We got some pushback on our assessment of the track two meetings in London and Berlin (and made one small factual correction to it) and will be pursuing the debate in future posts. The most important question remains “how willing are the North Koreans to engage in serious negotiations.” We have been taking the announcement of the so-called byungjin line in April following the Central Committee Plenum and the SPA meeting as indicative of strong internal political barriers to meaningful talks. We were reminded by Robert Carlin and others, however, that the NDC has now issued two statements—one in June that we discussed in some detail at the time, and a second—issued on October 12—that we take up here. Both are reproduced in full below. Do they suggest an interest in negotiations?
To refresh our memories, the first 350 words of the 750-word proposal issued in June are given over to a standard scree accusing the US of fomenting the time of troubles in March and April that were triggered by the sequence of satellite launch, condemnation, nuclear test and new UN Security Council sanctions resolution. The offer, when it comes, is to hold high-level bilateral talks “without preconditions.” The talks could address “defusing military tensions, replacing the armistice system with peace mechanism and other issues of mutual concern including the building of a “world without nuclear weapons proposed by the U.S.”
The last point is important, because while the North Korean statement says that denuclearization is an objective, the time frame for achieving it lies over a very distant horizon. (“The legitimate status of the DPRK as a nuclear weapons state will go on and on without vacillation whether others recognize it or not until the whole Korean Peninsula is denuclearized and the nuclear threats from outside are put to a final end.”) The United States would need to lift sanctions to “show its sincerity”—despite the fact that the sanctions are multilateral—and would have to “stop nuclear threats and blackmail and all forms of provocations.”
The statement goes on to say that “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula does not only mean ‘dismantling the nuclear weapons of the north.’ It is the complete one that calls for denuclearizing the whole peninsula including south Korea and aims at totally ending the U.S. nuclear threats to the DPRK.” Given that there are currently no nuclear weapons stationed in the South and Seoul does not have a nuclear weapons program, the US will have to make some offers with respect to its strategic nuclear posture, its policy of extended deterrence with respect to the South, the conduct of exercises or some combination of the three. Some of these are possible--we have put the exercises on the table in the past; others are non-starters.
What does the October statement say? The October statement came in response to Secretary of State Kerry’s offer that the U.S. stood ready to open dialogue and even sign a non-aggression pact if the DPRK took some prior actions signaling its intent to return to its obligations under prior agreements. Even though the US demands simply include some good faith signals, the North Korean statement reveals one of the country’s legitimate concerns; that it will be disarmed prior to getting credible security assurances or payoffs. Thus the long-standing stated preference for an incremental “words for words, actions for actions” approach.
With respect to the opening gambit, the North Korean positions are now nested in a shift away from a bilateral approach toward a stated willingness to rejoin the Six Party Talks, although the statement makes no explicit mention of them. The North Korean demands are:
- No preconditions for the talks;
- Or more accurately, no American preconditions for the talks. The North Koreans have their own wish list: the United States should lift sanctions, stop exercises, stop nuclear blackmail and roll back its hostile policy.
- One consistent thread is the fact that “denuclearization” should be seen as the denuclearization of the whole peninsula. This raises again the question of whether North Korean demands could even be met in theory. As long as the US maintains a nuclear arsenal with intercontinental reach, it maintains a nuclear arsenal with intercontinental reach; it can make declaratory statements of intent, but can’t dismantle its arsenal to accommodate the North Koreans. In the June statement, the NDC argued that North Korea’s denuclearization would be seen in the context of the push to global zero. Interestingly, this language is dropped in the October statement—arguably a hopeful sign--but the meaning of “denuclearization of the south” remains unclear.
A new and unwelcome political threat in the new statement is the suggestion that North Korea “has smaller, diversified and precision nuclear weapons,” either a claim or bluff on the pursuit of miniaturization. Whether this is actually destabilizing or not is doubtful in our view; we have written on this issue at some length before (here and here). But it is clearly politically challenging if North Korea combines inter-continental ballistic missile capability with weapons miniaturization; the BMD crowd will have a field day and resuming talks will become even more problematic.
As we noted, the Berlin and London meetings revealed a willingness to return to the Leap Year Deal—although with no prior North Korean actions before convening the talks. Does this mean that the North Korean actions—essentially a freeze on Yangbyon and missile tests and the re-entry of the inspectors—would have to be paid for with food aid? Are we willing to engage in the face of those expectations?
