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India-North Korea ties to counter Pak-China equation

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Presenting a surprise element to India’s foreign policy, the country hosted Foreign Minister of North Korea early this year. This exceptional foreign visit by a political leader of the reclusive east Asian country and a first to India by a North Korean leader in many years is certain to be noted.

The visit was noteworthy as India is neither a negotiator between the North and South Korea nor has any part in the international dialogues for nuclear issues faced by the country.

The visit can be seen as India’s vigorous Act East Policy. Though India remained concerned over Pakistan’s trade of nuclear fissile material to Pyongyang in return of missile development tech from North Korea.

In the times when the US has moderated its associations with Russia or other quondam Communist Bloc and is also investing into easing relations with Cuba, India’s attempt to develop ties with North Korea should only be welcomed.

In September 2015, India designated MoS Kiren Rijiju to represent the country at an official event held at the North Korean Embassy in New Delhi. This was reportedly one of the first times that a minister was delegated to represent the government at an official gathering marking North Korea’s Independence Day.

Rijiju had stated after the event that the government was interested in developing its ties with the country and had a discussion to achieve the same.

“We feel that there should not be the usual old hurdles and suspicion, we have been discussing the government ways and means of upgrading bilateral ties.” Rijiju was quoted as saying by a newspaper.  

India could look forward to venture into the mineral market of North Korea, especially the rare earth elements (REE) available in the country. However, the vital interest of India is in concerns with North Korea’s missile cooperation with Pakistan. One of the expected goals would be to retrieve strategic position vis-à-vis China, hence accelerating the Indian ambition to construct a superior status in the Asia-Pacific.

India, in the past, wasn’t able to focus on its relation with North Korea not only over the concerns of North Korea-Pakistan nexus but also the developing tensions in the US-North Korea relations.

The agreement on nuclear non-proliferation between the two countries in 1994 had created an environment of duress. The US blamed North Korea of covertly engaging in a nuclear weapons programme. The discussion on North Korea had impacted India due to the growing ties between India and US during that period. The strategic commitment was shaping between the two countries in regard to the post-Pokhran II phase – said the memoir, on the extended, closed-door negotiations in 1998-2000 between- Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott, named ‘My Friend Strobe’.

Thus, the overbearing of strengthening strategic rendezvous with the US was feasible and obligatory to India to keep a certain aloofness from North Korea. Also, the UN prohibitions on North Korea in view of their repetitive nuclear tests since 2006 added on to the lack of economic reinforcements in the bilateral sphere had been deterrents for political visits from the India.

For India to develop better ties with North Korea in the growing need of interdependence among the nation, it will have to chart a strategy specifying the importance of it as well as of the issues faced by both the countries in an advancement of relations. India will have to mention its concerns such as nuclear ties of North Korea with Pakistan and other security correlated concerns. Also, by being focussed on the common benefits they can achieve better results on the lines of health, food, agriculture and other similar developmental areas.

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Trump Needs Obama For Dealing With North Korea, Said Jon Wolfsthal

Obama advised Trump to pursue the pressure option

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During a meeting regarding the transition, former President Barack Obama presented President-elect Donald Trump with two options for dealing with North Korea, said Jon Wolfsthal, a close Obama aide who served as senior director at the National Security Council for arms control and nonproliferation during the Obama administration.

The two options: Seek a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs through direct engagement, or increase pressure on North Korea through China.

Obama advised Trump to pursue the pressure option, according to Wolfsthal. He specifically advised Trump to push for greater Chinese support to rein in the North’s nuclear development, he added.

“Making it clear to China that their continued protection of North Korea was beginning to undermine American security interests and that we would increasingly have to take steps to protect our interests in a way that might undermine China’s own security was a strategy that we believed was going to bear fruit,” Wolfsthal said during an interview with VOA Korean in February 2017, shortly after his departure from the Obama administration.

President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018.
President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un’s closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018. VOA

Pressure and engagement

Despite his repeated criticism of Obama for failing to stop North Korea’s nuclear development, Trump took Obama’s advice and employed it in his strategy. Pressuring China is a key element of Trump’s strategy on North Korea.

What makes Trump’s strategy different from Obama’s is it eventually pursues dialogue with North Korea.

Unlike Obama, who showed little interest in talks with North Korea, Trump is pursuing a dual strategy of pressure and engagement. He is using pressure and engagement in sequence: put pressure first and try engagement.

The purpose of Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” is to press North Korea to return to dialogue and produce desirable outcomes from talks.

President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018.
President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un’s closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018. VOA

Trump’s strategy is a clear departure from the Obama administration’s, but it’s not unprecedented. A similar strategy was tried by William Perry, who served as secretary of defense from 1994-1997 under former President Bill Clinton. Perry advocated the so-called “coercive diplomacy,” that is, diplomacy backed up with a credible military threat.

US promises, silence on human rights

Trump sent a clear message to Pyongyang that his strategy is different from that of the previous administration: seeking dialogue while keeping sanctions in place.

In a bid to bring North Korea to the table and allay the North’s security concerns, the Trump administration laid out four actions the U.S. would not take against North Korea.

In August 2017, as tensions were rising rapidly after North Korea’s second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson assured North Korea that the U.S. “will not seek a regime change, a collapse of the regime, an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, or an excuse to send military north of the 38th parallel.”

No previous U.S. administration had ever made such promises to North Korea in this way.

People watch a TV screen showing file footage of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, May 16, 2018.
People watch a TV screen showing file footage of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, May 16, 2018. VOA

Trump has also been relatively subdued in his criticism of North Korea’s human rights violations compared with previous administrations, a stance that has drawn criticism from some members of Congress and human rights groups. Trump’s supporters, however, say his efforts to engage North Korea would not be productive if the administration raised the human rights issue strongly.

Top-down approach

Trump may soon to be the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader, with the upcoming summit in Singapore. His top-down approach has had its ups and downs, however.

Supporters say Trump has made far more progress in diplomacy with North Korea than any of his predecessors. The dramatic shift from a possible military confrontation to a flurry of high-level diplomacy in less than six months was only possible because of Trump’s full support, they say.

Supporters argue Trump’s commitment to dialogue contributed to the North Korean regime’s decision to return to talks, saying Pyongyang has been seeking a summit with a U.S. president for many years.

Critics argue Trump should not start the discussions, but that his involvement should be the carrot at the end of the process.

They also argue allowing a North Korean leader to have a face-to-face meeting with a sitting U.S. president alone is a huge concession to North Korea. Such a meeting gives legitimacy to the North Korean regime, which it badly needs, without offering the U.S. anything in return.

Some critics also suggest the summit helps Kim shift his image from that of a “brutal dictator” who executed his uncle and ordered the assassination of his half brother to a “skillful leader.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a long- and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, Aug. 30, 2017.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a long- and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, Aug. 30, 2017. VOA

Fate of dual strategy

The Trump administration has said it will keep sanctions in place against Pyongyang until a complete denuclearization of North Korea is achieved. It believes maintaining sanctions will give the U.S. the upper hand in negotiations with North Korea.

It has also vowed to increase sanctions and international pressure against North Korea if talks fail.

Critics warn, however, that Trump’s pressure campaign will lose momentum once talks are under way.

Trump’s critics say the consequences of failed talks are great, and that it would be difficult for the administration to revive diplomatic efforts for sanctions if talks collapse at the summit.

Also read: Moon meet Trump North Korea summit

They caution it is unrealistic to unilaterally demand North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons, saying North Korea is likely to demand corresponding action from the United States.(VOA)