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Engel Opening Statement at North Korea Briefing

Engel Opening Statement at North Korea Briefing

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WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a committee briefing on North Korea’s nuclear, missile, and cyber capabilities:

“Thank you very much Chairman Royce. Thank you for calling this briefing on the threat that North Korea’s nuclear, missile, and cyber capabilities pose to our national security and that of our friends and allies in the Asia-Pacific region. 

“I want to on a personal note say that I commend your strong leadership on this issue, and it means a great deal that this briefing is the very first item on our Committee’s agenda in the 114th Congress.  I look forward to working with you and the rest of our colleagues to address this challenge and to continue working in a bipartisan and productive way in the year ahead.

“And I want to second what you said, it is very important for us, whenever possible, to have one voice in international affairs. It strengthens us. It strengthens us around the world, and that’s what we’ve tried to do in this committee. So you and I, Mr. Chairman, have introduced joint legislation, we’ve written joint pieces, joint op-ed pieces, we’ve done joint letters to officials, and I believe that we’ve gotten the biggest bang for the buck because we’ve shown unity on this committee.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed is that when I go overseas and we take a bipartisan delegation along our differences really, really narrow because we’re all Americans and we all love this country and I think it’s very important.  I think this committee leads the way in terms of the way congress ought to govern in a bipartisan fashion. So I want to thank you Mr. Chairman for all you do to ensure that that continues. 

“I also want to thank our witnesses for their service and for their testimony today.

“The recalcitrance, cruelty, and unpredictability of the Kim regime makes North Korea one of the toughest challenges we face on the global stage.  The last three Administrations—Democratic and Republican alike—have attempted to address the problem of North Korea’s nuclear program. Unfortunately, very little progress has been made. 

“Despite a long list of sanctions, North Korea is no closer to denuclearization today than it was several decades ago.  Rather, North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear, conventional, and cyber capabilities at an alarming rate.  Already, North Korea has a significant arsenal of short-range missiles that could reach South Korea and Japan. 

“Most troubling to me is the continued development of North Korea’s medium- and long-range missile capabilities. They may be unreliable today, but some of these missiles could eventually pose a threat to Guam, Alaska, or even the west coast of the continental United States.  And some believe that North Korea has aspirations to build submarines that could carry these missiles even closer to American shores.

“North Korea appears to be working toward a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could be mounted on intermediate- and long-range missiles.  I was concerned by comments made in October by the Commander of U.S. Forces in Korea that at this moment, North Korea may possess the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead.

“And based on recent events, it’s clear that North Korea’s aspirations do not stop at conventional or even nuclear weapons.  The Kim regime is wielding 21st-century weapons as well, and has quietly developed an offensive cyber capability. 

“Like many others, I was deeply disturbed by the cyber attack on Sony that took place in November—an attack that was not just disruptive, but also destructive.  Agents working for the North Korea regime vandalized, threatened, and coerced a company operating in the United States. This attack and the ensuing threats of violence were a perverse and inexcusable act by the North Korean government.  As I said then, no one, especially an entity operating in the United States, should feel that they must cede their rights to operate within the law because of veiled threats from rogue actors.

“I look forward to the witnesses, to hearing how each of your Departments is dealing with this threat.  Are you engaging with the private sector?  Are you ramping-up information sharing and collaboration across agencies?   Are you putting safeguards in place to ensure that these kinds of attacks will not be successful in the future?  I look forward to hearing about your progress in these areas.  

“There is no international agreement or clear definition of what constitutes cyber war or cyber terror, yet it is clear that cyber attacks can cause destruction of property, stoke fear, intimidate the public, or even bring about the loss of life that could be as serious as conventional acts of war or terrorism.

“We must ensure that North Korea’s cyber capabilities, and the cyber capabilities of other state-sponsored and rogue actors, do not threaten our citizens, our businesses, or our national security. I’d like to hear the witnesses’ assessments of these risks and our ability and the ability of allies and partners to effectively defend against them. 

“Finally, let’s remember that the greatest threat the regime in Pyongyang poses is to its own people.  I have visited North Korea twice myself. Mr. Wilson of this committee was with me on one of the trips, and I still remember the incredible uneasiness that I felt being in a place where absolute power is consolidated among a very few, and where the rest of society is systematically and brutally oppressed. 

“For years we’ve heard reports about the abuses endured by the people of North Korea: torture, starvation, forced labor, and execution.  A recent United Nations commission of inquiry report confirmed these reports, calling the North Korean regime responsible for ‘systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations,’ including what they said was ‘crimes against humanity.’

“The Chairman and I share a deep commitment to addressing the injustices endured by the North Korean people.  So we face a delicate balance: holding the Korean leaders who perpetuate this violence accountable while recognizing the need for basic support for the North Korean people. Maintaining that balance makes our work on North Korea all the more critical and all the more difficult. So I look forward to hearing your perspectives on this issue and I thank you for joining us today.

“Thank you Mr. Chairman.”