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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
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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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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)