The North Koreans have also stated in no uncertain terms that they reject any restraints on their ability to launch satellites. This is another complicated issue. The restraints on satellite tests are clearly articulated in the last UNSC resolution 2094; indeed the wording closed the loophole on satellites (the resolution “Decides that the DPRK shall not conduct any further launches that use ballistic missile technology…”
We are skeptical, but you be the judge. Of course, this is an opening gambit and not all components of the North Korean wish list—nor ours—are necessarily sacrosanct. But the whole exercise is completely lacking in conviction, and on both sides; as we have noted, even Chinese commentors are skeptical of North Korean intent. Indeed, we were informed—admittedly second-hand—that a North Korean representative at the London or Berlin meetings said at one point that there was no support for a return to the Six Party Talks in Pyongyang. We can arguably fix the US problem by either holding more formal bilateral talks, preliminary "talks on the 6PT talks" or reconvening the 6PT along the lines suggested by Beijing; these are presumably the policy options that many attendants at the Berlin and London meetings appear to favor. The position is defended in a thoughtful response by Robert Carlin to our initial commentary. But where are the signs that the North Koreans are rethinking the basic strategic line that they laid out--indeed virtually institutionalized--in April?
DPRK Proposes Official Talks with U.S.
Pyongyang, June 16 (KCNA) — The spokesman for the National Defence Commission (NDC) of the DPRK issued the following crucial statement on Sunday:
The present U.S. administration is now asserting that the development of the situation depends on the DPRK, urging the DPRK to show the will for denuclearization first and stop “provocation” and “threats” in order to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. is misleading the public opinion and deceiving the world, trying to give impression that the DPRK is to blame for the tensions that have so far mounted on the peninsula. The present south Korean authorities that have been accustomed to sycophancy and submission and the forces following the U.S. are dancing to its tune.
In this regard the NDC of the DPRK clarifies the following crucial stand upon authorization:
We state to the world once again that it is none other than the U.S. which has steadily strained the situation on the Korean Peninsula century after century and decade after decade. It was the U.S. which provoked the war of aggression on the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s and it is again the U.S. which has systematically scrapped the Korean Armistice Agreement for the past six decades after the end of the war. Entering into the first decade of the new century, the U.S. has persistently tried to ignite a war against the DPRK again. From December last year, the U.S. has pulled up the DPRK, describing its legitimate and just satellite launch as a long-range missile launch and its military measures for self-defence to cope with the U.S. open aggression moves as sort of “provocation”. This fully discloses its nature as the worst provoker and aggressor. The gangster-like resolution on “sanctions” which the U.S. masterminded and all the hostile acts that have been intensified following the adoption of the resolution were an intolerable and serious provocation against the army and people of the DPRK.
There is a limit to patience. The U.S. should no longer cling to acts of misleading the public opinion and deceiving the world while vociferating about the non-existent “provocation” and “threats”. It will be a foolish calculation for the U.S. to think that its arbitrary practices reminding one of a thief crying “stop the thief” will work on the bright world today.
We state to the world once again that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is an invariable will and resolve of the army and people of the DPRK. The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was behests of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il and a policy task which the party, state, army and people of the DPRK have to carry out without fail. The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula does not only mean “dismantling the nuclear weapons of the north”. It is the complete one that calls for denuclearizing the whole peninsula including south Korea and aims at totally ending the U.S. nuclear threats to the DPRK.
As for the possession of nuclear weapons by the DPRK, it is the strategic option taken by the DPRK for self-defence to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The legitimate status of the DPRK as a nuclear weapons state will go on and on without vacillation whether others recognize it or not until the whole Korean Peninsula is denuclearized and the nuclear threats from outside are put to a final end.
Therefore, the U.S. should stop nuclear threats and blackmail and all forms of provocations including “sanctions” against the DPRK, before urging it to show first its sincerity regarding the will for denuclearization to open the phase for dialogue.
We propose senior-level talks between the authorities of the DPRK and the U.S. to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula and ensure peace and security in the region. If the U.S. has true intent on defusing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and ensuring peace and security in the U.S. mainland and the region, it should not raise precondition for dialogue and contact. The talks can have broad and in-depth discussions on defusing military tensions, replacing the armistice system with peace mechanism and other issues of mutual concern including the building of a “world without nuclear weapons” proposed by the U.S. The U.S. can set the venue and date of the talks to its convenience.
Consistent is the stand of the DPRK to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula and ensure peace and security of the region. If the U.S. truly wants to realize a “world without nuclear weapons” and bring detente, it should positively respond to the DPRK’s bold decision and good intention, not missing the opportunity.
All the future developments entirely depend on the responsible option of the U.S., which has strained the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
NDC of DPRK Clarifies Principled Stand on DPRK-U.S. Relations
Pyongyang, October 12 (KCNA)
The spokesman for the National Defence Commission (NDC) of the DPRK in a statement Saturday revealed the deceptive nature of the rhetoric about non-aggression on the DPRK made by the U.S. recently, and principled stand of the DPRK on the DPRK-U.S. relations.
The statement said:
The tense situation that persisted on the Korean Peninsula for the past six decades after the ceasefire has not developed into a war. This is entirely thanks to the peace-loving efforts and just struggle waged by the army and people of the DPRK despite their bitter pain resulting from territorial and national division.
