North Koreans to do, if they were gonna give us a missile, we were gonna give them X, if they were going to shut down a uranium enrichment facility, we were gonna give them Y and so on and so on. We priced for everything so that we could parse out our leverage in a manner that would effectively get us well down the roadmap of denuclearization, but we were prepared to give them relief if they were making progress on North Korea... Excuse me, on denuclearization, as long as they agreed to the end state, as long as we were constantly making progress towards that eventual goal of complete denuclearization.
0:31:51.6 SB: We worked very hard internally through all this also to speak with a single voice in the United States government. We tried. We weren't perfect at it, but we did reasonably well and we did it by empowering the state department inside the inter-agency and empowering the special representative, my position, inside the state department so that we could have almost dictatorial control over our messaging albeit within a robust, sprawling democratic government and also with an entire branch of government that was beyond our ability to control our congress. So that's what we tried to do. We got very close. And I have to say there were moments in Hanoi, really which was the pivotal summit between the United States and North Korea, we had moments where I thought we could get there, but in the end and in part because of some of the confusing messages we were sending, I have to say in all fairness, I have to accept that criticism, in part because even though you want a process and you want a sustained engagement, things kind of come to a head, they reach that peak, that acne where it's decision time. And when we got to decision time, the North Koreans weren't ready.
0:33:13.1 SB: And I think they weren't ready for a couple of reasons, one is they couldn't contemplate what success meant for their system. And I think that's a fair judgment on their part, that if Kim Jong-un, who is a totalitarian dictator who runs a single-party state with extraordinary repression, if he were to broker an agreement that opened North Korea to trade and tourists, that eliminated its nuclear weapons, that brought peace to the Korean Peninsula, that transformed US relations and US diplomats and embassy in Pyongyang, it is very hard to picture how that totalitarian dictatorship could be sustained in that environment. It thrives on isolation, quite honestly, it thrives on hardship, thrives on parsing out benefits in its society and rewarding and punishing its citizenry and to think that those tools in that system could be sustained in the aftermath of the type of offer that we were offering the North Koreans, which was a bright future, unfortunately, the North Koreans weren't prepared to accept that.
0:34:29.5 SB: I'll be more than happy to answer more questions on North Korea diplomacy, but those are the somewhat... I think somewhat pedantic points I wanted to share, because I do think they're important considerations for your participants in some of the exercises you're gonna be doing tomorrow. Let me just briefly touch on that last point that I said I would, which is where this fits in the US-ROK relationship, us and our South Korean allies. First of all, the South Korea-US alliance is a historic and durable agreement that defends both of our interests on the Korean Peninsula and increasingly, in East Asia. It's a vital part of America's national security interest. It's immensely popular in South Korea as well and I'm optimistic that it has a bright future, but it does have some challenges. First, in the course of the Trump administration and all credit to the Biden administration, there was quite a debate over how to balance cost-sharing inside the alliance. And there are two views on this, one is that the United States is an equal beneficiary of the security that comes on the Korean Peninsula and therefore needs to be an equal contributor.
0:35:42.8 SB: A more transactional view which was held by the previous president was that we are basically there and we need to be paid to be there to defend the South Korean people. And those are two very fundamental points of departure in what the alliance means and drove two very different approaches between President Trump and President Biden as to how to resolve the issue of cost-sharing, but the Biden administration very early in their tenure successfully did resolve that cost-sharing for a five-year time frame and so we have a little bit of time to figure this out before we have to debate it again.
0:36:20.9 SB: And there are some things we have to sort out. First on the South Korean side, very important to them is resolving the issue of when the command of military assets and personnel on the peninsula falls exclusively to the South Koreans, what's called wartime operational command transfer or shorthand, wartime OPCON transfer. This is a subject of lengthy debate over when the South Korean military will be capable of commanding the forces on the Korean Peninsula. It's an issue that's very important to the South Korean political class and the South Korean military because they are a sovereign country, it's their country and it's one that the US military also has very deeply held views that South Korea has to be able to demonstrate the capabilities and the competence to do so in both its leadership capacities, but also in its ability to manage complex military operations and so this is a subject of some tension that needs resolution on the Korean Peninsula. Another issue that is important to the United States of America is for South Korea and Japan to resolve their differences so that the United States and its two most important allies in East Asia, its two allied partners in East Asia, can operate successfully in a trilateral manner.
0:37:51.0 SB: Another issue that's now bedeviling the US-ROK relationship is the approach towards China. The United States has made a clear determination that it is gonna be a competitive relationship and at times... Hopefully not, but at times possibly even adversarial with the People's Republic of China. South Korea has deep economic ties with China. A political decision to shift in that direction by South Korea has economic implications for South Korea and also, South Korea is very close to North Korea as well and so the United States and South Korea need to have some lengthy discussions on aligning how we are going to respectively work with China or react to China, but also, together as an alliance, what is our role gonna be in the larger strategy of addressing the rise of Chinese power in East Asia.
