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Ambassador Charles Kartman

Executive Director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO)

On February 4, Ambassador Charles Kartman spoke at PNNL's Richland campus, as part of the PNWCGS seminar series. During his speech, "KEDO and the North Korean Nuclear Crisis: How We Got Here," Kartman provided a brief overview of KEDO and its function, while focusing on the current events, which he suggested threatened to render KEDO "irrelevant."

Kartman is a 26-year veteran of the Department of State and Executive Director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), which was created in 1995 to implement the Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea. He is also widely recognized as an expert in Northeast Asia affairs.

Kartman's presentation examined U.S.-North Korea policy from the 1953 Korean Armistice until present, beginning by characterizing U.S. containment policy toward North Korea, following the Korean War, as "a policy of wishful thinking" that did nothing to reduce the threat of the North Korean regime.

In 1990, after the Yongbyon nuclear facility was detected, "suddenly we needed a North Korea policy," Kartman explained, the result being the negotiated Agreed Framework.

The Agreed Framework stated that North Korea would cease and dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for two light water reactors for the purpose of producing electricity, and a supply of heavy fuel oil to meet the nation's energy needs in the interim. As a result of the deal, North Korea decommissioned the Yongbyon site, and stored the site's 8,000 spent fuel rods which, according to Kartman, could have by now, in addition to the spent fuel from other reactors that were at the time in progress, yielded material for over 100 nuclear weapons.

However, from the North Korean perspective, the agreement was really about improving relations with the United States, and, thus, reducing the actual need for a nuclear weapons program.

Yet, relations did not improve, and as North Korea became disenchanted with the agreement and began to "misbehave," the United States too became dissatisfied. Then, in the middle and late nineties a series of events brought the Agreed Framework almost to the point of collapse.

Former Secretary of Defense, William Perry, charged with salvaging the situation, boiled U.S. priorities with North Korea down to deterring its attainment of nuclear capacity and the means to deliver such a payload, and approached an apprehensive North Korea to begin new talks. Yet, it wasn't until "the twilight months" of the Clinton administration that a major breakthrough occurred. This breakthrough resulted in the Joint Communiqué, signed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Kim Jong Il, which provided important concessions for both state parties; it endorsed transparency in nuclear disarmament, and agreed to the pursuit of policy without hostile intent.

However, with the incoming Bush administration, all meaningful discourse ceased for almost two years as the new government positioned itself. When high-level contact was again made, in October of 2002, the United States made it clear that it found North Korea, discovered to have a highly enriched uranium facility under construction, to be in violation of the Agreed Framework. Soon after, the U.S. suspended delivery of fuel to North Korea. In response, Kim Jong Il announced that the Yongbyon nuclear facility would be reopened.

"This is a huge jump from October to now," said Kartman. Underscoring the negative implications for regional and global nonproliferation if the current impasse with North Korea is not solved, as well as the "low bar" North Korea has set for restarting dialogue: 1) North Korea wants a nonaggression treaty; 2) It wants the United States to give legal recognition of its sovereignty; and 3) It wants the United States to agree not to interfere with its economic development.

"When I hear the other side-particularly when the other side is North Korea-establish, as its starting point (for negotiations) conditions that set the bar that low, I want to do that negotiation…" stated Kartman, expressing his resolve that relations can be salvaged.

Center for Global Security

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