N. Korea’s Carrot-and-Stick Diplomacy Becomes Ritual
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — North Korea’s perplexing bipolar strategy of “nice vs. nasty” is again entering its predictable cycle, say Pyongyang watchers in Asia and Washington.
Over the past several weeks North Korea extended olive branches to Japan, South Korea and the United States on a variety of issues, but on Sept. 4, Pyongyang announced it had entered the final stage of enriching uranium, giving it a second method of developing nuclear weapons.
“For two decades, Pyongyang has excelled in presenting Washington a dilemma — a choice between ‘negotiate with us or we leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,’ ‘negotiate or we will build nuclear weapons,’ ‘negotiate or we will test our ballistic missiles,’” said Kenneth Quinones, a former U.S. State Department North Korean affairs officer.
This carrot-and-stick strategy continues despite the fact that no one is tricked by it.
“The U.S. and its allies are not fooled by North Korea’s latest charm offensive and remain resolute to maintain pressure on North Korea while concurrently holding open the door to negotiations,” said Bruce Klingner, Northeast Asia senior research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
However, North Korea has put the ball in Washington’s court, Quinones said.
“‘If you want us to be nice with Seoul, we will, but if you continue to insist on six-party talks resuming, we can also play hardball,’” he said of North Korea’s strategy.
North Korean resistance to restarting the six-party talks and insistence on bilateral talks has traditionally yielded more aid and assistance. Six-party talks only get dragged out with internal bickering among members, often orchestrated by North Korea.
China appears to be sitting on the fence waiting to see how much the North Koreans can get out of Washington before nudging Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.
“It appears to be a part of a complex diplomatic dance,” Quinones said.
China wants six-party talks to resume, “but no, it will not shove Pyongyang in that direction, possibly because it would like to see the U.S., RoK [Republic of Korea, or South Korea] and Japan give Pyongyang some concessions first — i.e., bilateral talks, as Seoul has done,” he said.
Ending the Sanctions
The first thing Pyongyang would like to do is end U.N. sanctions. In a letter sent to the U.N. Security Council on its plans to enrich uranium, Pyongyang said it was ready for both “dialogue and sanctions,” and warned if sanctions continued it would “respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence.”
On Sept. 8, the U.S. State Department issued a notice that it was seizing the assets of two North Korean entities identified as supporters of Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile programs: the General Bureau of Atomic Energy (GBAE) and Korea Tangun Trading Corp.
Both were also cited July 16 by the United Nations for their involvement in North Korea’s WMD and missile programs. GBAE oversees North Korea’s nuclear program and manages operations at the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center.
Tangun Trading is subordinate to North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Sciences and is primarily responsible for the procurement of commodities and technologies needed for WMDs and missiles.
“Tangun Trading group is not listed in any of the North Korean trade directories that I’ve got, but it must be just another front for Bureau 39 — the covert arm of the Daesong group of state-owned enterprises, the main money-making arm of the North Korean regime,” said Bertil Lintner, a specialist on North Korea and the author of the book “Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea Under the Kim Clan.”
Quinones said the GBAE had been in operation for 25 years and will continue as North Korea’s chief coordinator of nuclear programs despite the U.S. State Department’s efforts. “As for the Tangun company, I would expect that it will be renamed, allowing its activities to continue.”
North Korea’s April launch of a Taepo Dong2 intercontinental ballistic missile and May nuclear test demonstrates Pyongyang has no intention of shutting down its nuclear and missile programs, sources say.
The United States has demonstrated time and again that it will knuckle under and eventually give the North Koreans what they want, according to the sources — and when that runs out, North Korea will conduct more tests and make more demands.