News

[EXCERPT] DoD News Briefing

Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA) Tuesday, April 22, 1997 - 2 p.m.

Q: Regarding the defector Hwang Jang Yop, it was reported
yesterday that he had spoken about plans by the North Korean
military to attack and burn the countryside of South Korea, and
there was some mention of a possible nuclear component to this
attack. So I would ask, while the South Koreans are
interviewing him, debriefing him, does the United States have an
immediate interest to ask the South Koreans, or jointly interview
this gentleman, Mr. Hwang, about the North Korean nuclear
capability and whatever plans they might have to use such
capability? Is that not urgent? 

A: It is certainly of great interest to us. The South Koreans have
promised to share their information with us and also they have
made it very clear that we will have our own independent access
to defector Hwang. 

Q: But will we be willing to wait until we have independent
access, or would we be asking the South Koreans for
whatever... Certainly the burning question is nuclear, right? 

A: It is one of several questions we have, yes. 

Q: And we would want to know whatever they find out
immediately. 

A: To the extent that it's been reported in the press, we have
one version of what he said already. As I said, we work very
closely with the South Koreans; we're allies on the peninsula;
and we will also have a chance to talk with him independently. 

Q: Do you have a time frame of when you'll be able to talk to
him? 

A: I think we'll probably let the South Koreans talk with him for
awhile. I would guess it would be several weeks. But in the
meantime, they'll be sharing information with us. 

Q: Have you not been talking to him over the course of the last
month? 

A: They have not really started systematic discussions with him
prior to his arrival in South Korea, as I understand it.
Remember, he was in Beijing for awhile, and it's my
understanding that there wasn't much communication with him
then. Then he moved to the Philippines; now he's in the Republic
of Korea. I think there will be ample time for both the South
Koreans and for us to talk with Mr. Hwang. 

Q: While he was in the Philippines, did the U.S. have a chance
to talk to the North Korean defector? 

A: No. 

Q: You've not spoken to him at all up to this point? 

A: I believe that's the case, yes. 

Q: Does the U.S. have independent verification of what we read
today that indeed the North Koreans have a nuclear capability? 

A: Our intelligence community obviously has looked very closely
at that. At around the time of the Framework Agreement which
was designed to shut down their nuclear program, we believed
that they had generated enough plutonium to make at least one
nuclear weapon. I checked before coming in here in The
Military Balance put out by the International Institute for
Strategic Studies, and they phrased it this way, referring to the
Framework Agreement. "It is generally believed that the North
Korean nuclear program is frozen. Although there can be no
absolute assurance that it does not already possess a small
number of nuclear weapons." 

Q: Does the U.S. agree with that statement? 

A: As I said, our intelligence people who have assessed this
believe that they probably, that they could have generated
enough plutonium to make at least one nuclear weapon. 

Q: Could have. But did they? 

A: I think I'll stick with what I said. It's pretty clear. 

Q: What are we to make of what is the fairly startling piece of
information? 

A: We've been talking about... We clearly regarded the North
Korean nuclear program as a threat. In 1994, we were
preparing a major surge of our forces over the question of
whether the North Koreans, to compel them to stop what we
believe was work on a nuclear program. We succeeded in
forcing them to stop through negotiations. That led to the agreed
framework agreement. We believe that they have frozen their
nuclear program since 1994 and that that program remains
frozen. There are inspectors who have been in and out of North
Korea looking at their reactors. As you know, as part of the
framework program there are a number of events that have to
take place in terms of supplying fuel oil and in terms of building
less threatening nuclear reactors to generate power. That
process is ongoing now. 

But I can't move the ball beyond what we said back in '94 and
have said since, and what I said today. 

Q: Do you consider this report fairly troubling, then? You're not
disputing it... 

A: I consider the North Koreans' military capability troubling.
The United States does. We have 37,000 troops in South
Korea. They have the world's fourth largest army. Fifty percent
of it is arrayed along the demilitarized zone. They have extensive
artillery trained on South Korea; they have missiles, we know.
They have worked very hard to build dangerous and threatening
weapons. That's one of the reasons we're trying to engage them
in four-party talks, to lead to a peace agreement on the Korean
Peninsula. 

Q: [What about] Minister Hwang's assessment that, or his belief
that North Korea is preparing for war and intends to go to war
-- if I read the statement that is credited to him correctly. Is that
an intent which surprises, worries, how is that... 

A: First of all, we have in connection with the Republic of Korea
very strong defenses and very robust military forces in Korea
today. Those forces, since 1994, have been improved in several
very specific and meaningful ways. We've improved dramatically
our counter-battery radar -- for instance, our ability to locate
artillery shooting at us and to fire back at it very, very quickly.
We've improved our helicopters. 

Q: That's not what I'm trying to get at, Ken. 

A: We do not see today nor have we seen recently any signs of
increased military preparedness on the part of North Korea.
Indeed, one of the... Although this is a very powerful,
threatening, and certainly serious military force arrayed against
the Republic of Korea and against our own forces, the general
level of exercise and training has fallen off somewhat in the last
several years from what it had been in the past, and we attribute
this, in part, to the impact of their economic problems. 

