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President Bush press conference on the North Korea nuclear test, October 11, 2006

Press Conference by the President, The White House, October 11, 2006.



I also want to talk about the unfolding situation in North Korea. Earlier this week, the government of North Korea proclaimed to the world that it had conducted a successful nuclear test. The United States is working to confirm North Korea's claim, but this claim, itself, constitutes a threat to international peace and stability.

In response to North Korea's actions, we're working with our partners in the region and the United Nations Security Council to ensure there are serious repercussions for the regime in Pyongyang. I've spoken with other world leaders, including Japan, China, South Korea, and Russia. We all agree that there must be a strong Security Council resolution that will require North Korea to abide by its international commitments to dismantle its nuclear programs. This resolution should also specify a series of measures to prevent North Korea from exporting nuclear or missile technologies, and prevent financial transactions or asset transfers that would help North Korea develop its nuclear and missile capabilities.

Last year, North Korea agreed to a path to a better future for its people in the six-party talks -- September of last year. We had an agreement with North Korea. It came about in the form of what we call the six-party joint statement. It offered the prospect for normalized relations with both Japan and the United States. It talked about economic cooperation in energy, trade and investment. In that joint statement, North Korea committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, and to adhering to the Treaty on Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards. They agreed.

The United States affirmed that we have no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. We affirmed that we have no intention of attacking North Korea. With its actions this week, North Korea has once again chosen to reject the prospect for a better future offered by the six-party joint statement. Instead, it has opted to raise tensions in the region.

I'm pleased that the nations in the region are making clear to North Korea what is at stake. I thank China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia for their strong statements of condemnation of North Korea's actions. Peace on the Korean Peninsula requires that these nations send a clear message to Pyongyang that its actions will not be tolerated, and I appreciate their leadership.

The United States remains committed to diplomacy. The United States also reserves all options to defend our friends and our interests in the region against the threats from North Korea. So, in response to North Korea's provocation, we'll increase defense cooperation with our allies, including cooperation on ballistic missile defense to protect against North Korean aggression, and cooperation to prevent North Korea from exporting nuclear and missile technologies.

Our goals remain clear: peace and security in Northeast Asia and a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. We will take the necessary actions to achieve these goals. We will work with the United Nations. We'll support our allies in the region. And together, we will ensure that North Korea understands the consequences if it continues down its current path....

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Democrats say that North Korea's reported test shows that your policy has been a failure, that you got bogged down in Iraq where there were no weapons of mass destruction while North Korea was moving ahead with a bomb. Is your administration to blame for letting North Korea get this far?

THE PRESIDENT: North Korea has been trying to acquire bombs and weapons for a long period of time, long before I came into office. And it's a threat that we've got to take seriously, and we do, of course.

In 1994, the government -- our government -- entered into a bilateral arrangement with the North Koreans that worked to make sure that they don't have the capacity to develop a bomb, and North Korea agreed that there would be no program whatsoever toward the development of a weapon. And yet, we came into office and discovered that they were developing a program, unbeknownst to the folks with whom they signed the agreement, the United States government. And we confronted them with that evidence and they admitted it was true, and then left the agreement that they had signed with the U.S. government.

And my point -- and then I -- as I mentioned in my opening statement, we, once again, had North Korea at the table -- this time with other parties at the table -- and they agreed once again, through this statement as a result of the six-party talks, to verifiably show that they weren't advancing a nuclear weapons program. And they chose again to leave. And my point to you is that it's the intransigence of the North Korean leader that speaks volumes about the process. It is his unwillingness to choose a way forward for his country -- a better way forward for his country. It is his decisions. And what's changed since then is that we now have other parties at the table who have made it clear to North Korea that they share the same goals of the United States, which is a nuclear weapons-free peninsula.

