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Urgent Appeal: Stop the "North Korea Threat Reduction Act"
Dear friends and supporters of peace and humanitarian aid in North Korea, 

A bill supporting an isolationist and confrontational policy toward North Korea is currently being considered by Congress.  By writing current economic sanctions into law and placing impossible conditions on the provision of humanitarian aid, this bill will reverse all progress that has been made in US – North Korea relations, undermine South Korea’s bold policy of engagement with the North, and threaten the lives of millions of people on the Korean Peninsula, many of whom are still suffering from famine. 

We oppose the passage of HR 1835, the "North Korea Threat Reduction Act."  Please read on to find out more about this bill and what you can do to voice your concern and opposition.  Below you will find: 

  • A summary of the bill's contents and ramifications
  • A letter from concerned private voluntary organizations, humanitarian agencies, and nonprofit advocacy groups to U.S. Representatives on the International Relations Committee
  • A letter from Korean American Voice (KAV) to IR Chairman Gilman opposing HR 1835
  • A list of contact information: who to call or write in Congress about this bill
  • Links to more about HR 1835, US - DPRK relations, Korea-related news, and other background information
A quick response is needed – calls should be made and letters sent to our Representatives in Congress between now and July 15.  Thank you! 

Summary and Ramifications of the "North Korea Threat Reduction Act"

[Note: for the text of the bill, visit and enter Bill Number “H.R. 1835” in the search box at the top of the screen

International Relations Committee Chairman Gilman introduced the North Korea Threat Reduction Act, HR 1835, Tuesday, May 18.  It essentially writes current sanctions against North Korea into law, and makes it impossible to continue food aid and the shipments of oil the United States agreed to make in exchange for North Korea abandoning its nuclear program. 

Two things make this especially egregious: (1) its introduction on the eve of Secretary William Perry's trip to North Korea, where he laid out the range of carrots the United States will offer for changes in Pyongyang's troubling behavior; and (2) its refusal to allow the President waivers for national security or other reasons - waivers that are a part of almost every foreign policy bill ever enacted. 

The bill also goes beyond its ostensible target, North Korea, and would damage U.S.-China relations, as well as torpedoing South Korea's sunshine policy and efforts to deal with refugees from North Korea.  Japan and South Korea also will be nervous about this bill's effect on their relations with China. 

The danger with this bill (even if it is not enacted) is that it sends a signal to North Korea that even if it does change its behavior regarding missile testing, exports, and nuclear development, the United States will offer nothing positive in return (as in the past several years, when the U.S. has failed to lift sanctions as promised in the 1994 Agreed Framework).   On the other hand, if North Korea does not change its behavior, Congress may feel compelled to enact this law. 

Here are the details of the law's provisions: 

Food Aid.  
Funding of food aid is essentially cut off, because the bill requires the President to verify that North Korea is allowing unsupervised monitoring (although even North Korean citizens are not allowed to move about); is opening its military food stocks to civilians; and has not diverted food aid to the military in the past.  There are two other conditions – unannounced visits by international aid agencies and permission for Korean-speaking aid monitors – areas in which some progress has been made recently. 

Agreed Framework/Oil Shipments.  
The bill offers to reduce KEDO's debt, by adding $20 million to the U.S. contribution (presuming North Korea's continued cooperation) - but only if Taiwan is allowed to contribute.  Recognition of Taiwan, even as a contributor to this regional effort, will enrage China and make it difficult for Japan and South Korea to continue as the primary funders of the project.  Moreover, no constructive solution of problems on the Korean Peninsula is possible without China's goodwill. 

The present level of oil shipments is also contingent on progress on missile exports and other issues covered under current law - except that current law allows the President to waive those limits.  The “North Korea Threat Reduction Act” does not.  And this bill raises the bar on diversion of food shipments: current law insists on no significant diversions; H.R. 1835 says that any diversion at all will trigger suspension of fuel shipments.  There have been isolated cases of small amounts of food diverted (as well as the likely "diversion" by mothers to their children over age seven).  No humanitarian effort can claim no diversions of aid whatsoever. 