On October 3 U.S. Secretary of State Kerry said that if the DPRK starts denuclearization first, the U.S. will be ready to have dialogue with it and that if it becomes clear that the DPRK started denuclearization, Washington will open peaceful relations with Pyongyang and sign a non-aggression pact.
Disclosing the hypocritical nature of his remarks, the statement went on:
His remarks, which mean that the U.S. will enter into friendly relations with the DPRK after it is left bare-handed, are the height of American-style impudence and craftiness.
We are well aware that even though it clamored for non-aggression, the U.S. is running the whole gamut of intrigues to lead the DPRK to "change" and "collapse", while persistently opposing the withdrawal of its aggression troops from south Korea.
The U.S. call on the DPRK to lay down arms and remain bare-handed is an intolerable mockery and insult to the army and people of the DPRK.
It is disgusting to see the U.S. playing the role of a leading character with high skill in the charade.
The U.S. proposal for non-aggression cannot guarantee peace and security on the Korean Peninsula but the nuclear-armed revolutionary forces for self-defence of the DPRK can defend and guarantee everything.
The statement clarified the principled stand of the DPRK as follows as the U.S. takes issue with the nuclear issue and talks about the DPRK-U.S. relations while escalating all sorts of pressure offensives against the DPRK:
1. If the U.S. truly wants to improve the relations with the DPRK, it has to properly understand the DPRK and behave as befitting a big power. The DPRK is no longer a small and weak country which used to be in the past when it was hacked at the point of bayonets of big powers for it had neither sovereignty nor arms. The U.S. is seriously mistaken if it thinks it can frighten the army and people of the DPRK through the "gunboat" offensive, with which it used to browbeat the world and bring its rival to its knees in the past, and through the superiority in the air based on latest science and technology, and can hurt the DPRK through the vicious moves for isolating and stifling it politically and economically. The U.S. tragedy is that it does not know about the DPRK which is demonstrating its strong spirit and its army and people who love and value their country more than their own lives. If the U.S. truly wants to mend the relations with the DPRK, it should properly understand the DPRK supported even by tens of millions of south Koreans, and behave itself as befitting a big country. The U.S. should no longer talk about dialogue and improvement of relations with preconditions nor maintain the brigandish insistence that non-aggression is possible only when the DPRK dismantles its nuclear weapons first. The army and people of the DPRK can discern the ulterior intention concealed in the dialogue and non-aggression proposed by the U.S.
2. The U.S. should discard the old way of thinking and outdated stand and abandon the threadbare hostile policy toward the DPRK, before it is too late. For a good while the U.S., when meeting with DPRK officials behind closed doors, used to talk volubly that Washington has no intent to pursue policy hostile toward the DPRK. In recent public appearances Washington is working hard to build public opinion, claiming that it has neither hostile policy toward the DPRK nor willingness to replace the regime in the DPRK by attacking it. But in actuality it is working hard to realize its attempt at the regime change while systematically escalating all sorts of sanctions, isolation and blockade against the DPRK after invariably labeling it as part of "an axis of evil" and a "rogue state" behaving contrary to "law standard" and "international cord of conduct." The situation goes to fully prove that the U.S. assertions that it has neither hostile policy toward the DPRK nor intent to attack it are a poor farce for deceiving the public at home and abroad and mocking at the army and people of the DPRK. If the U.S. wants to escape the pent-up grudge and retaliation of the army and people of the DPRK, it should drop its old way of thinking and outdated stand and make a bold decision to roll back its old hostile policy toward the DPRK before it is too late.
3. The U.S. should clearly understand the meaning of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and lift all steps for isolating and stifling the DPRK. The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the consistent policy goal set forth by the DPRK government. It calls for the denuclearization of the whole Korean Peninsula including south Korea. This denuclearization is a peace-loving and powerful physical means for defusing all the U.S. nuclear threats to the DPRK and denuclearizing the world. If the U.S. continues threat and blackmail against the DPRK, the DPRK will get more time in its favor and the U.S. will only precipitate its miserable end. In other words, the DPRK will prosper with increasing vigor and strength, as it has smaller, diversified and precision nuclear weapons, but the U.S. will remain as a bubble marginalized in history.
The U.S. should, first of all, lift all the sanctions it imposed against the DPRK under absurd charges, if it wants to get rid of the present poor situation. It should stop resorting to the stereo-typed nuclear blackmail against the DPRK. The further the U.S. escalates its nuclear threat and blackmail, the deeper it will find itself in self-contradiction and bottomless labyrinth. What we would like to emphasize is that the U.S. should take a bold decision to halt at once all the provocations against the DPRK including war exercises which aim at bringing down its social system and territorial invasion. Explicitly speaking, the U.S. should make a policy switchover by withdrawing all the measures it has taken to isolate and stifle the DPRK as part of its greedy pivot to Asia-Pacific strategy.
Herein lies the way for improving the DPRK-U.S. relations and guaranteeing peace and security not only on the Korean Peninsula but in the U.S. mainland.