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Remarks of Chairman Tom Lantos at Hearing on North Korea

Jan 18, 2007
Press Release
Verbatim, as delivered

Seven years ago, one of our nation’s strategic thinkers outlined a new and bold approach to the North Korean challenge. He said the United States should pursue a comprehensive and integrated approach towards the nuclear and missile programs of what so many had come to accept as “the Hermit Kingdom.” But this time, we would be equally prepared to wield both carrots and sticks to entice the hermit into a meaningful dialogue.

Pyongyang’s verifiable steps to eliminate their nuclear and missile programs would be met with a package of incentives – structured in a carefully-modulated, step-by-step fashion. And if Pyongyang refused to negotiate a verifiable deal, America and its allies would move assertively to contain the North Korean threat and protect international security.

I am very pleased that the author of that groundbreaking and tough-minded plan – former Secretary of Defense Dr. William J. Perry – is here with us today to present his views on the forward course with North Korea. Given the dramatic increase in the threat posed to the United States by Pyongyang over the past seven years, one must wonder if our national interest would have been better served by fully implementing Dr. Perry’s thoughtful recommendations, instead of deriding any and all foreign policy initiatives of the Clinton Administration.

The initiation of the Six Party Talks was smart policy, but the deep divisions within the Administration have hobbled the negotiations from day one. Until recently, the Administration seemed satisfied with sending an American delegation who read canned talking points instead of engaging in a meaningful dialogue.

I have great confidence in Ambassador Christopher Hill, but I must wonder whether Pyongyang -- having witnessed the first few years of this Administration -- has already made the strategic decision to delay serious negotiations until the next president is on the job. It is my hope that this is not the case. But North Korea’s decision to test a nuclear device just three months ago would seem to indicate that a deal may not be in the offing.

In the meantime, we must have a simple goal: We must work assiduously to keep the door open for diplomacy. Ambassador Hill must be given maximum flexibility to deal with the North Koreans to advance the ball towards a verifiable and comprehensive deal. I was very encouraged by Ambassador Hill’s comments yesterday in Berlin opening the door to an eventual bilateral dialogue with the North Koreans on normalization of relations after the nuclear issue has been resolved.

In order to break down decades of mutual mistrust, we must also open up new channels of communication between North Koreans and the American people through increased cultural contacts.

I will continue to do my modest part. I have led two substantive trips to North Korea to meet Pyongyang’s negotiating team, and relations with my hosts at the highest levels of government improved significantly over time. I will return to North Korea again this spring to underscore the importance of continuing a meaningful and substantive dialogue between our two nations with the goal of establishing a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

Concrete progress towards a comprehensive deal may prove elusive unless we return to the approach outlined by Dr. Perry seven years ago – sustained, high-level, carefully-calibrated, and reciprocal diplomacy. Short of this, we may very well see additional nuclear and missile tests from the North.

I am delighted to acknowledge the outstanding contributions made to peace on the Korean Peninsula by our second witness today, Ambassador James Lilley. As Ambassador to South Korea, and subsequently China, Jim Lilley played a crucial role in developing and implementing American policy in the region for decades. We greatly appreciate his penetrating insights into the North Korean regime, and his recommendations on how we can improve our policy towards the Korean peninsula.

As our two witnesses today know very well, North Korea policy is bereft of easy options – military, economic or political. That said, the North Korean nuclear and missile threat is on a sharp rise, and it is imperative that our nation find a way – with the cooperation of China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia – to check this threat before the security of North Asia is further destabilized.

The stakes are enormous. North Korea could sell bombs or plutonium to third parties. It could complete a large reactor capable of producing 10 bombs every single year. And nuclear proliferation in Asia could be on its way. We must prevent this from happening.

Before turning to our witnesses today, I would like to recognize the distinguished Ranking Member of the Committee, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for her opening comments.

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