Nuclear Provisions.  
Some of the bill's restrictions, including requirements of International Atomic Energy Agency inspection, are in current law.  Some are impossible, such as requirements: 

  • that North Korea fully comply with its 1991 agreement with South Korea, which includes mutual inspections, an agreement that has never been implemented;
  • verification that North Korea cannot enrich uranium now, and is not trying to attain that ability; and
  • assurance that North Korea has stopped its nuclear weapons program (the Agreed Framework focused on the facility at Yongbyon, and implied any other facility -- but only addressed the known one).
Finally, Congress must concur with the President's certification of all of these provisions in a joint resolution that wins passage by both the Senate and the House.  This provision gives Congress the ability to micromanage foreign policy –  infringing on an area that is the President's Constitutional responsibility. 

Until North Korea has ceased its missile production, banned all missile exports for a full year, and complied with the nuclear provisions above, sanctions existing on April 1, 1999 will be effectively written into law.  That makes even limited sanction relief – a promise that the United States made to North Korea years ago and continues to renege on – impossible.  And any violation of missile or nuclear provisions would trigger sanctions again. 

Theater Missile Defense.  
The bill provides $10 million for a "joint early warning system," which South Korea opposes (probably in deference to China, and to the fact that it is vulnerable to North Korea’s artillery so Theater Missile Defense does it no good anyway).  Technology for this shield, a scaled-back version of President Reagan's "Star Wars," does not yet exist. 

The bill provides $30 million to transport North Koreans in China and elsewhere to South Korea.  China does not consider North Koreans to be refugees, only tourists.  And while South Korea's laws deem any Korean who wants to be a citizen of the ROK eligible to settle there, it has no plan to absorb the 100,000-200,000 North Koreans in China at any given time.  ROK-China relations are very important to South Korea, and they are especially touchy on this issue. 

Report on Agreed Framework. 
This bill requires the President to submit a report identifying the Agreed Framework's costs and benefits, and seems designed to pin down the administration on costs (such as fluctuating oil prices) and benefits that are probably impossible to estimate. 

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Letter Supporting US Engagement with North Korea
June 7, 1999 

Honorable Members of the House of Representatives 
House International Relations Committee 
US House of Representatives 
Washington, DC 20515 

Support US Engagement with North Korea 

Dear Representative, 

We, the undersigned private voluntary organizations, humanitarian agencies, and nonprofit advocacy groups support a policy of constructive engagement with North Korea (DPRK).  Through our work we are seeking an end to the North Korean famine and the peaceful reconciliation of the Korean peninsula through a policy of engagement.  We believe that continued engagement, steadfast negotiation, and careful cultivation of cooperative relationships with appropriate North Korean organizations provide the only real opportunity for a positive resolution of the Korean stalemate. 

Since the early 1990s, North Korea (DPRK) has been working to improve its relationship with the United States. DPRK officials appear to believe that their survival depends on establishing better political, economic and military relations with the US.  The US and DPRK have engaged in bilateral discussions on many issues, including the development of a peace treaty, easing of economic sanctions, diplomatic exchanges and recovery of the remains of US soldiers who perished in the Korean War.  In her recent trip to South Korea, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright expressed her wishes that Secretary Perry's visit would "revive North-South dialogue as an essential step towards lasting peace." 

The experience of NGOs in North Korea has shown the potential of engagement.  As recently as four years ago, only a handful of foreigners were allowed inside North Korea.  Bilateral relations were at a standstill.  Since then, contacts have increased dramatically with visits by US-based and international NGOs and congressional delegations, increased access of foreign agencies to three-fourths of the counties in North Korea, and dozens of exchanges that have brought DPRK visitors to the US.  A continued policy of engagement with North Korea will slowly work to reduce tensions on the peninsula and increase food security for vulnerable people. 

