Results of Trip to North Korea

Representative Curt Weldon, Congressional Record (pps. H4968-H4971), June 4, 2003.


Mr. Speaker, the real and primary purpose of my special order tonight was to focus on a trip that I just led, we got back yesterday, from North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Mr. Speaker, no one from America in an elected capacity had been to Pyongyang, North Korea, for the past 6 years, and in fact the only contact we have had with the leadership of DPRK has been through our State Department diplomats. We had a team there almost a year ago, or last fall, actually, and we had our Assistant Secretary of State, Secretary Kelly, meet in Beijing to have further discussions with North Korea.

About a year ago, Mr. Speaker, I decided it was important that the Congress attempt to understand what was happening inside of DPRK, because of the tensions building between North and South Korea. I wanted to make sure we did not end up in another conflict. So I set out to take a delegation of 13 of our colleagues into Pyongyang last May.

We sat in Beijing and we sat in Seoul for 4 days waiting for the visas to be approved. They never came. The reason given by the North Korean government was that President Bush had referred to North Korea as a part of the axis of evil, and, therefore, they did not think it right we should be allowed admittance to their country.

But, Mr. Speaker, I persevered, and throughout the last 12 months traveled up to the UN on at least two occasions, met with the Ambassador for the DPRK mission at the UN, Ambassador Han, the only representative of North Korea allowed in America, and I talked to him about taking a delegation in.

Every time I met with him, as I have done in all of my contacts, I made sure I talked to the folks at the White House, the National Security Council and the State Department, so I kept them informed.

I used seven or eight individuals and groups that have contacts inside of North Korea to convey the message that it was more important for us to bring in a delegation of non-diplomats. There was an added sense of urgency because in the late summer-early fall our intelligence community gave the evidence to the State Department that in fact North Korea had an active nuclear weapons program under way, which was a clear violation of the 1994 agreed upon framework that was negotiated in the Clinton administration.

So, for all of those reasons I kept the pressure on to take a group into Pyongyang to meet with the officials of that country, not as diplomats, not as representatives of the President, not as representatives of the State Department, but as elected officials from our country, to put a face on the American people and to tell the people of North Korea that none of us want war, none of us want conflict.

Approximately 10 days ago, Mr. Speaker, at the 11th hour, after I had planned a trip to go to Moscow and then on into North Korea, we were initially told the visas were not coming forward. Then the day after we canceled that trip I got a call from the New York embassy or New York office of the mission at the United Nations and Ambassador Han said Congressman Weldon, Pyongyang has invited you to bring your delegation into my country.

Very quickly we reassembled a team, three Democrats and three Republicans, and traveled to Pyongyang on a naval aircraft. The Navy did a fantastic job in providing support to us. We left on a Wednesday evening and flew all night. The trip took us about 30 hours, with the fuel stops that we had to make in the C-9 we were traveling in, and we arrived into Pyongyang, North Korea, from a stop in Japan, at approximately 9:30 a.m. last Friday.

For 3 days, we were hosted by the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK regime.

Mr. Speaker, I would say at the outset that we let it be known going in we were not going in to represent the President of the United States, nor the State Department. We were not going in to do any negotiations. We were simply going in to put a face on America so that the leadership of DPRK that has been so outrageously nasty within their country toward America and the American people should see who we are, not as diplomats, but as ordinary people.

The three Democrats and the three Republicans who went to Pyongyang made it be known that we were not going to negotiate because that is not our position, and in fact we were going in supporting the position of President Bush and Secretary Powell; that a multilateral approach to dealing with North Korea in the end had to be the vehicle, the way to get this issue of this nuclear threat under control.

Our goal was to put the human face on, and we did. In fact, during the 3 days that we were in Pyongyang, North Korea, it was an unbelievable experience. I had asked in advance, Mr. Speaker, to visit 10 sites so that we would not just be taken where they wanted us to go, but rather we would pick the type of sites that we would like to see. In fact, half of those sites they agreed to and we visited.