0:38:47.0 SB: And then there's some other issues such as a role for South Korea in the Five Eyes agreement, the intelligence sharing agreement among the leading democracies, but the English-speaking democracies exclusively currently, that is probably the premier intelligence organization in the world. There's a question of whether or not there's a role for South Korea in the quad that's evolved in the Indo-Pacific, the United States, Australia, Japan and India, clearly the missing party there is India, excuse me, is South Korea. But is there a role for South Korean Quad? Should it become a quad? Should it incorporate our other US military ally in the Indo-Pacific? And then also the recent development of the US, Australia, UK agreement, the AUKUS agreement, built around intelligence sharing and building nuclear subs, each of these agreements uncomfortably exclude South Korea. And so as we look at our diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula, we also have to anchor that in a larger US-ROK relationship that is capable of delivering on providing security for the peoples of both of our countries. So John, I think I will wrap it up with that and let's... At your pleasure, let's jump into Q&A and then I'll be happy to answer questions from anybody else participating in the virtual meeting.
0:40:18.8 JC: That sounds wonderful, thank you for those really great and helpful remarks both in thinking about how to approach the diplomacy as a practitioner and also giving us a very comprehensive view of the political factors that shape diplomacy around North Korea. I have a few questions and those of you who are watching in the audience, you can at any point feel free to enter questions in the Q&A function, which we'll get to in just a moment. But let me start with a few about... Questions about the most recent events on the peninsula, as you mentioned North Korea tested some tactical guided missiles this week, the fourth missile test this year including a few with hypersonic weapons and yesterday the North Koreans sent a signal hinting that they may resume nuclear and long range ballistic missile tests that have been paused since 2018. What's the military significance of these tests and based on past experience, what are their likely political objectives?
0:41:15.9 SB: So, I don't think we can be complacent about the things that you are describing. Clearly North Korea is beginning to ramp itself up and generally they tend to have a plan that they've thought through in advance to escalate towards a certain goal. They are dramatically improving their short-range ballistic missile capabilities, without a doubt. And they're spending by the way, enormous resources to do this. I don't have at the tip of my fingers the number, but it's in the millions and millions of dollars that they spend for each one of those individual missiles to build them, that they've been testing and firing into the sea. And so you go back to the probably now two dozen launches that they've done, you think about a country enduring such privation and hardship at a moment like this and it's spending an enormous amount of resources.
0:42:14.1 SB: But it's doing so with some return, these short-range ballistic missiles seem to me to be significant weapons, they certainly have the ability to inflict significant harm on the Korean Peninsula, to our allies in South Korea, but also I think it's fairly clear that they can reach a sufficient distance to reach Japan. And if you draw a circle around with the radius of the range of these missiles, which I think tends to be around 500 or 600 miles, certainly in that crude circle, you're gonna have tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of American citizens as well living, working, operating station in military bases in the region.
0:43:01.2 SB: So the threat of those is significant and the question is and this is debated, if you've been reading any of the recent literature, there's a debate that often breaks out is, "Are the North Koreans testing these systems to send a signal? Is it a political statement or are they testing these systems to test these systems?" To paraphrase Siegmund Freud, sometimes a missile test is just a missile test. They may just be trying to advance more sophisticated capabilities on the Korean Peninsula. We shouldn't be complacent about it, but it isn't lost on anyone in the region that short-range ballistic missiles won't reach continental United States of America. Not by launch. Now intercontinental ballistic missile will get the attention of a lot more Americans. You remember back to 2017 during the period of fire and fury and even that terrible mishap on the State of Hawaii, when the person who ran the civil defense system accidentally triggered an alert that a North Korean missile had been fired at Hawaii and caused several hours, at least a lengthy period of panic on Hawaiian islands because of that mishap.
0:44:13.0 SB: That'll get a lot of people's attention and the North Koreans know that. But it'll get attention for North Korea that it doesn't want as well. Now, it's very hard for me to conceive of how we could make the sanctions on North Korea any more punitive than they are. We have exhausted the ability of the United States in and of itself to impose pressure on North Koreans. But the Chinese still have significant leverage with North Korea, whether the Chinese would react or overreact to a North Korean ICBM test, I think would remain to be seen. But my experience during my period of diplomacy with North Korea, which I worked very closely, I would say even in partnership with Chinese counterparts, a nuclear weapons test, it really crosses the red line for China. So if I guess where the North Koreans are heading, it very well may be towards an ICBM to really grab the United States by the collar and shake us and say, "Start responding to our demands." The problem is, we can't respond to those demands without them sitting down to talk with us and it is a dilemma how we would do this when the North Koreans have largely given the Biden administration silent treatment for a full year.
0:45:38.0 JC: That actually gets on very nicely to my next question, which is about sanctions in response to the tests, as you know, the Biden administration has imposed new sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes on five North Koreans involved in the nuclear program and I believe it was just yesterday that China and Russia stalled US efforts to multi-lateralize these sanctions at the UN Security Council. How effective in your view is the current program of sanctions in shaping North Korean incentives and behavior and to what extent do China and Russia appear to be enforcing the sanctions that were laid down in that 2017-18 period when there were strong multilateral consensus?
