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Meaning of Denuclearization For North Korea

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Kim Jong Un is on the TV screen.
FILE - A visitor walks by a TV screen showing file footage of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, March 29, 2018. VOA

At the upcoming inter-Korean summit slated for late April, South Korea should seek a clear understanding of North Korea’s interpretation of what the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will mean, said former U.S. officials who have dealt with North Korea extensively.

As President Donald Trump appears to be optimistic about the prospects of potential talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the former U.S. officials remain skeptical Washington and Pyongyang share the same meaning of denuclearization.

U.S. officials confirmed on Sunday that North Korea directly told the White House that Kim would be interested in talks and was prepared to discuss denuclearization at a summit with Trump.

Kim Jong un and Donald Trump
North Korea plans on Denuclearization.

On Monday, Trump said, “I think there’ll be great respect paid by both parties, and hopefully we’ll be able to make a deal on the de-nuking of North Korea.” Trump said he’ll meet with Kim in late May or early June, but the date and place have not been confirmed.

Differing interpretations

Mitchell Reiss, director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department during the George W. Bush administration, urged caution until it is better known what Kim means when he says he is willing to talk about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“What North Korea means by denuclearization is very different than what the United States and what South Korea traditionally has meant by denuclearization,” said Reiss, who negotiated with the North over the nuclear issue in 1990s. “And in my conversations with North Koreans over the years, it is clear that the United States has to take a number of steps first, such as ending the alliance with South Korea, removing all of its military troops off the Korean Peninsula.”

Also Read: North Korea may have stopped its n-reactor, satellite images show

Dennis Wilder, senior director for East Asian Affairs at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, said South Korean President Moon Jae-in should seek out North Korea’s view of denuclearization during the inter-Korean summit as a way to pave the way for the U.S. to discuss denuclearization at the anticipated U.S.-North Korea summit.

“It’s a very important question to deal with – [North Korea’s] perception of denuclearization – before the president of the United States meets with Kim Jong Un,” said Wilder. “If the South Korean president could get more specifics as to how the North Koreans are looking at this question, that will help the United States set up the summit.”

Other former U.S. officials think that while Seoul should ask Pyongyang to clarify its meaning of denuclearization at the inter-Korean summit, the actual denuclearization talks should be left for the U.S. to discuss with North Korea.

“Denuclearization is, no doubt, going to be … a U.S. angle,” said William Brown, a former intelligence official who is now an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University. “The Moon and Kim summit should be getting ready for the denuclearization talks but not actually doing it for themselves.”

The extent of the discussion on denuclearization at the inter-Korean summit, according to Gary Samore, former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction under president Barack Obama, should be limited to “South Korea having a statement, a communique of a North Korean intent to pursue denuclearization.”

Samore thinks Pyongyang’s written denuclearization intent “will be sufficient for the first meeting.”

Kim Jong Un, the north korean leader.
FILE – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). VOA

‘Broad terms’

Robert Gallucci, chief U.S. negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994, said the inter-Korean summit should create an atmosphere for “future conversations between experts” by touching up on a general framework of talks. He said, “It’s less important that they make a detailed progress in their meeting than it is that they agree on broad terms of what they are trying to accomplish and where they end up.”

Christopher Hill, who negotiated with the North as head of the U.S. delegation during the George W. Bush administration, said close coordination and cooperation between Seoul and Washington are critical when discussing security issues in particular.

“It’s especially important that the South Korean and the U.S. governments continue to have a pattern of close cooperation” and “an adequate consultation to make sure that there’s an agreed pace of progress,” Hill said.

Former U.S. officials are concerned that Seoul would get too far ahead in engaging Pyongyang at the inter-Korean summit and offer incentives such as economic and humanitarian aid and the easing of sanctions imposed against North Korea.

Denuclearization on the mind of Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong-un reportedly declares he is ‘committed to denuclearization’ on the Korean Peninsula

They particularly cautioned that Seoul must stay tough on sanctions. Trump has repeatedly credited sanctions imposed on North Korea as the impetus behind the current thaw in relations.

“I think it will be a big problem if the South Korean side starts to cut back on sanctions,” Brown said.

Also Read: Tense US-North Korea Standoff Slowly Escalates

Wilder voiced similar concerns and warned, “Do not lift the sanctions too soon. The past mistake was to get too easy on North Korea too soon.” Brown and other experts are worried that if Seoul eases sanctions before Kim agrees to take concrete action toward denuclearization, South Korea will undermine Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign.