US policies and international agreements have contributed to bringing these improvements about.  The 1994 Agreed Framework, KEDO (Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization), and the Four Party Talks have provided the policy foundations for humanitarian assistance.  The US has contributed to international relief efforts through the UN World Food Program, most recently promising 400,000 metric tons of food in response to an April 1999 appeal.  This aid is directed to those Koreans most at risk and is monitored carefully.  In a difficult situation, the WFP and other international agencies have developed productive working relationships with North Korean counterparts and continue to push for more open access to the food distribution process. 

As you may already be aware, Rep. Benjamin Gilman, Chair of the International Relations Committee, has recently introduced legislation on Korea, the "North Korea Threat Reduction Act of 1999" (HR 1835). We urge you and your colleagues to oppose the North Korea Threat Reduction Act.  The title of this bill is misleading.  This legislation will only serve to increase tensions and distrust between the US and North Korea, setting back the progress that has been achieved by Secretary Perry, and other members of the Clinton Administration and the United Nations, as well as the work of NGOs.  Chairman Gilman introduced this legislation on the eve of William Perry's diplomatic visit to North Korea.  By removing US flexibility in negotiation, the conditions imposed in the Threat Reduction Act would damage the Administration's credibility and bargaining position.  In addition, the bill removes the option of waivers that the President might make in the interest of national security or other extenuating circumstances. 

In light of the existing political situation and the persistence of the North Korean famine, passage of the North Korea Threat Reduction Act would be a true setback in diplomatic progress. The bill essentially writes current sanctions into law.  The oil shipments and the reduction of sanctions on food aid, which the United States agreed to make in exchange for North Korea abandoning its nuclear program, would be nearly impossible to continue.  The bill requires the President to verify that the DPRK is allowing unsupervised monitoring, opening its military food stocks to civilians, and not diverting food to the military.  This will surely undermine the progress that the World Food Program and other NGOs have made in food monitoring and distribution and will only cause more suffering for the women, children and elderly in North Korea.  It will not serve as a punishment for the government or the military.  Finally, we are concerned about the repercussions of hard-line statements on North Korea on regional security.  Beyond its immediate effects on North Korea, this bill could further damage US-China relations, undermine South Korea's "sunshine policy" and complicate Chinese and South Korean efforts to deal with DPRK refugees. 

Upon returning from his recent visit to North Korea, Secretary Perry characterized his meetings with DPRK officials as "sincere, frank, and held in an atmosphere of mutual respect," and he expressed the expectation that there will be careful consideration by the DPRK of his proposals.  The passage of the Threat Reduction Act would clearly change the current diplomatic relationship and prevent the DPRK from responding constructively. 

We urge you to support Secretary William Perry's efforts to draw North Korea into the international community. There are no guarantees that the crisis in North Korea can be resolved.  But it is quite clear that a US policy of isolation, sanctions, and military buildup will push North Korea into further isolation and might lead to another catastrophic war on the Korean peninsula. 


Kara L. Newell, Executive Director 
American Friends Service Committee 

Miriam A. Young, Executive Director 
Asia Pacific Center for Justice and Peace 

Ken Hackett, Executive Director 
Catholic Relief Services 

Rev. Roger Rumpf 
Church World Service 

Victor W.C. Hsu, Director, East Asia and the Pacific 
Christine Villafuerte, Program Specialist 
Church World Service/National Council of Churches of Christ-USA 

Fr. Michael J. Dodd, Director 
Columban Fathers Justice and Peace Office 

Partick Mauney, Director of Global Relations 
The Episcopal Church 

Holt International 

Young I. Chun, President 
Institute for Strategic Reconciliation, Inc. 