One was a school, a school with 1,800 children from the age of 3 years to 18 years. It was an impressive sight, a model school for the country. But it gave us an understanding of the support of the DPRK government to educate their children.

The second was the Pyongyang Computer Center, one of three buildings in the downtown city area that are used to develop North Korea's technology and information and the use of computers.

We had to visit a film studio because the leader of North Korea, Kim Chong-Il, has a major interest in producing video productions, actually movies. He does not import any from the West for his people because society in North Korea is totally closed. So I thought it would be relevant to visit what I had heard to be one of the largest studio complexes outside of Hollywood and Orlando, Florida. We visited that site where there are 1,500 employees.

Mr. Speaker, to say the least, it was unbelievable. We were driven through the back lot. I have been through the back lot of Universal Studios, and I can tell you, that this rivaled that back lot. There were scenes for movies that could be shot about Japan, about China, about Korea, about Europe, about the West. All of these sets were established so that North Korea each year can produce between 20 and 25 feature lengths films that are shown in the movie houses of North Korea, which are all oriented toward the propaganda message and the message of the North Korean leadership. So we visited that facility. We had a shopping visit to interact with the ordinary people that were in the city. We visited restaurants.

Mr. Speaker, on the last day we were there, we were scheduled to meet with the Minister of Trade, but I asked the delegation the night before if they wanted to do that meeting, and they said not really. So I told the representative who handles U.S. issues for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that we did not want to go to the meeting with the Minister of Trade, but instead on Sunday morning we wanted to go to church.

They agreed. They picked us up at our hotel at 9:45 in the morning, and six Members of Congress went to church in a Protestant church on a hill in North Korea, in the middle of this closed society, where there were no pictures of Kim Chong-Il or Kim Il-Song, his father, but rather were crosses, and with 300 people we worshipped in a Protestant church, much like churches all over America do every Sunday morning. So we had a good glimpse of this closed society.

Let me say, Mr. Speaker, I have visited the Soviet Union when it was communist many times and I visited China under its communist system. North Korea makes those two societies in their worst days of communism look like an open society. It is an absolutely closed society to the outside world, no access to outside media, no access to newspapers, totally closed. In fact, limitation on people traveling in is also closed.

But, Mr. Speaker, we are in a tense situation right now, because North Korea has admitted publicly in our meetings that we held that they have nuclear weapons today. They admitted that they are reprocessing the 8,000 nuclear rods from their nuclear power plants and they admitted that that reprocessed nuclear weapons grade fuel will be used to build more nuclear weapons.

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that if North Korea uses the fuel from those 8,000 rods, they will have the ability within a year to build four to six additional nuclear weapons. That is unacceptable, Mr. Speaker, and that is why we have to aggressively at this point in time move in to find a common way to solve the nuclear crisis that exists between North Korea and the rest of the world.

The thing I wanted to mention to our colleagues, Mr. Speaker, is after meeting with the leadership, after meeting with the foreign minister, the speaker of their parliament called the Supreme People's Assembly and the vice foreign minister, I came away convinced that we in fact can find a way to get the North Koreans to give up their nuclear capability.

Tomorrow morning I will talk to Secretary Powell on the phone, and I will relay to him the exact details of what I think could become the basis for his experts and professionals to conduct negotiations within the context that the President and the Secretary of State have defined to allow us to move away from the brink of nuclear war.

Mr. Speaker, the alternative is unacceptable. The alternative would be for North Korea to continue to develop nuclear weapons. If we try an economic embargo, they would likely offer to sell their nuclear weapons to other nations, rogue groups, terrorist organizations. That is unacceptable.

Regime change by means of war I think is unacceptable, at least until we make every possible effort to find a way to convince the North Koreans, as President Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao have said, to have them remove nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to include the trip report, and I would like to thank our congressional delegation Members, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Ortiz), who was my co-chair; the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Reyes); the gentleman from New York (Mr. Engel); the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Wilson); the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Miller). They were a dynamic team, and together we have now brought back to our colleagues the knowledge and a fuller understanding of this nation that has been so secretive.