0:46:21.6 SB: So the sanctioning of the five North Koreans was a symbolic action, I understand why. In the administration I served in there was a strong pressure to do that as well, but these five individuals were likely sanctioned for any assets they have in the United States, which they don't have or any travel outside of North Korea, which they will not do. And so in a way, it really is symbolism. It's telling North Koreans, we know who did it, but because of the overarching sanctions that are already imposed on North Korea, the practical impact of those sanctions, it's a political gesture, it's symbolism. North Korea and Russia, excuse me, China and Russia both were partners and sometimes challenging partners, but partners nonetheless, during my tenure as North Korean special representative and I have to caveat that my perceptions are now one year and one day old since I left government on January 20th of 2021. But as much as we wanted North Korea and China to effectively implement those sanctions, there were large areas of seepage that they could not or would not address. And I don't give them too much of the benefit of the doubt, because a country like China that can control the online behavior of virtually every citizen in the country surely should be able to enforce a sanctions regime against North Korea.
0:47:58.1 SB: In the case of Russia, perhaps the capacity is a little bit less, but also the will wasn't necessarily there. But also without giving them any excuse, I have to say that China and Russia are also the two countries aside from South Korea that border North Korea. In the case of China, it's hundreds and hundreds of miles and in the case of Russia, it's a little bit less, but these are easily to cross borders by smugglers and some certain amount of seepage. And then there's just criminality in the world. There's corrupt ship owners and there's tankers flying under false flag and turning off their communications and smuggling oil into North Korea. There's gonna be some certain amount of seepage anyway and because of the proximity of Russia and China, a lot of that seepage is gonna come from Russia and China. The United States can't control its border for a reasonable and legal immigration. We have a long border people across it, it's just a fact of life and that drives to some degree of the sanctions non compliance as well, but I don't think sanctions... I don't think we can add much more pressure, the Chinese could, I should say that. The Chinese could, but we ourselves, it's not within our wherewithal without the Chinese doing it to add any more economic pressure through sanctions on North Korea.
0:49:19.8 JC: Right and I have one more question before we turn to the audience and that is about on the diplomatic side, how to bring the stakeholders together. Right now, we've got Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, we've got intensified tension in the Taiwan Strait. As you alluded to, relations between Japan and South Korea are tense. In this context, based on your experience, is it possible for these big powers to compartmentalize and still be able to make serious headway on North Korea at a time when they're locking horns on so many other issues?
0:49:55.4 SB: Possible, yes. Willingness is a whole separate question though. So when I took the position as the chief negotiator on North Korea in the summer of 2018, we still had a reasonably cooperative relationship with China. In the case of Russia, the relationship had been troubled for quite a long time and it was further roiled by Russian intervention in the 2016 election, so there were tensions there. The Chinese didn't even need to compartmentalize because they shared our objectives and so we were able to cooperate even. The Russians compartmentalized and they were capable of doing that and so that worked. And I remember my counterpart telling me that this was once highlighted in a call between presidents Putin and Trump as one area that the United States and Russia could cooperate. We lost a lot of ground from 2018 to current day, that relations with China are so roiled in areas of disagreement John, that it's not just a question of can they, but will they? And in the case of China, from the beginning of the Biden administration, President Biden's approach and his White House's approach, which is very practical was, look, let's understand we're gonna be competing, but there are areas that we agree on, we should work together, climate change, North Korea, what have you.
0:51:28.0 SB: And there are issues that we're just gonna have to disagree on and we're gonna compete with you. And the Chinese response was, "No, no, that's not how it's gonna work. Either you're going to address all of our concerns or we're not gonna cooperate on anything." So it was a conscious rejection of that compartmentalization by Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi, the two senior foreign policy leaders in China. The Russians might be a little bit more interested, but quite frankly, the Chinese are the long pole in the tent on this one.
0:52:00.7 JC: Alright, thank you very much. I'm now gonna turn to some questions from the audience and the first one comes from my colleague, Youngju Ryu, who is the director of the Nam Center for Korean Studies here at UM and she asks about the account of the Hanoi Summit contained in John Bolton's latest book, The Room Where It Happened, asking how accurate you say that account is, because Bolton claims credit essentially for foiling an agreement with the North Koreans, emphasizes President Trump's or claims President Trump's inattentiveness to the matter and the influence of Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, in shaping US policy in Northeast Asia. To what extent is that account consistent with what you witnessed?
