2007: Diplomatic Engagement Gets the Rollback of Nuclear Program in Sight

Hinge Points: An Inside Look at North Korea’s Nuclear Program


Men in anti contamination suits walking and talking in a factory

Dates: August 7-11, 2007 | Yongbyon visit: August 10, 2007

Years 2007 and 2008 were a time of active diplomatic engagement when “first serious steps were taken that could have led to rolling back the nuclear program in Yongbyon.” In early March 2007, Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan through the DPRK UN Mission arranged a meeting with John Lewis and the Stanford team in California. A quiet Inn in Saratoga, just south of Stanford campus, became a venue for “relaxed, candid dialogue for the Stanford group with the seven-member Kim delegation”.

By invitation of the North Korean side, the Stanford group returned to Pyongyang in August 2007 to visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex and assess the disablement actions. The Stanford delegation was composed of John Lewis, Siegfried Hecker, Robert Carlin, and John Merrill of the U.S. State Department.

Analyzing discussions during the trip, Hecker noted that the “North Koreans went out of their way to emphasize that Pyongyang had faithfully implemented their promises”. Looking into the future, the North Koreans conveyed in “unmistakable terms” that “If the United States is unwilling to provide a light water reactor (LWR), Pyongyang cannot go to the stage of irreversible dismantlement”.

Summary report of Stanford delegation trip to North Korea, August 7-11, 2007

Back in the United States, Hecker reflected on possible diplomacy steps to push towards effective resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem. Among other considerations, he noted:

The LWR represents a huge negotiating leverage for the U.S. It should be used in conjunction with other normalization measures to leverage irreversible closure of Yongbyon facilities and elimination of the DPRK nuclear weapons.

As part of potential normalization measures, John Lewis continued to explore possibilities for broader educational, medical, and cultural exchanges. The trip agenda included a visit to a Pyongyang Tuberculosis Hospital that set in motion the visit of a North Korean medical team to Stanford University the following year. Stanford University doctors provided Lewis with a set of questions seeking a better understanding of the scope of the TB problem in DPRK and a proposal for cooperation with the North Korean medics. The DPRK Foreign Ministry intervened with the Ministry of Health to overcome their initial reluctance to initiate exchanges with Americans.

February 2007: Hosting the DPRK delegation in California

In late February, only a week or so after the six-party February 2007 action plan was signed in Beijing, Lewis got a call from the DPRK New York mission to see if he could host Vice Minister Kim and his team at Stanford University on a stop-over to meetings in New York. The Inn in quiet Saratoga afforded a perfect venue for dialogue between the Stanford group and the DPRK delegation.

People crowding in the inn entryway with a black vehicle parked by Kim Gye Gwan delegation arrives in Saratoga for meeting with Stanford University group.

Kim Gye Gwan delegation arrives in Saratoga for meeting with Stanford University group.

Two men, American and North Korean sitting next to each other at a conference table

Carlin (left) with North Korean MFA guest. Saratoga, February 2007

Three men at a conference table with the man in the center speaking

Carlin (center) with North Korean guests.

Two men at the head of a conference table, both smiling

John Lewis and Kim Gye Gwan.

Two men sitting and two women standing on each side

John and Jackie Lewis (left) with Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan and Ms. Choe Son Hui from the DPRK North American bureau. She was present during each of Hecker’s visits to North Korea and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

A woman with blond curly hair and a man in suit with a red pin on the jacket sitting while another man stands in the back leaning slightly forward

Marjorie Kiewit and John Lewis with First Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan.

Two Korean men both wearing glasses sitting next to each other at a conference table

APARC Stanford Director Gi-wook Shin (left) with Kim Gye Gwan.

Two men sitting and smiling, two men standing at the back posing for photo. A woman is taking a photo with camera in the right side of the picture.

Gi-wook Shin and Kim Gye Gwan seated. David Holloway and Sig Hecker standing. Ms. Choe Son Hui taking a photo.

Man in blue dress shirt and tie talking to man in black shirt and jacket

Kim Gye Gwan and State Department’s John Merrill.

A woman sitting in the center flanked by two men listening to her

Ms. Choe Son Hui (center) in conversation with Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan (left) and APARC Director Gi-wook Shin.

Company of smiling relaxed people with wine glasses at a restaurant table

After a long day of discussions. Dinner at Italian restaurant.

Man in blue dress shirt and woman with scarf over her neck laughing heartily sitting at the restaurant table

After a long day of discussions. Ms. Choe Son Hui and John Merrill sharing a laugh.

Man in mustard color vest and man in gray business suit both wearing glasses pose for a photo in a restaurant room

Hecker (left) with Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan.

