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Biden Says U.S. Should Test Pyongyang's Commitment to Peace

(Senate - October 19, 2000)
Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, today I rise to discuss the momentous
changes underway on the Korean Peninsula and to take note of the
contributions of one extraordinary American public servant to the
cause of peace there. Former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry stepped
down this month as special adviser to the President on Korea policy, a
role he assumed when our relations with North Korea were in crisis and
when congressional faith in our approach to the Korean challenge was
at a nadir.
It was a job no one coveted. North Korea ranks as one of the most
difficult foreign policy challenges we face.
It was a job fraught with risk. Err too far towards confrontation, and
you might send North Korea over the brink and start another war. Err
too far towards conciliation, and your initiative might be mistaken
for appeasement, emboldening the North and undermining political
support at home.
Under Bill Perry's leadership, the U.S. launched a hard-headed
initiative designed to test North Korea's willingness to abandon the
path of confrontation in favor of the road to peace. From its
inception, the Perry initiative was predicated on maintenance of a
strong military deterrent. But Dr. Perry recognized that deterrence
alone was not likely to lure North Korea out of its shell and reduce
the threat of war.
The Perry initiative was designed and implemented in concert with our
South Korean and Japanese allies, and it continues to enjoy their full
The results of this comprehensive and integrated engagement strategy
have stunned even the most optimistic observers.
The year began with a mysterious and unprecedented visit by Kim
Jong-il to the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang. Over the course of a
four-hour dinner, Kim made it plain that the year 2000 would see a
shift in the North's approach to reviving its moribund economy and
ending its diplomatic isolation.
In quick succession, Kim hosted Russian President Putin and then South
Korean President Kim Dae-jung. The historic Korean summit meeting in
Pyongyang was a tremendous victory for South Korean President Kim
Dae-jung's `Sunshine Policy' and a validation of Perry's engagement
strategy. It is fitting that President Kim Dae-jung was just awarded
the Nobel Peace prize for his life-long efforts on behalf of peace and
democracy on the Korean peninsula.
With the rapid emergence of Kim Jong-il from what he admitted was a
`hermit's' existence in North Korea, the prospects for a lasting peace
on the peninsula are better today than at any time since the Korean
War began more than 50 years ago. Time will tell.
If fully implemented, the agreement reached in Pyongyang by President
Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il promises to reduce tensions in this
former war zone and enhance economic, cultural, environmental, and
humanitarian cooperation.
There are encouraging signs that the summit meeting was not a fluke:
Family reunification visits are proceeding, albeit at a pace that is
slower than the families divided for 50 years desire or deserve.
Ground will be broken soon to restore rail connections across the DMZ,
restoring trade and communication links severed for 50 years.
A follow-on meeting of the North and South Korean Defense Ministers in
September led to an agreement to resume military contacts and to
explore confidence building measures along the DMZ, including
notification of exercises and creation of a North-South hot-line.
Planning is proceeding smoothly for next year's North-South summit
meeting in Seoul.
There has also been progress in U.S.-North Korean relations. An
historic meeting between President Clinton and senior North Korean
military officer Cho Myong-nok occurred this month in Washington,
setting the stage for next week's first ever visit to the North by an
American Secretary of State.
Mr. President, this flurry of diplomatic activity has been dismissed
by some critics as all form, and no substance. They marvel at our
willingness--and that of our South Korean ally--to provide food aid to
a despotic regime that continues to spend precious resources on
weapons and military training rather than tractors and agricultural
No one condones the North Korean Government's callous disregard for
the suffering of its own people. And obviously, much work remains to
be done--especially in the security realm--to realize the hope
generated by the summits. The North has not withdrawn any of its heavy
artillery poised along the Demilitarized Zone.
It has not halted provocative military exercises. It has not yet ended
all of its support for terrorist organizations.
And, although the North did reaffirm its moratorium on long-range
missile testing this month in Washington, it has not stopped its
development or export of long-range ballistic missile technology.
North Korea's missile program continues to pose a serious threat not
only to our allies South Korea and Japan, but also to other nations
confronting the odious clients of North Korea's arms merchants.
All of these issues must be addressed if we are to forge a lasting
peace on the Korean peninsula.
Our efforts to engage North Korea must ultimately be matched by
reciprocal steps by the North. Engagement is not a one-way street.
But the question is not whether North Korea is a desirable partner for
peace. Kim Jong-il has all the appeal of Saddam Hussein. The question
is how we manage the North Korean threat.
I can't imagine how the situation would be improved if we did not
offer North Korea a chance to choose peace over truculence. I can't
imagine how the situation would be improved in any way if North Korean
children were dying in droves from malnutrition and disease as they
were prior to the launch of the U.S.-funded World Food Program relief
Mr. President, we should not discount the importance of the recent
diplomatic developments on the peninsula. How soon we forget that it
was a process called glasnost--openness--combined with maintenance of
a strong NATO alliance, which ultimately brought about the demise of
the Soviet Union and the reunification of East and West Germany.
Information about the outside world is hard to come by in North Korea,
just as it was hard to get in the Soviet Union before detente opened
the window and let the Soviet people catch the scent of the fresh air
of freedom.
Perhaps dialog with North Korea and greater openness there will bring
about a similar result. If so, we will have Secretary Perry to thank
for his role in getting that dialog jump-started after it had stalled
amidst mutual suspicions and acrimony during the mid-1990s.
Mr. President, in closing I would like to extend my profound thanks to
Bill Perry for the way he carried out his responsibilities. He
answered the call to public service two years ago, trading the comfort
of northern California for the landmine-strewn terrain of Washington
and North Korea. He has conducted himself with honor and a strong
sense of duty. He will be missed.
The stakes on the peninsula are high. Events there will not only shape
the security environment of Northeast Asia, but also affect our
decision whether to deploy a limited national missile defense, and if
so, what kind of defense. From my perspective, it would be a great
accomplishment if we could neutralize the North Korean missile threat
through diplomacy rather than spend billions of dollars to construct a
missile defense system which might do more harm to our national
security than good.
I wish Secretary Albright and her new Korea policy adviser Wendy
Sherman well as they strive to build on the momentum generated over
the past few months. It is a tough job, but it is incumbent on us to
test North Korea's commitment to peace.

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