0:52:44.0 SB: So I didn't read the book, so what I can tell you rather than refute what John wrote is I can tell you what happened in Hanoi. And if I really told you the full account, it of course, would consume our entire amount of time, but let me get to the critical point, which was the failure to reach an agreement. The President... First of all, President came to this summit as prepared as he has ever been for any international event that I participated in with him and for that, I credit Ambassador Bolton. I think Ambassador Bolton and the National Security Council staff, East Asia director and my good friend, Alison Hooker, spent hours with the president pouring over intelligence reports, maps, information so that the President went into this round of negotiations with Kim Jong-un fully aware of the breath of the North Korean nuclear weapons complex and program and the size of the arsenal that we suspected they had and so the president arrived in Hanoi, fully informed.
0:53:49.4 SB: Ambassador Bolton really planted his flag though as he did not want any diplomacy with the North Koreans at all. Flat out he didn't. His preferred approach was an ultimatum to the North Koreans that they give up all of their nuclear weapons or else. And it was a very, very difficult time inside the inter-agency to define what the or else was. In my view, the possibility of going to war on the Korean Peninsula to face the complete destruction of South Korea in a matter of hours at the onset of hostilities was not a viable option. It was the dilemma that we faced. I remember my good friend, HR McMaster, Ambassador Bolton's successor, saying once that it's wrong to say that going to war is not a choice, 'cause it's always a choice. It may not be a good choice, it may be a horrible choice, but it's a choice. But Ambassador Bolton never completed that kind of thought process on therefore, the approach would be what? Because as I've said, we've absolutely exhausted the sanctions that we could put on North Korea, other than military action or perhaps a campaign of subversion, which would have its own risks incidentally because if the North Korean government collapsed, it could be calamitous.
0:55:21.3 SB: Not that we should be supporting this regime, but the rapid collapse of this regime with its huge capacity in weapons and mass destruction could potentially be chaotic and calamitous. So when the president arrived in Hanoi, he wanted a deal and that crossed Ambassador Bolton's red line, 'cause he didn't want any deal at all, but the president wanted a good deal. And here, I again credit Ambassador Bolton, because the president understood when he arrived in Hanoi what a good deal was and so when Chairman Kim offered him a proposal, which would be to have us lift all the sanctions that were imposed against North Korea in exchange for one portion of the North Korean nuclear weapons program to be discontinued, but implicitly, to allow North Korea to continue to hold its nuclear weapons and to continue to produce enriched material and weapons in other facilities that they might have outside of the facility Yongbyon that they agreed to close.
0:56:21.4 SB: Now, when that was tabled, the president understood because of his preparation intuitively that that was a bad deal. We would essentially become the underwriters of the North Korean nuclear weapons program and so the president over the course of the two days tried to tease out from Kim Jong-un and more. At one point, it was almost, I paraphrase, only slightly a question of, "Can you give more here or can you ask for less?" And Chairman Kim kept robotically repeating the offer that he had brought to the table. And I sat there in the back of the room and I thought, oh, my gosh, this guy could change history right here, this North Korean leader. He could fundamentally change the direction of events on the Korean Peninsula. But he couldn't move. He couldn't pivot. He didn't have that flexibility, as I described earlier.
0:57:13.5 SB: And I think... And as I've thought about this in the two years since, I just don't think he'd made the decision yet, I don't think he was ready. I don't think he was ready to match what the president was willing to do. So when the president finally felt like he had exhausted those possibilities, he didn't turn to Ambassador Bolton. He turned to the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and he asked the Secretary of State what he thought and the Secretary of State said, "I think we're close, but I think the gap is still too big." And the president said to Chairman Kim, "Yeah, the gap is too big. We've got to close this... We gotta get this gap closer. Let's have our people continue to work on this. This has been a good meeting, I think we understand each other's views and positions, but we've gotta just keep working at it and let's keep working at it."
0:58:00.4 SB: When we left that meeting, our hopes were that that would be an opportunity to build off that and take it further and everything that was discussed in Hanoi is still, I think, extensively on the table for the Biden administration and the North Koreans. But it didn't die because there was a saboteur in the room or somebody whose ideological purity was such that they were able to shift the president's thinking. The president made that decision. And I was actually very proud of my president that day. He had looked at it and we went into the hold room, we went... We took a break, one last break before we came back to conclude the meeting and the president had all of his senior people there, the secretary of state, me, his National Security advisor, Ambassador Bolton, he had his Senior Director for Asia, Matt Pottinger and Alyson Hooker there. He had his chief of staff there. And he went around one by one, he said, "This is not a deal that I'm inclined to take, but you tell me what you think." And he went around... Unanimous view among all the president's advisors, the North Koreans simply weren't ready. They hadn't brought enough to the table and so that's how it ended. I don't know what John wrote in the book. I'm sure it was very flattering to the role he played and I do give him a credit, as I said, for some important parts of the preparation, but that's how it played out.
0:59:24.6 JC: Thank you. Very informative and I want to now combine a pair of questions...
0:59:29.4 SB: And I was in the room.