Rev. Pharis Harvey, Executive Director 
International Labor Rights Fund 

Cynthia Choi Ahn, Executive Director 
Join Together Society of New York 

Sang Hoon Lee, Chair 
Korean American Sharing Movement, Washington-Baltimore 

Kathryn Wolford, President 
Lutheran World Relief 

Betsy Hedrick McCrae, Program Director for East Asia 
Mennonite Central Committee 

Ellsworth Culver, Senior Vice President of International Relations 
Nancy Lindborg, Vice President 
Mercy Corps International 

Ken Casey, Senior Vice President 
World Vision 

Joe Scalise, Director of WFP Congressional Liaison Office 
United Nations World Food Program 

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Letter from Korean American Voice to Chairman Gilman

P.O. Box 1766  Annandale, VA 22003 

June 20, 1999 

The Honorable Chairman Benjamin Gilman 
House International Relations Committee 
U.S. House of Representatives 

Re:  North Korea Threat Reduction Act of 1999 (HR 1835) 

Dear Chairman Gilman: 

As members of the "Korean American Voice on North Korea Policy,"(KAV), we are writing to express our thoughts on the above referenced bill you introduced in co-sponsorship with other distinguished Representatives.   KAV is a coalition that comprises concerned Korean American individuals and organizations throughout the nation. 

While we agree with your efforts to improve U.S. policy toward North Korea by weaving together the various elements of U.S. policy into a comprehensive whole, with the goal of advancing our national interest as Americans, we do have some concerns that we state below.   And, we do concur with your view that our policy must be coordinated with our Japanese and South Korean allies.  We set forth below two primary positions that we Korean Americans believe must be an intricate part of the US policy toward North Korea. 

o US Policy Must Further the Prospect of Lasting Peace while Avoiding the Possibility of Armed Conflict. 

o US Policy Should Support Monitored Humanitarian Aid to North Korea for Distribution to the Famine Victims. 

Against this backdrop, let us address relevant portions of your bill: 

We are well aware that there is some skepticism in Congress re the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea, a sentiment that your bill reflects.  We also would like to see more productive negotiations with North Korea.  However, we support the engagement policy of the Administration and the government of South Korea and note that such a policy has led improved relations between these countries and an overall reduction in the level of hostility.  This has been noted in various presentations and reports by private voluntary organizations, humanitarian agencies and UN agencies including the World Food Program and UNICEF. 

As Korean Americans in a multi-cultural society of the USA, we wish to educate other Americans of our different culture and history, which calls for a different pace and tempo in changing its system and policy.   Perhaps, such changes made by North Korea may be perceived as small in the western view, but could be considered quite significant in the eastern and particularly, North Korean, context.  However, we believe that our common goal is the same: to increase mutual trust, rather than strengthened military deterrence. 

US Policy Should Support Monitored Humanitarian Aid to North Korea for Distribution to the Famine Victims. 

We Korean Americans applaud the United States' unequaled humanitarian and human rights track record.  We are impressed that the U.S. has been the single largest donor to North Korea in humanitarian aid during the past few years – which was crucial to save the lives of children, the elderly, and women.  We all agree that a credible mechanism should be in place to accurately monitor the distribution of food and medical aid. 

However, we are concerned that the bill includes conditions that North Korea probably cannot accept, which would effectively cut off continued U.S. humanitarian assistance.  Specifically, we point to Section 4 that demands that North Korea military stocks be expended; and that unannounced, unscheduled and unsupervised visits be permitted.  While this may seem logical, even basic for us, this may probably not be acceptable to N. Korean government for military and security reasons.   To require such conditions – that will be quite overwhelming for a historically isolated and different society, is tantamount declaring that we are pushing our will (and values) upon them.  On our side, we must also take into consideration that it may not make much sense for a country to deplete its emergency military food stock.  Moreover, we should realize that even high level N. Korean government officials cannot travel in their own country without a plan and permit, not to mention its ordinary citizens. 

The effect – intended or not – of these two conditions will effectively block crucially needed humanitarian food aid, resulting in many more numerous and unnecessary deaths of children, the elderly and women.  We therefore urge you to drop these clauses from your bill. 