Obviously, I'm listening very carefully to this debate. I can remember the time when it was said that the Bush administration goes it alone too often in the world, which I always thought was a bogus claim to begin with. And now all of a sudden people are saying, the Bush administration ought to be going alone with North Korea. But it didn't work in the past is my point. The strategy did not work. I learned a lesson from that and decided that the best way to convince Kim Jong-il to change his mind on a nuclear weapons program is to have others send the same message.

And so, in my phone calls that I recently made right after the test, I lamented the fact that he had tested to Hu Jintao, and also lamented the fact that Hu Jintao had publicly asked him not to test. I talked to the South Korean President, and I said, it ought to be clear to us now that we must continue to work together to make it abundantly clear to the leader in North Korea that there's a better way forward. When he walks away from agreement, he's not just walking away from a table with the United States as the only participant; he's walking away from a table that others are sitting at.

And my point to you is, in order to solve this diplomatically, the United States and our partners must have a strong diplomatic hand, and you have a better diplomatic hand with others sending the message than you do when you're alone. And so, obviously, I made the decision that the bilateral negotiations wouldn't work, and the reason I made that decision is because they didn't. And we'll continue to work to come up with a diplomatic solution in North Korea.

This is a serious issue. But I want to remind our fellow citizens that the North Korea issue was serious for years. And I also remind our citizens that we want to make sure that we solve this problem diplomatically. We've got to give every effort to do so. But in my discussions with our partners, I reassured them that the security agreements we have with them will be enforced if need be, and that's in particular to South Korea and Japan.


Q Can we go back to North Korea, Mr. President?


Q You talk about failures of the past administration with the policy towards North Korea. Again, how can you say your policy is more successful, given that North Korea has apparently tested a nuclear weapon? And also if you wouldn't mind, what is the red line for North Korea, given what has happened over the past few months?

THE PRESIDENT: My point was bilateral negotiations didn't work. I appreciate the efforts of previous administrations. It just didn't work. And therefore, I thought it was important to change how we approached the problem so that we could solve it diplomatically. And I firmly believe that with North Korea and with Iran that it is best to deal with these regimes with more than one voice. Because I understand how it works. What ends up happening is, is that we say to a country such as North Korea, here's a reasonable way forward; they try to extract more at the negotiating table, or they've got a different objective, and then they go and say, wait a minute, the United States is being unreasonable. They make a threat. They could -- they say the world is about to fall apart because of the United States' problem. And all of a sudden, we become the issue.

But the United States' message to North Korea and Iran and the people in both countries is that we have -- we want to solve issues peacefully. We said there's a better way forward for you. Here's a chance, for example, to help your country economically. And all you got to do is verifiably show that you -- in Iran's case, that you suspended your weapons program; and in North Korea's case, that you've got international safeguards on your program -- which they agreed to, by the way.

And so my point is, is that -- to the American people -- I say, look, we want to solve this diplomatically. It's important for the President to say to the American people, diplomacy is what -- is our first choice, and that I've now outlined a strategy. And I think it is a hopeful sign that China is now a integral partner in helping North Korea understand that it's just not the United States speaking to them.

And it's an important sign to North Korea that South Korea, a country which obviously is deeply concerned about North Korean activities -- South Korea is a partner, and that if North Korea decides that they don't like what's being said, they're not just stiffing the United States -- I don't know if that's a diplomatic word, or not -- but they're sending a message to countries in the neighborhood that they really don't care what other countries think, which leads to further isolation. And when we get a U.N. Security Council resolution, it will help us deal with issues like proliferation and his ability -- 'he' being Kim Jong-il's -- ability to attract money to continue to develop his programs.

Q What about the red line, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the world has made it clear that these tests caused us to come together and work in the United Nations to send a clear message to the North Korean regime. We're bound up together with a common strategy to solve this issue peacefully through diplomatic means


Q On May 23, 2003, sir, you said -- you effectively drew a line in the sand. You said, "We will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea." And yet now it appears that they have crossed that line. And I'm wondering what now, sir, do you say to both the American people and the international community vis-à-vis what has happened over the last 48 hours?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I appreciate that, and I think it's very important for the American people and North Korea to understand that that statement still stands, and that one way to make sure that we're able to achieve our objective is to have other people join us in making it clear to North Korea that they share that objective. And that's what's changed. That's what's changed over a relatively quick period of time. It used to be that the United States would say that, and that would be kind of a stand-alone statement. Now, when that statement is said, there are other nations in the neighborhood saying it.

