The purposes of this visit by the Elders to China, North Korea (NK), and South Korea (SK) were to:
a. Learn about the humanitarian food crisis in NK and help to alleviate it;
b. Understand more thoroughly the diplomatic and military differences between NK and SK;
c. Induce NK to work more closely with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and accept the services of a raporteur;
d. Learn what might be done in the longer term to promote a de-nuclearized and unified Korean Peninsula, with a permanent peace treaty to replace the fragile and non-binding ceasefire;
e. Confirm willingness of NK to change its long-standing policy and negotiate directly with SK on nuclear and other issues;
f. Encourage NK to permit necessary monitoring of the delivery of U.S. and SK food aid to needy citizens;
g. Attempt to obtain the release of Eddie Jun (Yong-su), who is a prisoner in NK. He is known as a Christian missionary who has traded tractors and similar equipment for several years between SK and NK;
h. Share our information and opinions with the public and with other leaders in an effort to encourage resumption of dialogue on all important issues; and
i. Determine what future role, if any, might be appropriate for the Elders in the region.
To meet other Elders, Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Brundtland, and Mary Robinson, I left Atlanta on April 22 after being given a briefing on U.S.-DPRK relations by Ambassador Robert King, Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights. He reported that the U.S. allocated 500,000 tons of food aid in March 2009, but that distribution was terminated after just 170,000 tons had been distributed. He described the lack of U.S. permission to monitor delivery of food as the obstacle to resuming aid. The U.S. will consider another food grant, provided half can go to U.N. agencies and half to U.S. NGOs (Mercy Corps, World Vision, Global Research Services, Christian Friends of Korea, & Samaritan's Purse) and delivery monitored.
On arriving in Beijing, China, I met with Ambassador Jon Huntsman and DPRK expert Greg Wiegand for another briefing. The ambassador was planning to leave his post, believed to be planning a campaign for president. Sunday afternoon I joined the other Elders, CEO Mabel van Oranje, and her staff. We were briefed on political issues by International Crisis Group experts and by U.N. leaders re relief programs in NK, including the World Food Program, FAO, and UNICEF. WFP leaders reported unprecedented access by their staff in recent months, with permission to visit markets, homes, and factories throughout the country, with only 2 percent of the geographical areas closed to them. There has been a precipitous drop in total food aid, from 439,000 tons in 2006/07 to 36,600 tons in 2009/10. There is little or none from SK and the U.S., with no substantial increase from China.
The government distribution allotment will have to drop from an average of 381 grams/person/day to half this level (about 650 calories), which is about one-fourth the need for an active working person. This daily allotment is mostly cereal grains and potatoes, and can be supplemented on special occasions by cash purchases and something of a permitted barter system. WFP estimates a national shortage this year of 886,000 tons.
About one-third of the children have been found to be physically stunted, after WFP personnel were granted permission to measure the circumference of their upper arms. Pregnant and lactating women are especially vulnerable. There are 12 functioning factories producing "fortified" food supplements, but they lack raw materials, especially for proteins and other nutrients. These UN officials see no sign of significant hoarding of food for the benefit of 2012, which will be Kim il Sung's 100th birthday, and they believe NK would welcome the services of NGOs from the United States. (NK officials later confirmed this.)
It is interesting to note that annual foreign aid per person for NK is only $9.40, compared to $63 for Sudan and $165 for Afghanistan. Long-standing economic boycotts and sanctions are an obstacle to economic progress and an additional punishment for innocent and already suffering people.
We then enjoyed entertainment and a supper hosted by Madam Li and the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. She arranged for a group of successful and generous Chinese entrepreneurs to tell us about their experiences, several coming from rural communities.
Next day, we had an interview about the Elders with Yonhap news agency of SK, a photo opportunity with other news media with a few questions, and met with a series of Chinese scholars and diplomatic experts on NK. Then we informed Japanese diplomats about our mission before having a supper meeting with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Wu Dawei, special representative for NK affairs and China's 6-power negotiator. They gave us a surprisingly optimistic report about ongoing or prospective peace talks and NK plans for economic reform. In fact, one of the tightest restraints in Pyongyang was reluctance to discuss any aspect of economic reform.
Early Tuesday morning we flew to Pyongyang. After visiting the enormous memorial to Kim Il Sung, we checked into the ornate guest house. Our first discussion was with Ri Jong Hyok, whose peace committee has responsibility for relations with SK. He painted a completely negative prospect of any resumption of bilateral communications and, as expected, placed all the blame on the antagonistic attitude of SK President Lee Myung-bak, while extolling relations during the term of Kim Dae Jung.
We then had substantive talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs Pak Ui Chun, and we submitted our strong written request to the Head of State for the release of Eddie Jun (Yong-su) on humanitarian grounds. The minister described their great need for food aid and peace with all their neighbors. He emphasized the NK commitment to all the principles of the 1994 Agreed Framework and the 9/19/05 Joint Statement of the six powers. He made it plain, however, that NK would have to retain nuclear weapons as long as they are threatened by an antagonistic U.S. with nuclear weapons. He pointed out that all other nations in the region had their own nuclear protection or were under the U.S. umbrella. He hoped for a resumption of 6-power talks and a simultaneous or step-by-step implementation of the jointly approved commitments already made. Regarding food aid from the U.S., he said there would be no problems with U.S. monitoring of delivery, with procedures already established for the WFP.