While we appreciate your concern about the hardship faced by North Korean refugees in China, a requirement mandating substantial funds for resettlement of these refugees in China and S. Korea would, in essence, be dictating foreign and domestic policy to the Chinese and South Koreans.  Such a requirement would only serve to increase hostility in these two countries.  We, as Americans, would not welcome an outside party demanding our taking in and expending national resources for foreign refugees.   Currently, you may be aware that there are many Korean American and South Korean religious groups and civic associations quietly providing relief.  There are other citizens groups who are working on increasing public awareness of the issue of these refugees. 

Section 6, Continuation of Restrictions on Transactions with N. Korea 

The current Administration has not exercised its power to lift sanctions against North Korea and we do not anticipate such an action unless there is enough political support and consensus in Congress.  Although we too advise the Administration to be prudent in lifting sanctions, we are concerned that Section 6 on Continuation of Restrictions on Transactions takes away the Administration’s flexibility in negotiations with North Korea.  In reality, many people do not see much economic value in the sanctions – rather, it is considered a symbolic measure.  On the other hand, North Korea has maintained that these sanctions are a stumbling block in negotiations with the U.S. and repeatedly requested its removal to increase mutual trust.  We believe that lifting sanction in actuality be a small price to pay, and would greatly thaw relations with North Korea. 

Korean Americans individually and organizationally, like many private voluntary organizations and other citizens groups, have been encouraged to see substantial changes in the attitudes of North Korean government as a result of engagement policy.  We believe that this change provides a golden opportunity for the United States to resolve some outstanding issues concerning the Korean peninsula.    Therefore, in sum, we Korean Americans support the basic tenets of the engagement policy of the current Administration, and we urge the Congress to support the same. 

We come together as one unified voice of Korean Americans nationally and regionally.  KAV’s goal is to present important views to you and other members of Congress as you deliberate the bill.  We would appreciate an opportunity to discuss these and other issues in greater detail with you at your earliest convenience.  Please contact Mr. Sang K. Park, our coordinator, at (703) 941-7395, Fax (703) 941-6252 if you would like to arrange a meeting or have any questions. 

On behalf of KAV, we wish to take this opportunity to thank you for your interest and concern in relations with North Korea.  We wish to be considered integral partners and a voice of the Korean American population in the United States, and look forward to working with you in formulating this most important US foreign policy initiative. 

Yours truly, 

Korean American Voice on North Korea Policy 

(list of signatories follows) 

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Who to Contact in Congress
The following is a list of people to contact in Congress regarding H.R. 1835, the "North Korea Threat Reduction Act." 

Congresspeople are always most responsive to the voices of their own constitutuents -- your Representative is the first person to call or write to.  (Phone calls and handwritten letters are best; email may also be effective)  The phone number of your representative appears in the government pages of your phone book.  To get connected to his or her office in Washington, DC, call the Congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121.  To find your representative on the Web, enter your Zip code at the following site:

Since this bill will be brought up before the International Relations Committee, IR members are especially good to get in touch with.  Members with districts in the San Francisco Bay Area are: 

Rep. Barbara Lee (District 9) 
1301 Clay Street, Suite 1000N 
Oakland, CA 94612 
(510) 763-0370 

Rep. Tom Lantos (District 12) 
400 South El Camino Real 
Suite 820 
San Mateo, CA 94402 
(650) 342-0300 (San Mateo County) 
(415) 566-5257 (San Francisco) 
E-mail here 
Rep. Tom Campbell (District 15) 
910 Campisi Way, Suite 1C 
Campbell, CA 95008 
Phone: 408-371-7337 
Santa Cruz: 831-438-4819 
The following are links to pages with contact information for other members of the IR Committee: 

Rep. Sam Gejdenson (CT - Ranking Democrat Member) 
Rep. Gary Ackerman (NY) 
Rep. Robert Wexler (FL) 
Rep. Jim Davis (FL) 
Rep. Earl Pomeroy (ND) (no webpage - call congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121) 
Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY) (same) 
Rep. Doug Bereuter (NE) 

To see a comprehensive list of the House International Relations Committee members, click here

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