- - Thursday, March 17, 2016


United Nations sanctions, though a justified response to North Korea’s February 2016 nuclear test and subsequent missile launch, will not unilaterally resolve the nuclear issue with North Korea. If China would participate, unconditional exploratory negotiations with North Korea could conceivably prove productive, ideally hosted by China, with South Korea joining the United States to determine if the Six Party (nuclear) Talks should be resumed. Reflecting on the history of the Korean Peninsula and developments with North Korea for the past 70 years, it is apparent that the nuclear issue and regional security concerns will continue to deteriorate if we are unable or unwilling to further explore a negotiated path to issues involving North Korea.

In its 2000 years of recorded history, Korea experienced 900 invasions with periods of foreign occupation — by China, Mongolia and Japan, which occupied Korea until the end of World War 11. In 1945, the United States. selected the 38th parallel as the divide between U.S. troops occupying the area south of the parallel with Soviet troops occupying the area north of the parallel. The Communist North refused to accept this division and on June 25, 1950, with Soviet and Chinese backing, invaded the South in an effort to reunify the country under Communist control. The United States, South Korea and 15 other nations, under the flag of the United Nations, repulsed the invasion in what became known as a “police action.” The war ended in 1953 with estimates that 900,000 Chinese and 520,000 North Korean soldiers were killed or wounded, as were 400,000 U.N. troops (mostly South Koreans). The United States suffered more than 150,000 casualties with 54,000 killed. It’s estimated that 3 million civilians were killed.

Since 1953, North Korea’s economy has deteriorated significantly. Her leaders have consistently behaved recklessly and managed to build the most internally repressive nation on earth. While the nation seems incapable of feeding itself, Pyongyang has spent billions on advanced weaponry and continues to threaten not only her neighbors, but the United States as well. The 1966 commando attack on Seoul’s Presidential Blue House, the 1983 commando attack on a visiting senior South Korean delegation in Rangoon, Burma and the 1988 downing of a Korean Airlines plane are just of few of the atrocities perpetrated by North Korea. In 1993, North Korea reacted to IAEA suspicion of anomalies at its Yongbyon nuclear facility, threatening to quit the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and make Seoul a “sea of flames.” After former President Jimmy Carter, with the aid of Billy Graham, met with Kim Il Sung, nuclear negotiations with the United States were established. These meetings in Geneva resulted in the 1994 Agreed Framework, with the North agreeing to freeze its nuclear activities at Yongbyon, in return for two 1000 megawatt light water reactors and the provision of heavy fuel until the reactors were operational. It was the first of several agreements North Korea was to enter into with no apparent intent of observing.

With Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994, his son, Kim Jong Il, took over and when confronted in 2002 with information about its clandestine uranium enrichment program, admitted to the program and in January 2003, quit the NPT, reactivated its Yongbyon reactor and started to reprocess plutonium spent fuel rods for nuclear weapons. In response, the United States halted construction of the two light water reactors being built as a result of the 1993 agreement and stopped shipping heavy fuel to Pyongyang. In April 2003, China convened a meeting in Beijing of the United States, North Korea and China, in an effort to defuse the situation. The countries agreed to the establishment of Six Party Talks, to negotiate the nuclear issue with North Korea.

In September 2005, the six countries agreed to a Joint Statement that supposedly halted and under which North Korea promised to eventually dismantle her nuclear programs in return for security assurances, a peace treaty, economic and energy assistance and eventual discussion for the provision of light water reactors. Literally at the same time, the U.S. Treasury, using Section 311 of the Patriot Act, sanctioned Macao’s Banco Delta Asia which then froze $25 million of the North’s money. The North’s reaction was missile launches on July 4, 2006, followed by a nuclear test in October 2006. Once the frozen funds were returned to North Korea in 2007, implementation of the Joint Statement ensued. This supposed cooperation, however, came to an abrupt halt in late 2008, when North Korea refused to sign a nuclear monitoring agreement with the United States permitting monitors to leave Yongbyon to inspect any other suspect nuclear site.

Since then, in 2009, and in 2012 and 2016, when Kim Jung Un replaced his deceased father, Kim Jong Il, North Korea has conducted three additional nuclear tests and numerous missile launches and put two satellites in orbit.

The recently-imposed U.N. sanctions on North Korea are comprehensive and intrusive. If implemented, especially by China, they will significantly affect the flow of all military goods and luxury items to North Korea. The North’s reaction has been predictable — bombast and threats.

For many who have dealt with North Korea and its leaders, it’s apparent that sanctions alone will not get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons. Although it is difficult to discern listening to its leaders, many believe Pyongyang wants to be accepted as a legitimate nuclear weapons state and would like normal relations with the United States. The North Korean leadership knows, however, that given the danger of proliferation the international community is unlikely to acquiesce so long as Pyongyang continues to develop more sophisticated weaponry or persists in aiding other nations in their own development of a nuclear capability. The United States and other nations are reluctant to return to the table with the North Korean regime unless China takes a major role in the effort to reign in her adventurism, but if Beijing would step up to the plate by hosting the United States, South Korea and North Korea for exploratory talks to determine if there under any circumstances under which the Six Party Talks might be resumed tension in the region might be reduced.

The United States is unlikely to believe any future promises from North Korea’s leaders, given their past record, but serious talks could conceivably lead not to empty promises, but an agreement that might be trusted precisely because it can be verified.

Joseph R. DeTrani is president of the Daniel Morgan Academy. He was the special envoy for Six Party talks with North Korea from 2003 to 2005. The views expressed are his and do not reflect the views of any government agency or organization.

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