But more importantly, we bring back to America the possibility that we can resolve this nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula through peaceful discussions and through peaceful resolution. Hopefully, Mr. Speaker, under the leadership of our great President and our Secretary of State and Condoleezza Rice, our security adviser, we will in fact this year be able to solve this very difficult challenge in a peaceful way.

The material referred to earlier is as follows:



North Korea DPRK

The delegation was the largest congressional delegation to visit the DPRK and the first CODEL to visit the DPRK in five years. The visit occurred during a period of escalating tensions between the DPRK, the United States, and nations of the region resulting from the DPRK October, 2002, admission of its nuclear weapons-related uranium enrichment program. Subsequent DPRK withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT); confirmation of its possession of nuclear weapons; expelling of IAEA inspectors; declared intentions to reprocess its spent fuel; continued sales of missiles and technology to terrorist nations; and allegations of nation- sponsored drug trafficking all served to further raise tensions between the DPRK and the international community. The delegation visit was the culmination of over a year- long effort by Representative Weldon to gain entry into the DPRK for the purpose of engaging senior DPRK officials in informal discussions, free of the formality of traditional posturing and imposed pressures of negotiation objectives, to share mutual perspectives on the major political, military, and economic issues.

The resulting visit achieved its purpose by providing the Members an opportunity to engage senior DPRK officials (attachment 2) in lengthy, candid, unstructured, and often pointed, yet respectful, discussions, in several venues covering the complete range of outstanding issues. While discussions with senior DPRK officials included the predictable hard line rhetoric associated with recent DPRK public statements, balanced discussion took place in the formal as well as more personal informal sessions. The demonstrated goodwill and willingness to go beyond first level posturing gave the delegation reason to believe that there are options that should be considered to avoid conflict and resolve critical outstanding issues in a way satisfactory to both sides. There is unanimous agreement within the delegation that a way must be found to initiate discussions in an agreed framework at the earliest possible opportunity. Concern exists that failure to address these critical issues in a timely manner could result in the proliferation of nuclear weapons and/or technology to terrorist organizations and States. Repeated statements were made by the DPRK leadership that their brief is that the Bush Administration seeks regime change in North Korea, "The Bush Administration finds regime change in different nations very attractive . . . and is trying to have regime change, one by one. This kind of conduct damages the U.S. image in the world and weakens the leadership role of the U.S. This is the heart of the question. If the U.S. would sign a non-aggression pact, we would give up nuclear programs and weapons." The DPRK seeks normalization of relations and non-interference with its economic relations with South Korea and Japan. Chairman Weldon indicated he did not believe regime change to be the goal of the U.S.--and stated his position of not advocating regime change. The issue of regime change is seen as the determining factor in whether a peaceful resolution to the current standoff is possible.

Chairman Weldon also stated his concern that the establishment of a DPRK nuclear weapons program would lead to similar programs in surrounding nations. He cited Hu- Putin statements calling for a nuclear free Korean Peninsula. The DPRK, Vice Minister Kim, acknowledged this as a valid point, but indicated that the other nations can rely on the U.S. "nuclear umbrella," while the DPRK has no such option.

A major issue often voiced by DPRK officials remains a requirement on their part to achieve a satisfactory framework for bilateral discussions because of their belief that certain issues "are too serious" to be dealt with in an multilateral framework. The delegation believes flexibility exists within a multilateral framework to satisfy the DPRK officials desires for bilateral discussions.

Requested visits by the delegation to the Pyongyang Information (Computer) Center, a school for gifted students, Kim Il Sung's birth place, the North Korean movie studio production facilities, and a Christian church as well as casual evening social events permitted the delegation to interact with a wide variety of North Koreans and to travel to several sections of the city.

Prior to departure, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials extended an open invitation to the delegation for a return visit and further indicated a willingness to consider visits to the Yong Byon nuclear facility.