But I want to make two points. One, it is a very significant
military force. It is now, and it has been in the past, and we
believe it will be in the future. And two, we do not see signs of
increased preparedness today. 

Q: It seems to me that his statement was more directed, rather
than at a systematic, logical escalation on the part of North
Korea, but more a level of mental intent on the part of the
leadership whereby whether they were ready or not, whether
they had made mass preparations or not, it still might be a more
live possibility than many of us who have been watching this for
a long time might have thought. That's what I'm trying to get at. 

A: I can't psychoanalyze defector Hwang, and I certainly can't
psychoanalyze the state of mind of the North Koreans. Suffice it
to say they have a significant military force; it's a force we take
very seriously; and it's a force we have worked very hard to
counter. We believe we have a very powerful defensive force
that could respond extremely quickly with devastating power to
any attack they made against us or the Republic of Korea. We
have in the last three or four years taken a number of actions to
improve the ability of our forces there. Secretary Cohen was
recently in Korea. Some of you traveled with him. He had a
chance to assess first-hand in his meetings with General Tilelli,
his visit to Osan, his visit to the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp
Casey, he had a chance to assess with his own eyes and ears
the readiness of these forces. They're extremely ready. They're
well prepared. 

But as I say, our goal now and in the past and in the future will
be to convince North Korea that it is futile for them to think of
military solutions to the problems on the peninsula. Instead, they
should agree to sit down and negotiate with the four parties, the
other three parties, toward a peace agreement on the Korean
peninsula. 

Q: (inaudible) Did they ask to join the interview? 

A: I'm not aware that they asked us if they could join with us. I
have read the same report you've read, and I would just refer
you to the Japanese government on that. I cant' speak for the
Japanese government on what their plans are. 

Q: Do you know whether this August report that he wrote is
detailed enough to allow the U.S. to verify whether or not they
do have nuclear weapons since he named the site. Did he name
any specifics that would allow you to then figure out whether... 

A: I do not know that, no. I can't answer that question. 

Q: Secretary Cohen said, "The United States will have access to
this defector to find out what's in the hearts and minds of the
Korean leadership." 

I take it that the U.S. government regards Hwang as very
credible, is that correct? 

A: He has been the leading ideologue of North Korea, which is
a state that seems to live more on ideology than food, so he's
been a very important person. I think we take the information
we can get from any defector seriously. He is a very high level
defector, so we will, obviously, listen with great interest to what
he says. 

Q: Do we believe he's telling us the truth? 

A: Well, that's one of the things we'll have to find out. But that's
one of the reasons we want to talk to him ourselves. 

Q: Just to make sure I understand something way back at the
beginning. Do you believe there's a possibility that North Korea
holds weapons grade plutonium outside of the agreed IAEA
program that was supposed to freeze their capacity and their
nuclear infrastructure? Did I understand you right? You believe
there's a possibility they hold weapons grade plutonium outside
of that regime? 

A: Let me repeat what I said earlier, because I want it to be
exactly what I said before. Our intelligence community believes
that they may have acquired enough plutonium to make at least
one weapon. I don't think I want to go beyond that. That's been
our stance for several years, and it remains our stance. In
addition, I read to you a public statement that anybody can
ready from The Military Balance 

Q: Would that not be a violation of the IAEA agreement,
however? 

A: We are talking about what happened before the agreed
framework agreement. We believe that their nuclear program
has been frozen as of the time that agreement was signed which,
I believe, was in October of 1994. We believe that they have
honored that agreement since October of 1994. That
agreement, the framework agreement, was a huge diplomatic
achievement because it shut down what we worried was a
nuclear program. But the agreement only took effect in October
of 1994 and their program pre-dated that agreement. 

Q: But you believe the plutonium is frozen somehow within the
confines of the monitoring capability that was set up by that
agreement? 

A: That's not what I said. I said we believe they may have
generated enough plutonium to build at least one nuclear
weapon. 

Q: Did you know that before the October '94 agreement was
signed? Is that grandfathered in somehow? 

A: There was no grandfathering to allow them to continue a
nuclear weapons program. The entire point of the Framework
Agreement was to shut down a program that we believed was
designed to allow them to produce a nuclear arsenal, and we
succeeded in shutting down that program. 

Q: But the agreement does not prohibit them from maintaining,
from holding the plutonium that they may have already had. 

A: I'd have to go back and look at the agreement, but our
assessment of their program is exactly what I told you. 

Q: Was that assessment made before October '94? That you've
just read us about... 

A: Yes, it was. 

Q: I understand everything you just said, but can you answer the
question whether or not you believe they hold any nuclear
material outside of the framework agreement? 

A: You've asked me that question. I answered the question the
way I answered it. I have nothing to add to my answer. 
.......

Let me just say here that the agreed Framework Agreement was
signed in Geneva on October 21, 1994 and it provides that the
North will halt and eventually dismantle its nuclear weapons
program to ensure a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. But the
timing is open to question. What the agreement does is state the
intent, but it does not have a deadline.