0:59:32.2 JC: [chuckle] I wanna combine a pair of questions. One is from one of our great MPP students Sarah Godak, who asks how the pandemic and also the various phases of it have affected China-North Korea relations. And Katie Decker, an outstanding Ford School grad, who served in the US government asks, should we interpret the announcement this week that Chinese brokers say they're going to resume regular trade with North Korea, combined with the recent missile tests, as evidence that the North is back open for business and is trying to reassert itself after a quiet period amid the pandemic?
1:00:13.1 SB: So I was deeply involved in the early stages of the pandemic, because the outbreak happened initially in China. It was an international issue, of course, our health authorities were involved. I was in a daily meeting with Dr. Fauci, Dr. Redfield and the assembled experts on COVID-19, but because it was in China, it was very much a focus of state department and one of the early decisions we made was to halt travel between China and the United States and hope that we could contain the spread of the virus in the United States. In hindsight, it came through Europe, primarily, into the United States of America incidentally, so unfortunately, the horses had already bolted. It was a tough decision, but the president made the decision to freeze travel or halt travel between the United States and China and China wasn't happy. They felt like it was ostracizing them. They felt like it was punishing them and obviously it was uncomfortable. But I noted that only one country beat or equaled us with the speed to close travel from China and that was North Korea. North Korea immediately closed its borders to China.
1:01:26.3 SB: Now you have to understand the North Korean population is extraordinarily challenged in matters of health. The spread of disease, the lack of immunizations, vaccinations, poor nutrition. A variety of factors contribute to a weakened population without any significant healthcare available to them, except in the urban areas, in particular, in Pyongyang. But in the countryside, tens of millions of North Koreans exist with very little medicine. And so if this virus got into North Korea, it would be terrible. It would be like the grim reaper. People's resistance is low, their healthcare system is weak and they were right to be afraid of the consequences. But they reacted with such a draconian response. Their quarantine period was 30 days, for example, things like that, that were just draconian. They completely closed the borders and that did start to create some additional tension. Not only was China unhappy with the abrupt closure of the border, but then over the course of the ensuing months, the North Koreans wouldn't let Chinese diplomats in or out of North Korea or anyone else's diplomats. And finally, after much badgering and much pressure, the North Koreans allowed groups of ambassadors to leave.
1:02:50.7 SB: And the reason they didn't even wanna let them leave, which ostensibly would not spread virus inside the country, was that there had to be some point of interaction at a border or elsewhere. And so you may have even seen the videos of Russian diplomats pushing a handrail car across a bridge from the North Korean border into Russia to evacuate from the Russian embassy in Pyongyang. It's an amazing YouTube video to watch. Just in recent months, huge tensions behind the scene have grown between North Korea and China, because North Korea wouldn't let China send a new ambassador into Pyongyang, again, because of this almost paranoid level of fear of the presence of COVID-19. And so there were tensions between China and Russia, excuse me, between China and North Korea. North Korea rejected Chinese humanitarian assistance.
1:03:47.4 SB: They rejected trade. They rejected goods. And this gets to Katie's second question. The Chinese, excuse me, the North Koreans appear, from what I can tell, from where I sit today, to have put together a sophisticated quarantine facility on the border with China in which goods are literally gonna sit out in the open for weeks in order to de-fumigate and they'll be sprayed and disinfected. And this will probably be things like grains, fertilizers and other goods. By the way, all legal trade and just to be clear, while there are draconian sanctions against North Korea, there are large parts of trades that are legal and not prohibited by the UN Security Council resolutions, including fertilizers, including foodstuffs in particular and many other goods as well. The idea wasn't to starve the population of North Korea and bring it to its knees. It was to limit the capacity of the North Korean regime to fund and supply a weapons of mass destruction complex.
1:04:47.0 SB: So the Chinese who fear instability on the Korean Peninsula at the heart of this, a North Korean collapse would be viewed in Beijing as calamitous as well, not just the chaos and the possibility of loose weapons of mass destruction, but also the political consequences and the longer term resolution of the division on the Korean Peninsula could settle out in a way not advantageous to what China perceives to be its interests. God forbid, in Beijing's view, that the Korean Peninsula is unified as a democracy and allied with the United States of America. That would be in Beijing the nightmare scenario that would keep them awake at night.
1:05:35.6 SB: So North Korea trade is important to China to stabilize the North Korean economy. They wanna provide food. They wanna sustain the regime. They may not want it to thrive and they may not want it to test ICBMs or nuclear weapons but they definitely don't want to see the hardships get to such a point that the North Korean regime collapses. Katie, what I would say is the more noteworthy thing, though, when it comes to recent developments in China over the last few weeks, is increasing mention by Chinese officials that the course of diplomacy should be six-party talks. Again, the return to that construct I talked about earlier from the first few years, during the Bush administration in the early 2000s. That China is beginning to hint at that suggests China, which, by the way, the six-party talks were led by China... Suggests that China is beginning to show signs of wanting to assert itself as the lead broker for diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula.
1:06:41.2 JC: Thank you. I wanna shift back to the question of how the United States communicates with authorities in Pyongyang or intersects with North Korea. And Jordan Incorby asks the question of what role Sweden played in your diplomatic efforts, given that Sweden serves as the US protective power in Pyongyang?