And so we'll give diplomacy a chance to work. It is very important for us to solve these problems diplomatically. And I thank the leaders of -- listen, when I call them on the phone, we're strategizing. This isn't, oh, please stand up and say something; this is, how can we continue to work together to solve this problem. And that is a substantial change, Kevin, from the previous times...

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You spoke very passionately before about acting before it was too late on major issues. You faced one of those moments in early 2003. This was when the North Koreans had thrown out the international inspectors, said they were going to go ahead and turn their fuel into weapons. And you had a moment to tell them that they would face serious consequences if they were going to do that. You also had what may have been the last moment for any American President to destroy their fuel supplies while they were all in one place.

THE PRESIDENT: You mean, bombing them?

Q Whatever action you might have needed to take, including military action, against the site -- the one site at the time where they were getting ready --

THE PRESIDENT: I just wanted to clarify. Sorry to interrupt you.

Q Yes. And you chose not to. And I was wondering whether, in retrospect, you regret that decision at all; whether or not you think that, because of the long history of deception that you pointed out before, you should have acted differently?

THE PRESIDENT: I used the moment to continue my desire to convince others to become equity partners in the Korean issue, North Korean issue, because, David, I, obviously, look at all options all the time, and I felt like the best way to solve this problem would be through a diplomacy effort that was renewed and reinvigorated by having China and South Korea and Japan and Russia joining us in convincing Kim Jong-il there's a better way forward.

And, frankly, I was quite optimistic that we had succeeded last September when we had this joint statement, which you adequately covered. And yet he walked away from it. He decided, well, maybe his word doesn't mean anything.

And so we will continue to work diplomatically to solve the problem. That's what I owe the American people, to come up with a diplomatic solution. I also made it clear, and I will repeat, that we have security obligations in the region that I reconfirmed to our partners.

Sir. Washington Post man.

Q Good morning, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: That would be Mike.

Q Right. I'd like to follow up on an earlier question about your rhetoric on Iran and North Korea.


Q You said yesterday in your statement that the North Korean nuclear test was unacceptable. Your chief negotiator for the six-party talks said last week that North Korea has a choice of either having weapons or having a future. When you spoke a month or so ago to the American Legion, you talked about Iran and said, there must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. I am wondering, sir, your administration has issued these kinds of warnings pretty regularly over the last five years, and yet these countries have pursued their nuclear programs. I'm wondering if you -- what is different about the current set of warnings, and do you think the administration and our government runs a risk of looking feckless to the world by issuing these kinds of warnings regularly without response from the countries?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a fair question. First of all, I am making it clear our policy hasn't changed. It's important for the folks to understand that we don't continually shift our goals based upon polls or -- whatever. See, I think clarity of purpose is very important to rally a diplomatic effort to solve the problem. And so I try to speak as clearly as I can and make sure there's no ambiguity in our position. I also found that's a pretty good way to help rally a diplomatic effort that I believe will more likely work.

I know this sounds -- I'm just saying it over and over again, but it's -- rhetoric and actions are all aimed at convincing others that they have an equal stake in whether or not these nations have a nuclear weapon, because I firmly believe, Mike, that that is the best strategy to solve the problem. One has a stronger hand when there's more people playing your same cards. It is must easier for a nation to hear what I believe are legitimate demands if there's more than one voice speaking. And that's why we're doing what we're doing.

And to answer your question as to whether or not the words will be empty, I would suggest that, quite the contrary, that we not only have spoken about the goals, but as a result of working together with our friends, Iran and North Korea are looking at a different -- a different diplomatic scenario.