August 2007: Yongbyon visit and Pyongyang meetings

In August 2007, the North Korean side invited Lewis, Hecker, and other Stanford delegation experts to visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex and assess the disablement actions they had taken. As in prior visits, Stanford group was interested in promoting the theme of U.S.-DPRK “normalization.” With MFA Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan’s help, Lewis was able to arrange meetings with officials from the education and health ministries. These visits and discussions revealed a significant, and very positive, shift in the North’s approach on the overall question of non-official engagement with the United States.

(Photo Gallery)

People in white gowns, caps, and booties walking in tight group in a corridor lined with complex piping

Reprocessing facility in Yongbyon. Stanford team in corridor in facility during their return visit on August 10, 2007.

People in white gowns, caps, and booties watching as Hecker peeks into a window in a wall

Reprocessing facility in Yongbyon. Hecker shining flashlight into hot cell chamber during power outage.

People in white gowns, caps, and booties with notepads listening to a person standing in a large industrial space

Reprocessing facility in Yongbyon. Lewis is on left, Carlin in background, next John Merrill and then Hecker.

Two men in white gowns walking along an industrial dark setting

Fuel fabrication facility in Yongbyon. Lewis and Hecker on top floor of six-story uranium facility.

Three men in white gowns, caps, and booties look on in a dark room with large dimmed windows

Reprocessing facility in Yongbyon. Carlin (left) and Merrill on the top floor of the facility.

Group of people in hazmat suits and yellow booties in front of stainless steel installation for plutonium production

Plutonium laboratory in Yongbyon. Hecker – third from right in Yongbyon plutonium laboratory with glovebox in foreground.

Hecker in white short sleeve shirt standing with his arms folded next to storage racks with uranium rods. Lewis taking notes standing behind.

Fuel fabrication facility in Yongbyon. Hecker (front) and Lewis in fresh fuel rod storage building.

Group of men in summer business attire standing on a wet concrete pad among industrial buildings

Fuel fabrication facility in Yongbyon. Stanford team outside of facility.

Hecker poses for photo with his hand on a shoulder of a North Korean man on his right and another North Korean man standing left.

Yongbyon. Hecker (center) with Safeguards Section Head Li Yong Ho, and interpreter.

Four men sitting in low chairs taking notes

Stanford team in Yongbyon Guest House during outbrief. From left to right: Carlin, Lewis, Hecker, and Merrill.

A road swept out by rain waters

Heavy flood damage in North Korea in August 2007.

River rushing with people working in the rain.

Yongbyon townspeople repairing the road and bridge over Kuryong River damaged by torrential floods that summer.

Green rain soaked field with hills in the background

Farmland outside Yongbyon City.

A swelled irrigation canal running through growing crops

Flooded farmland.

Two men posing for a photo in a scientific lab setting

Institute for Atomic Energy Research – Pyongyang (Medical isotopes and research). Hecker and the Lab director.

North Korean official flanked by two American men (Lewis and Hecker) posing for a photo

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pyongyang, First Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan with Lewis and Hecker.

Three men in light summer shirts smiling while sitting at a laid dinner table

At dinner with MFA’s Director General Ri Gun, Carlin (left), Ri Gun, Lewis.

Two Americans and North Korean man in white doctor gown in a hospital hallway

Carlin and Merrill at TB Hospital # 3 Pyongyang with Hospital Director Li Jong Chan.

Three men posing for a photo, one of them doctor in white gown

Lewis at TB Hospital # 3 in Pyongyang. The Stanford delegation had discussion with Hospital Director Li Jong Chan (left) and Ministry of Public Health Director General for Tuberculosis and Liver Diseases Li Chon Chol.

Four men talking outside a gray concrete building

Carlin (left) and Lewis at TB Hospital # 3 Pyongyang with Hospital Director Li Jong Chan and Ministry of Foreign Affairs host, Kwon Jong Gun.

Hecker in blue shirt posing at an empty construction site with a building being constructed at the background

Hecker at the construction site of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).

Five men and a woman in pink long Korean traditional gown in center with a seated statue of Kim Il Song behind them

Ceremonial visit during August 2007 trip.

Group of men in formal suit and ties pose for a photo.

Stanford group at North Korea’s Supreme Peoples Assembly with Vice President Kim Yong Dae and MFA host Ri Gun.

An artistic gate with a woman's figure on each side with outstretched arms meeting at the center of the passage, symbolizing reunification of two Koreas

North-South Reunification Monument. Pyongyang, August 2007.

View from a high point at Pyongyang residential quarters

Pyongyang city view.

Two tall residential towers

Gated residential complex in Pyongyang.

People on a city street under umbrellas in rain

Rainy day in Pyongyang.

A colorful mass dance performance

“Arirang” Art Performance at the May Day Stadium, Pyongyang.

Colorful mass dance performance

Colorful Arirang performance.

Two men posing in front of an entryway to a cafe

John Merrill (left) and Bob Carlin at Beijing Hot Rock Cafe – Entry reads “No drugs and nuclear weapons allowed.”

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