1:07:00.5 SB: Yeah, so my Swedish counterpart was a tremendous partner. The Swedes are trusted by the North Koreans. Sweden was the first country to recognize North Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War. But North Korea's also... Excuse me, Sweden's also a well-regarded and widely respected democracy in the West. And so they serve as a perfect intermediary and they played a very important role in our diplomacy. I have to say that some of the most important meetings, two of the eight meetings that I had with North Koreans during my tenure as Chief Negotiator were brokered by and held in Sweden. They were the authors of the last gasp effort in October of 2019, when we met once more, our final time before the onset of the COVID pandemic early the next year. It was not a successful meeting, but it was through energetic diplomacy by our Swedish counterparts that we were able to... After the collapse of the Hanoi Summit, but then slightly resurrected by the meeting at the Panmunjom Village, DMZ, between the president and Kim Jong-un in the summer of 2019, we were able to pull together one last negotiating round. But at that point, for a variety of factors, I think we were doomed to fail. We tried, but I think we... But I have to give all credit to the Swedes.
1:08:37.4 SB: My first meeting in Sweden happened in January of 2019. And they funded a level of security to put us in an isolated kind of conference center with the North Koreans to be able to have our first substantive... Really substantive engagement with them and the Swedes spared no expense. I give them great credit. And if we're ever successful in diplomacy with North Korea, I have little doubt that there will be Swedish fingerprints on the endeavor.
1:09:14.0 JC: Of course, in addition to a high-level diplomatic context, there are other ways that the United States tries to engage with North Korea. And Reddicka Aurora asks, to what extent public diplomacy initiatives, either blessed by or at least tolerated by the US government, have moved the needle on US-DPRK-ROK relations, such as exchange programs, journalists traveling to North Korea and so on?
1:09:37.9 SB: They've played a very, very important... Those types of initiatives that you described have played a very important role in kind of softening the rough edges and finding areas of potential opening between the two societies. I have to say with deep, deep regret that the COVID-19 pandemic, of all the tragic and unfortunate consequences of this terrible virus, one has been in our ability to engage in effective diplomacy with many countries around the world. The president of the United States has not sat down with the leader of China a year into his presidency. He's met once with the Russian president under extraordinary COVID constraints. And it's just so difficult to advance this kind of diplomacy virtually on video links. So you mentioned journalists. You mentioned, we have people-to-people exchanges, exchange students, with some risk. We had the tragic, tragic killing of Otto Warmbier. And so there's some risk attendant in these types of engagements as well.
1:10:46.2 SB: But also Track Two and Track 1.5 dialogues, where officials and former officials or just former officials get together, it generates a significant amount of creative thought, a sense of where the openings are. It's a very important informal part of communication and it has delivered on more than one occasion. It has given birth to official level engagement. For my part, I depended heavily upon it. And again, for the last year of my tenure, it all went away, just with every other COVID restriction for over a full year and possibly still to this day, although maybe it's softened now. Not a single person crossed from outside North Korea into North Korea. So any North Korean that would leave North Korea couldn't come back. I mean, the pandemic controls were draconian. So this was a huge loss and hopefully we can get past that. But North Korea has a very, very low vaccination rate. The pandemic is still raging around us. I have to say, I'm a little bit pessimistic on when we might be able to return to those kind of opportunities.
1:12:00.6 JC: And while the United States is looking for possible ways to re-engage with North Korea, of course, it's also trying to engage with its own allies, in some cases, to pressure Pyongyang. And Will Kylum asks the question of, what the United States can reasonably do to help alleviate the tensions and sometimes outright enmity between South Korea and Japan over issues such as the history issue or trade war issues?
1:12:27.3 SB: Well, I have to say that it is a difficult issue and one that is vulnerable to political exploitation in both systems. It's anchored around a troubled diplomacy, around questions of when is an apology enough? When is an apology sincere? And I have very, very good friends in Japan and South Korea that... People who I respect immensely who struggle with resolving their feelings on this issue even now. I had a respected South Korean [1:13:10.1] ____ visiting me once when I was at the State Department and he was trying to explain to me and there's a moment of anger at Japan. And he said to me, "You have no idea what they did to our forefathers." And I said, "Sir, just to be clear, you mean what their forefathers did to your forefathers." And that just illustrated for me the fundamental gap that... It was tragic what happened on the Korean Peninsula at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army. But something that the Japanese government have also apologized for and offered restitution for.
1:13:53.9 SB: So this is a big challenge for us. These are two great democracies. These are two countries that, if we could work and hit on all cylinders together, all of our interests would be advanced in the Indo-Pacific. But the challenge of overcoming history is one that for many cultures and societies, that is quite difficult to do. So I hope it can be resolved. But there's continued signs that this remains an area of contention. I mentioned that North Korean diplomacy is a contentious issue in the presidential campaign in South Korea that's underway right now, so is relations with Japanese, relations with Japan. And I'm afraid it's not gonna go away soon. What we really need is some incredibly good statesmanship on both sides to find a way through this issue to permanently resolve it.
