‘Reduce It to Ashes’: Korean Tensions Rise
By WENDELL MINNICK And JUNG SUNG-KI
By WENDELL MINNICK And JUNG SUNG-KI
TAIPEI and SEOUL — Pressed to honor its promises, North Korea is lashing out instead, dimming Bush administration hopes for a restart to the stalled Six Party Talks and steps to disable Pyongyang’s nuclear activities.
On March 27, Seoul called on Pyongyang to fulfill a pledge to reveal its nuclear activities. North Korea missed the Dec. 31 deadline to furnish the list, which would have allowed it to receive fuel oil under a February 2007 deal. Its tardiness has stalled the Six Party Talks, which involve China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States.
The following day, the North Korean government, which was also incensed by a statement by the top South Korean military officer that his most important response to a nuclear strike would be to hit weapon-storage targets, testfired three sea-based anti-ship missiles, then issued a statement threatening to “not merely plunge everything into flames but reduce it [South Korea] to ashes.” South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense responded with a letter urging the North to cease its threats and provocative actions, which drew an April 3 warning from the North that it would take unspecified “military actions.” Christopher Hill, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, arrived in Seoul April 1 for meetings with South Korean officials to discuss the situation. His arrival set off rumors a deal with North Korea was in the works.
Hill told reporters the United States still expects North Korea to respond to demands for a full accounting of North Korean nuclear activities as agreed upon in the Six Party Talks, but also said that time constraints are making any deal difficult.
“We’re very concerned that we really need this wrapped up by the end of March, and here it is already after the end of March. So we’ll have to see whether we can hear anything new from the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] on this in the next few days,” Hill said April 2 in Seoul. “In particular, we need to know what the plutonium situation is, but also we know that DPRK was engaged in procurements of things for uranium enrichment, so we need to know that status.”
Hill said the United States also wants to know whether North Korea has provided nuclear weapon technology to Iran, Syria or other nations; whether that’s still going on; and whether it will continue.
No More Sunshine
South Korea has sent aid worth billions of dollars in the decade since then-President Kim Dae Jung initiated the “sunshine policy” in 1998. However, the North-South honeymoon appears to have ended.
Pyongyang’s behavior escalated after Lee Myung-bak was sworn in as South Korean president on Feb. 25. Lee has threatened to cut off aid to Pyongyang if it does not abide by the Six Party Talks.
Bruce Klinger, senior research fellow, Heritage Foundation, called North Korea’s return to brinkmanship tactics a “temper tantrum of a spoiled child.” He said Pyongyang is rebelling against Seoul’s introduction of a new “principled engagement policy that requires reciprocity, conditionality and transparency.” “President Lee Myung-bak has infused a backbone and intestinal fortitude into South Korea’s foreign policy, a marked contrast from the spineless and gutless acquiescence to Pyongyang’s demands for the past 10 years,” said Klinger, former deputy chief of the Korea Issue Group at the CIA’s directorate of intelligence from 1996 to 2001.
Klinger said saber rattling has worked for North Korea in the past. The United States has responded to it by “offering unilateral concessions to Pyongyang in a vain attempt to maintain the semblance of progress,” an approach that undermines the “effectiveness of diplomacy, abandons worthwhile international principles, and is simply poor negotiating tactics,” he said.
Yang Moo-jin, University of North Korean Studies, Seoul, blamed North Korean military hardliners.
“In the multilateral disarmament talks, Pyongyang is now facing a big hurdle over its declaration of a list of all of its nuclear weapon programs. The current situation is as if the South hit the North, a child about to cry,” Yang said.
He said it was unlikely Pyongyang would admit to having a uranium enrichment program or transferring nuclear technology to Syria.
“I think the chances for the North to admit the allegations are slim, so the Six Party Talks will likely be stalled for the time being,” Yang said.
One U.S. government official said the new South Korean president has shaken Pyongyang, yet played down any hopes for quick progress.
“It is hard to know precisely what the North Korean leadership is thinking, but the Lee Myung-bak administration, I believe, has given it a reason to pause and reassess its commitment to the negotiated agreement,” the official said. “President Lee is a pragmatic leader who will require reciprocity from North Korea. Perhaps North Korea is waiting to see who will make the next concession; however, the right step is for North Korea to provide a complete and accurate declaration of its nuclear program.” The official said current U.S. policy is on the right track, and patience and tenacity is needed.
“I believe we lost a lot of years in the current process by not negotiating with North Korea earlier,” he said. “It is important to understand that North Korea is not a normal state, and to approach it in negotiations with an expectation that we can reach an agreed consensus quickly would be misguided.” Japan, which is awaiting the return of citizens kidnapped by North Korea, has been one of the most skeptical members of the Six Party Talks. After Pyongyang launched several missiles and detonated a nuclear device in late 2006, Tokyo banned North Korean imports, restricted entry of North Korean citizens, stopped North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports and suspended humanitarian assistance.
Naoki Akiyama, director of the Tokyo based Congressional National Security Research Group, said North Korea will “not reveal the truth,” will not engage in further discussions, and will do the minimum in any agreement.
“They may eliminate the nuclear items which are now openly known to the public, but in fact, they have some other nuclear facilities stashed away,” Akiyama said.
He said Tokyo has given up on its hopes for progress during the Bush administration. A rushed deal would “not yield a good result to the free world,” Akiyama said.