Seoul and Pyongyang will hold their summit on April 27 in the border village of Panmunjom.

Kim’s intent to discuss denuclearization was initially conveyed by South Korean envoys who traveled to Washington in early March to brief Trump on their meeting with Kim in Pyongyang held a few days earlier.

Christy Lee contributed to this report.  VOA

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North Korean Authorities Ramping Up The Levels of Strictness at Weekly Self-Criticism Sessions

North Korea experts have suggested that the purpose of these sessions is to instill fear into the public, making them easier for authorities to control.

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Pyongyang citizens in a file photo. RFA

Following the breakdown of talks at the most recent U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, North Korean authorities are reportedly ramping up the levels of strictness at weekly life appraisal sessions.

Known as saenghwal chonghwa, the sessions are self-criticism meetings in which every citizen must individually confess their shortcomings on the political loyalty front.

The confessor must then hear additional criticism from other citizens, then form an action plan to compensate for those shortcomings.

Since the failed late-February Hanoi Summit, in which U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could not come to an agreement on denuclearization for sanctions removal, authorities in the repressive country are becoming increasingly rigid during these weekly meetings.

“These days, there is an air of tension at life appraisal sessions that can’t even be compared with how they were previously. Attendees can’t even cough out loud,” said a Pyongyang resident who recently traveled to China in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service.

north korea
“North Korean citizens are becoming concerned about their future because [they think] this could mean that international sanctions will be even heavier.” Pixabay
The resident explained how the level of seriousness during saenghwal chonghwa ebbs and flows depending on how optimistic the regime feels on the current social climate.

“When there’s a positive social mood, [the sessions] were just perfunctory, but it’s not like that at all [right now],” said the source.

“[The sessions] usually take about an hour, but now it’s getting to be close to two hours,” the source said.

Simply going through the motions as usual is no longer enough, according to the source.

“If they are only moderately critical about themselves, or if their peers hold back, [the authorities] make them stand in front of everyone so that all in attendance can be more direct and more intensely criticize them,” the source said.

“It must feel just as miserable to give out such harsh criticism to colleagues and neighbors as it is to receive it,” said the source.

According to the source, the affair is normally planned out between attendees. Prior to the meetings they mutually agree on what to criticize each other about—usually trivial things.

“But it doesn’t work that way now. They have to harshly criticize each other. Now people are starting to make enemies even with their close neighbors during these life-appraisal sessions,” the source said.

North Korea experts have suggested that the purpose of these sessions is to instill fear into the public, making them easier for authorities to control.

In a recent report by the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, author Robert Collins detailed saenghwal chonghwa as one means by which the North Korean government uses the people to deny rights to each other, as a strategy of social control that extends even to the private lives of citizens.

A second source, from North Pyongan province, implied that being stricter at saenghwal chonghwa, is a means of diverting attention from the failed summit by keeping people on their toes.

Hanoi summit
Since the failed late-February Hanoi Summit, in which U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could not come to an agreement on denuclearization for sanctions removal, authorities in the repressive country are becoming increasingly rigid during these weekly meetings. VOA

“As talk about the collapse [of the summit] is spreading, the authorities seem to be intentionally creating tension by being stricter,” the source said.

The source recalled other gossip-worthy events that authorities wanted to silence discussion about.

“Whenever there are huge issues [to talk about], such as the execution of Jang Song-thaek [Kim Jong Un’s uncle, who experts believe was a legitimate challenge to Kim’s power,] the authorities tried to cover the mouths and ears of the public through strict life-appraisal sessions,” the source said.

“[They] are really emphasizing self-reliance more often during the sessions these days,” said the source, adding, “North Korean citizens are becoming concerned about their future because [they think] this could mean that international sanctions will be even heavier.”

The practice of saenghwal chonghwa began in March 1962. Usually 10 to 15 people from the workplace or neighborhood attend the sessions to collectively determine ways for each individual to become better citizens.

Every Saturday a weekly appraisal session is held, with a monthly session on the month’s final Saturday. There are also quarterly and yearly appraisals. The sessions are facilitated by low-level local inminban(neighborhood watch units) and detailed records are kept.

Also Read: “We Fled From Our Village Because We Are Afraid of Government Soldiers,” Weekend Fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine Drives 400 Villagers Homeless

None are spared from self-criticism, as even elites are subject to the weekly sessions.

Thae Yong-ho, a high-profile defector who once served as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, described the sessions in his memoir as “the most fundamental principle of the North Korean slave state.” (RFA)