1:14:47.4 JC: Thank you. Our next question from Julia Fedanelli brings us back across the Pacific to US domestic politics and changes between administrations. From your experience, to what extent do you think North Korea relies on or anticipates differences between administrations and responds differently across Democratic and Republican administrations or across different leaders, Obama, Trump, Biden? Or do they tend to perceive the United States as having a relatively consistent line toward North Korea?
1:15:23.0 SB: The former, not the latter. They think about our politics a lot. As early as 2019, every time I got together with them, any sidebar conversation was about who's gonna win the next election. And they were intently focused on whether or not President Trump would be continuing in office after 2020. And because one of the things that they feel is an advantage for them is they think time is on their side. So if you're Kim Jong-un, who I think just turned 36 years old and he sees his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, who lived to the age of 80 or so, he's still looking at a 45 year horizon. Assuming that the norms of that systems are sustained over a period of time. If he's got to wait out a president for four years, that's doable. But on the other hand, if they are getting into a serious negotiation where commitments are gonna be made, they wanna know that there's gonna be a consistent execution and implementation of those commitments across the number of years it would take to fulfill.
1:16:28.6 SB: And an election could create an uncomfortable interruption in that, as it did, for example, with the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, between administrations. And by the way, that lesson wasn't lost on North Koreans either. So they're deeply focused on this. When I said that I think perhaps the final meeting in October of 2019, probably was in hindsight, not gonna deliver much of an outcome anyway. And one of the things that was on my mind I didn't go into was the fact that North Koreans were already going into a bit of a retreat to see what happened in our presidential elections, which were at that point, just a year away.
1:17:14.7 JC: Great. We've got time for a couple more questions. And so I'm gonna ask two more I've got here, one is from Brendan Flynn, who is joining us from Wayne State for the simulation. Welcome, Brendan. And he asks, you alluded in your opening remarks to the challenge for North Korea of actually accepting the benefits that would come from sanctions relief and trade and the possible destabilization of the autocratic regime. What steps could be taken to enable North Korea actually to accept the risks of opening to increased commerce with the world?
1:17:50.9 SB: Yeah. So of course, there are models that they could emulate. As an American diplomat and anchored in the realities and the responsibilities as an American diplomat, I could never and would never advocate for, No, you can still be a dictator, we'll get this done and your dictatorship will survive. Now our president did do something that he had carefully considered in many of his communications, particularly some of the famous tweets. He would send a message to Chairman Kim through... Before he was off Twitter, he would send a message to Chairman Kim and he would often end it with "under your rule" or "under your leadership" that we will transform relations under your leadership. The president wanted to reinforce the subtle message that we were not trying to advocate regime change. We had a primary concern here, which was nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. That was our laser focus. Of course, human rights, of course the treatment of the Korean Peninsula, the people of Korea, North Korea is a deep concern. But probably the best thing we could have done to improve human rights in North Korea was to find a way to begin the transformation out of the Korean Peninsula that in time could soften the nature of that regime.
1:19:13.0 SB: But he did have to gamble in order to make this happen, he has to do it because he wants a better future for his people. And we used the sanctions incidentally to compress his timeline, I talked about how he might look at his grandfather's record and think that he's got another 35 or 45 years to figure this out. Sanctions were intended to compress his timeline, to limit his choices, to reduce that space that he felt he had, that he can't indefinitely preside over. But it was a careful balance too, 'cause we also weren't trying to starve the North Korean people into submission. And we never believed that sanctions alone could impose enough pressure. We just wanted to reduce his choices. But the models that could be emulated are the China model, there's a model in China, there's a model in Vietnam, of a single-party state, collective leadership.
1:20:23.2 SB: I mentioned the importance of sensitivity in communicating with the North Koreans. One issue that is almost radioactive, the third rail, is to suggest that there is any system in which North Korea could be governed that is better than the one that they have now. Because they have the best one ever now. And if you ever forgot that, you were walking into a hornets' nest with your North Korean counterparts. But the truth is there were other models, something between the totalitarian dictatorship, which I have to tell you... It was, in my view and I'm a Sovietologist by background, my background is actually Russian Studies, as John mentioned at the beginning, I felt at times like we were doing the equivalent of a negotiation with the Soviet diplomats in the 1930s during Stalin's terrors. In the margin and literally quaking at times in the negotiations for fear that they weren't delivering on their instructions. And so that system isn't going to survive successful diplomacy. But there's a lot of models for how societies transform themselves and create a better future for their people. Vietnam is one of America's closest friends in Asia today. We don't agree on the nature of their government, but it also doesn't keep us from working together.