Seoul, ROK

In Seoul, the delegation was hosted by President Roh for a breakfast meeting, met with Foreign Minister Yoon, Members of the National Assembly, Ambassador Hubbard, General LaPorte, and other officials to discuss the meetings in the DPRK. The ROK officials expressed their appreciation for the efforts of the delegation and reinforced the need for dialogue with the North.


Each of the senior DPRK officials with whom the delegation met cited the importance of the visit, given the current tense relationship between the DPRK and the U.S. They also noted their understanding of the role of Congress and that the delegation was not visiting to negotiate issues for the United States, but to enhance mutual understanding between the two nations.

In each of the meetings, Chairman Weldon cited the past and continued importance of inter-parliamentary exchanges in improving relationships with nations and improving the well- being of the peoples once considered to be enemies of the United States, including the People's Republic of China and the U.S.S.R., and expressed his belief that this could be the case with the DPRK once normalized relations could be established. He also expressed his belief that no one in the Congress wishes ill-will toward the North Korean people and that no one wants another war.

Each of the senior DPRK officials noted the tense international situation and sought to place the blame on the U.S. "because the U.S. seeks to make us give up our military forces which safeguard our political system." Each of the leaders also cited their preference for the "Clinton approach" in the bilateral relationship and took strong exception to President Bush's inclusion of the DPRK as part of the "Axis of Evil." They stated their belief that such a characterization demonstrates that the U.S. is unwilling to "accommodate with our country" and the U.S. seeks regime change. "Further, the U.S. is enlisting other nations to prepare a nuclear first strike--seeking to blackmail and intimidate us . . . The U.S. does not want to coexist with us . . . And not only does the Bush Administration not want to coexist, but wishes to get rid of my nation with its nuclear strength . . . We see the U.S. preparing for a military strike . . . The U.S. must change its hostile policy." Without necessarily supporting the Bush Administration policies toward the DPRK, all members of the delegation agreed with Representative Engel's point to DPRK officials, that violations of the 1994 Agreed Framework by the DPRK were the reason for the current tensions, not Bush Administration policies.

The DPRK officials stated their belief that the situation can only be resolved by acceptance of the current leadership--coexistence--and dialogue. And in the meantime it intends to continue to develop its "restraint capability" (nuclear deterrent). "We have tried dialogue and have been patient . . . Our willingness to meet in Beijing in April shows our flexibility to allow the U.S. to save face, showing our flexibility and sincerity to resolve the issues at any cost . . . We have not had concrete results. The Bush Administration has not responded to our request for bilateral talks--they are more focused on our first giving up our nuclear program . . . This causes us to believe that the Bush Administration has not changed its policy about disarming my nation . . . We want to conclude a non-aggression treaty between the two countries and avoid a military strike on my country."

DPRK officials explicitly reconfirmed their nation's possession of nuclear weapons and repeated previous public statements regarding the reprocessing of the 8,000 spent fuel rods from the Yong Byon facility. They also indicated they will use the reprocessed materials for making weapons. They further indicated that the only option open to them, given their inclusion in the "Axis of Evil" and U.S. refusal to engage in bilateral discussions, "is to strengthen and possess restraint (deterrent) capability and we are putting that into action . . . I know some say we possess dirty weapons. We want to deny they are dirty ones . . . I apologize for being so frank, but I believe you have good intentions and I want to be frank. We are not blackmailing or intimidating the U.S. side. We are not in a position to blackmail the U.S.--the only super power. Our purpose in having a restraint (deterrent) is related to the war in Iraq. This is also related to statements by the hawks within the U.S. Administration. Our lesson learned is that if we don't have nuclear restraint (deterrent), we cannot defend ourselves.' ' DPRK officials maintained that their nuclear program is only for deterrence and not being pursued to seek economic aid--that "we only wish to be left alone. The nuclear issue is directly linked to the security of our nation . . . We need frank exchange on nuclear policies." DPRK officials indicated that economic sanctions would be viewed as a proclamation of war.