More Mush from the Wimps



The Elders have released their trip report, and it is a sad testament to how brazenly the North Koreans are willing to embarrass those who are working to get things moving. But the Elders are not blameless either.

Among the headlines:

  • After failing to meet with Kim Jong Il, the Elders were called back for an unscheduled meeting with Kim Gye Kwan who gave them a message from Kim Jong Il. The message said that the DPRK is willing to return to the Six-Party Talks on denuclearization and security issues “without preconditions”—meaning that they would not address South Korean concerns—but also that they would “continue” to abide by the 19 September 2005 Joint Statement, implying that they believed they were currently doing so. Hardly.
  • Kim Jong Il informed the Elders that the DPRK is willing to enter into direct talks with the ROK, including at the level of the leaders (i.e. a summit) and on all issues. Not quite: when offered the opportunity Pyongyang used it to embarrass the Lee Myung Bak government. The report makes no mention of this development, which occurred subsequent to the Elders’ trip. But the report does discuss the release of Eddie Jun, which also occurred after their trip. This selective updating—report only the good development, but not the bad--is troubling. And to be clear the news is bad: according to South Korean television reports that  North Korean National Defense Commission staff took the initiative in setting up the talks, and were purged after returning home. The Associated Press is reporting that the North Koreans are threatening to release tapes of the talks to further embarrass the Lee Myung-bak government.
  • There is plenty of embarrassment to go around, however: the Chinese government apparently told the Elders that the re-establishment of official bilateral talks between the ROK and the DPRK was a “strong possibility.” Again, the Elders report does not mention subsequent developments that would put this claim in a very different light.
  • The  Elders  "observed"  that  the  "DPRK  continues  to  claim  that  it  was  not  involved  in  the   Cheonan  incident  and  that  the  shelling  of  Yeonpyeong  Island  was  an  act  of  self-‐defence." This takes diplomatic neutrality to an extreme and mirrors the Chinese position. Yes, that is exactly what the North Koreans continue to say. Unfortunately, it is false.
  • The Elders not only brought attention to bear on the food issue, but raised other health concerns as well including lack of access to potable water, absence of basic medicines and high enfant mortality. Hardly a flattering picture, even if Pyongyang is trolling for aid.
  • Mary Robinson—a passionate and life-long advocate of human rights—has a thoughtful blog on what political scientists call “agenda control”: once you put primary emphasis on the nuclear question, there is little room to raise “ancillary” issues such as human rights. Robinson talks openly of having to "bite her tongue." The Elders did call on the DPRK to comply with the most recent resolution of the UN Human Rights Council, including a visit to the country by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the DPRK. As we always say, don’t hold your breath. The inclusion of US human rights envoy Bob King in the recent US delegation to Pyongyang clearly does not signal anything new on that front. The main game of that trip was to secure food aid.

It is easy to kvetch about the spin that the Elders are putting on this initiative.  But the basic point should not be lost: presented with this opportunity the North Koreans have thoroughly blown it up.

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