1:21:47.0 JC: That's great. And our last question actually flows nicely from that, I'm gonna combine questions from Joe Wheeler at the Ford School and Soojin Park, who's our guest expert from the Wilson Center and they both have to do with how you deal with negotiations with Kim Jong-un or other senior North Korean officials on a person-to-person level. One aspect of this is how you, in your role as a diplomat, negotiate with somebody who's guilty of terrible atrocities and whom you may have serious moral and personal reservations about. And the second part of the question is Soojin's reference to another talk you gave in which you alluded to the limited knowledge that Chairman Kim and others have about say, the IMF or World Bank or other opportunities for North Korea to be able to get assistance. How do you manage to in a sense educate the person you're negotiating with in a context of such great sensitivity?
1:22:48.5 SB: Yeah. So I think the first responsibility as an American diplomat is to understand those deficiencies, those... Deficiencies isn't even a sufficient word for prison camps and executions and murders and poisoning and so on. Go in with your eyes wide open, but keep your eye on the primary objective. If we could eliminate the nuclear weapons program in North Korea... One of the things that we are challenged with as a democratic society is prioritizing in our diplomacy or in our international relations. It doesn't have to be a tawdry trade off, we don't have to ignore human rights, for example, to make progress on nuclear weapons. But we have to sort out for ourselves what is our primary, what is our secondary, what is our tertiary interest? And can we address those in a way sequentially to resolve and create more opening and opportunity? We had a view that our diplomacy with North Korea could be an iterative process where we started out with very little space, but in time, the more things that we could work through, the more space we could create and we could get to a point where we could have a dialogue, for example, on human rights and so you have to keep your eye on the ball.
1:24:15.3 SB: Of course, I could have sat there and felt that I was engaging with people who had done inhuman things, but instead I chose to sit down and think about those humans. Many of the people I worked with were raised within that society, raised within that system, that's what they know, that's what they were born to. Did they make trade-offs in their life or choices, did they choose a course that was personally beneficial over a course that was courageous or honorable or principled? I don't know and it wasn't my responsibility to judge. I had to treat them like human beings and I did.
1:25:00.4 SB: Including and right up to, Chairman Kim, who I accepted him for what he was, but I also had my eye on the ball on what my responsibility was as an American diplomat. Educating, informing are certainly things that one has to be very cautious of, again and sensitive to with our North Korean counterparts, but sharing experience is a very good one. Models of comparison, bad, 'cause again, there's no system that's better than that system in their thinking and you're asking for a fight, for example, to make a comparison of how Kazakhstan got rid of its nuclear weapons and was more secure at least, that argument could have been made up until about two months ago. And you couldn't use the Ukraine argument anymore either for that matter, but you teach through sharing experience, you count on the tremendous benefit of what was discussed earlier, the Track 2s, the Track 1.5s, the interactions, a lot of organizations, think-tanks, the United Nations do capacity building discussions where it's not intended to teach North Koreans anything.
1:26:15.3 SB: It's intended for everybody to share and discuss their experiences, North Koreans in the room, by osmosis and by curiosity, absorb and understand these lessons and it's worked at a number of junctures in the United States and other countries' interactions with North Korea, going back... Certainly going back to the early 2000s, that's how you do it, but you do it with sensitivity, you do it with acknowledging the strictures of their system and their requirements, but you can do it.
1:26:48.9 JC: Thank you very much. Nice note to close on. We just reached 5:30. I wanna thank you, Secretary Biegun, so much for sharing your insights with us. Thank you for the participants. Of course, thank you to my staff colleagues, Dan Ellis and Suzanna Wisely for organizing the session and we will... Yes?
1:27:05.5 SB: I have one more word I wanna say and this is to your students who are gonna be listening tomorrow. I was mindful, as I was putting together my presentation today that I was gonna give you all of the strictures, all the challenges, all the obstacles, all the failed attempts at diplomacy with North Korea, but the challenge that I encourage you to take into your exercise tomorrow is to think beyond those constraints. This was one of the greatest gifts I had as a chief negotiator during the Trump administration, is for better or for worse, our president was completely unconstrained by all the conventions of what came before. And now there were times when that made a lot of people uncomfortable, but the case of pursuing with North Korea, we could try anything. And that was very liberating. So as you think through these things tomorrow, don't think about those strictures, think about what solves the problem, then figure out how you maneuver that inside the system, how you operate inside that environment that I was describing of pressures and inputs and confusions and communications, how you work with other countries to build a consensus around it. And don't accept that failure is necessarily the only option. That is what my whole team brought to the table every day and that's why we got as far as we did. We didn't succeed. I'll be the first to acknowledge that. But understand the strictures, but don't be intimidated by them.
1:28:30.3 JC: Excellent advice for the morning. Students, who are part of the simulation, we look forward to seeing you in 9:30 tomorrow morning for our panel. Please, even though we can't see you onscreen, join me in thanking Secretary Biegun for some great remarks and we look forward to seeing you all tomorrow. Thanks, everyone.
1:28:48.1 SB: Thank you, John, I'll see you tomorrow.
1:28:49.1 JC: Okay.