After a long supper discussion (where he indicated Kim Jong Il would not be available to meet with us), we attended a magic show in their enormous stadium, where buses loaded with people disappeared, elephants, bears, and horses appeared, and a helicopter materialized and flew around with the magician seeming to enter and leave it through the air.
Wednesday morning we visited the University of Foreign Studies to meet with students, most of whom had chosen English as their foreign language (they spoke it perfectly), with Chinese the next most popular. They were studying to be diplomats, teachers, and interpreters. We then met with Kim Gye Gwan, who has always been the NK representative during 6-party talks and was a key advisor of Kim il Sung during my 1994 negotiations. He reiterated (as did others) their commitment to honor all facets of the "Agreed Framework" of 1994 and the 6-power "joint statement" of 9/05, but was undeviating in insisting on a simultaneous or step-by-step implementation of all the commitments. He could quote every word in the agreement.
Our next meeting with Head of State Kim Yong Nam was surprisingly negative and confrontational, filled with his condemnation of historical U.S. policy toward NK with my finally interrupting him and pointing out that he was concentrating exclusively on a negative and distorted picture of the past while we had come to look to the future with hopes of reconciling differences. He informed us that our request for the release of Eddie Jun would not be honored. Quite tardily, we finally departed with no easing of tension.
It was long past lunch time, so we drove northward for almost an hour to Pyongsong City, through a level river valley that was devoted to agriculture. On this entire trip I never saw a tractor or a draft animal; humans were doing all the work. (We later saw two or three cattle and tractors between Pyongyang and the airport.) It was not the time of year for most grain crops, but there were many vegetable fields and fruit trees were blooming. Already late, we had to cancel a visit to a cooperative farm, and concentrated our attention on families in private homes, a food distribution center, a hospital, a baby home, and a school for nurses. We were impressed with the three-year programs for nurses and midwives and with the responses of the students to our questions. Men are not permitted to be nurses, and only a small portion of medical doctors are women (less than 20 percent). They claimed to graduate 2,500 doctors annually from 11 medical universities.
The very large hospital, in several buildings, was very dark and had running water only in the operating room area, where major surgery was underway. They rely heavily on equipment and medicines from U.N. agencies. We saw no reason why a government that can develop advanced weapons cannot provide water for their hospitals.
We visited a young woman who had one toddler and was eight months pregnant, living in a small apartment with her husband's parents. She had served in the army for 10 years and was now working in a textile factory. She receives full pay during five months of maternity leave, and didn't complain although her food ration recently had been reduced to 350 grams of cereals (about 1,200 calories) per day, with the child getting 130 grams. World Food Program staff have been informed that the ration will soon be cut to 190 grams/day, or about 650 calories. On special occasions, the young woman and her husband can buy higher protein foods with money from their salaries.
After a brief stop at our guest house, we met with Major-General Pak Rim Su, who had greeted and escorted Rosalynn and me in Panmunjom on our 1994 visit. He described what happened at the recently aborted meeting on military affairs with SK, and expressed his desire to resume talks with them on any subjects and without pre-conditions. He also gave me photographs of American remains from the Korean War and offered to cooperate in the future, as agreed in 1994, in exploring for others.
We had a reception with the 23 foreign ambassadors and international agency personnel stationed in Pyongyang, with all of them eager to tell us about their unique perspectives and to learn about our experiences and plans for the future. We then entertained NK officials as hosts at supper, where the conversations were quite cordial, avoiding all controversy.
The next morning we Elders made final plans for our visit to Seoul and for a press conference and then left the guest house. We received an urgent request for our bus to return for an important visit and message. After a brief wait, Minister Kim Gye Gwan arrived and in a very formal way read a personal message from their "Great Leader," Kim Jong Il.
He expressed a warm welcome, appreciation of our efforts for peace and humanitarianism, a desire to reduce tension and improve inter-Korean relations, and support for all negotiations and inter-Korean dialogue, including a summit meeting with President Lee of SK. He pledged to fulfill the 9/19/05 Joint Statement for denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula and called for early resumption of 6-Party talks. It was clear this was the message he wanted delivered in Seoul and to other leaders, with emphasis on the summit meeting.
In Seoul, we met with the SK 6-power negotiator, the reunification minister, U.S. General Sharp, Ambassador Stephens, and then had a press conference, where we sympathized with SK's grief and anger over the loss of life on the Cheonan and the island, reported on the willingness of NK officials at all levels to negotiate with the U.S., SK, in the 6-Party forum, or at a summit meeting on any subject and without preconditions. We described their profound regret at the loss of life of the SK sailors and civilians but unwillingness to admit culpability for the ship sinking or to apologize. We also emphasized their dire need for food aid and their unprecedented willingness for donors to monitor delivery.
My final meeting was with the other Elders and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, followed by more informal discussions with him and his associates at supper.
I returned home on Friday, leaving the other Elders to conduct more meetings in Seoul. We felt that we had accomplished all our original listed goals except c) Inducing NK to cooperate re U.N. human rights agencies and g) The release of Eddie Jun.