I thought you were going to ask the question, following up on Sanger, how come you don't use military action now. You kind of hinted it, you didn't say it. And some wonder that. As a matter of fact, I'm asked questions around the country, just go ahead and use the military. And my answer is that I believe the Commander-in-Chief must try all diplomatic measures before we commit our military. And I believe the diplomacy is -- we're making progress when we've got others at the table.

I'll ask myself a follow-up. If that's the case, why did you use military action in Iraq? And the reason why is because we tried the diplomacy. Matter of fact, we tried resolution after resolution after resolution. All these situations are -- each of them different and require a different response, a different effort to try to solve this peacefully. And we'll continue to do so.

The inability to convince people to move forward speaks volumes about them. It ought to say to all the world that we're dealing with people that maybe don't want peace -- which in my judgment, in order for there to be peace requires an international response. It says volumes about a person who signs an agreement with one administration and signs an agreement or speaks about an agreement with another administration and doesn't honor the agreement. It points up the fact that these are dangerous regimes and requires an international effort to work in concert.


Q Thank you. I'd like to turn back to North Korea for a bit. You've said that bilateral talks didn't work. Secretary Baker has said that maybe they should be considered, maybe at some point under certain conditions. Are you prepared now to just take the possibility of one-one-one talks with North Korea off the table?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm saying as loud and I can and as clear as I can that there is a better way forward for North Korea and that we will work within the context of the six-party talks.

People say, you don't talk to North Korea. We had a representative, a United States representative at the table in the six-party talks. The North Korean leader knows our position. It's easy to understand our position: There is a better way forward for his government. And people need to review the September '05 document, the joint statement that talked about economics, and we won't attack North Korea. We agreed that we shouldn't have nuclear weapons on the peninsula. I mean, there is a way forward for the leader in North Korea to choose. We've made our choice, and so has China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. And that's what's changed.

I also am deeply concerned about the lives of the citizens in that country. I mean there's -- and that's why I named a envoy, Jay Lefkowitz, to talk about the human condition inside of North Korea. And the reason we did that is we care about how people live. We care about people starving. We care about the fact that there are large concentration camps.

You know, one of the most meaningful moments of my presidency came when a Japanese mother came to the Oval Office to talk about what it was like to have her daughter kidnapped by North Korea. You can imagine what that was like. It broke my heart. And it should break everybody's heart. But it speaks to the nature of the regime. And, therefore, we -- I am convinced that to solve this diplomatically requires more than just America's voice...


Q Thank you, sir. Mr. President, some in the national security community are wondering if, indeed, you're ready to live with a nuclear North Korea?


Q Well, they're saying that that is a possibility.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, they're wrong.

Q Well, can I give you --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it was a short question and a short answer. (Laughter.)

Q One, China is not ready to put teeth behind sanctions -- enough teeth to really threaten the regime. And also, economic sanctions have limited effect on North Korea.

THE PRESIDENT: We got to try it diplomatically first, April. And this is back to old Michael's question about, am I serious about saying what I mean. It's why I say what I say, because some people are beginning to wonder whether or not it's the goal. The goal is no nuclear weapon. And again, I think I've shared with you my views of diplomacy. Diplomacy is -- it's a difficult process because everybody's interests aren't exactly the same. We share the same goal, but sometimes the internal issues are different from ours. And, therefore, it takes a while to get people on the same page, and it takes a while for people to get used to consequences.

And so I wouldn't necessarily characterize these countries' positions as locked-in positions. We're constantly dialoguing with them to make sure that there is a common effort to send a clear message.

And the other part of your question was?

Q And the follow-up, yes. Military options -- there are a menu of options the White House is saying. Once diplomacy has run its course and you've run through your timetable, what about military options against North Korea?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, diplomacy hasn't run its course. That's what I'm trying to explain to you a la the Sanger question. And we'll continue working to make sure that we give diplomacy a full opportunity to succeed...

Source: The White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov.

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