+ A

North needs security pledges: U.S.

July 16,2019
America’s top diplomat proposed new security assurances for North Korea’s regime to get denuclearization talks moving.

“We’ve got to get this right,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said about negotiations with Pyongyang in an interview with the “America First” show on the Salem Radio Network Friday. “We’ve got to make sure that the security assurances that they need are in place.”

Trump “has set the conditions for this diplomacy to continue,” Pompeo continued.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to resume lower-level denuclearization negotiations in the next several weeks during their third meeting at the border village of Panmunjom on June 30. But North Korea has yet to respond to an offer made for a working-level meeting last week by the United States through diplomatic channels.

Once the two sides resume negotiations, they may try to lay a new groundwork for North Korea taking concrete steps toward denuclearization - and detail corresponding measures the United States will offer in return.

In the “America First” interview, Pompeo recounted the historic moment when Trump became the first serving U.S. president to step onto North Korean soil in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) during his third meeting with Kim. He said that Trump having a “chance to spend what ended up amounting to a significant amount of time” with Kim and step onto North Korean soil “was truly something to watch.”

That meeting, Pompeo said, “was remarkable because we have an important mission with the North Korean government,” which he described as “reducing risk” to the United States and the world.

Pompeo said he also had an opportunity “to spend time with” his counterpart on that day, indicating North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, to “talk about our shared objective there: That is the end-state we were looking for and how we might get there and how we might make life better for every North Korean.”

He added that achieving “these objectives of denuclearizing in a way that we can verify,” will be “a truly historic accomplishment.”

Trump named Pompeo to oversee the denuclearization negotiations with the North. Such lower-level talks have not been held since the second Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 27 and 28, which ended in failure.

Washington has been hoping to resume working-level negotiations led by Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, as early as this week. Biegun’s counterpart is expected to be a veteran diplomat, Kim Myong-gil, a former North Korean ambassador to Vietnam who has experience in the now defunct six-party talks and most recently in the preparations for the second North-U.S. summit.

This could possibly lead to a high-level meeting between Pompeo and Ri at the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) in Bangkok, an international security gathering which is usually attended by all nations who were involved in the six-party talks: the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

Biegun last week made a trip to Berlin and Brussels to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization and also met with Lee Do-hoon, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, Thursday in Germany. The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Lee and Biegun agreed to continue diplomatic efforts for North-U.S. working-level talks.

Japanese media outlets including Kyodo News and the Yomiuri Shimbun reported recently that North Korea has changed its priority from seeking sanctions relief to regime security.

Kyodo reported Friday that North Korean leader Kim in recent meetings with Russian, Chinese and U.S. counterparts called for security guarantees in return for denuclearization, rather than the lifting of sanctions, citing diplomatic sources. North Korea’s renewed focus on security guarantees was reported as being a possible effort to break the impasse in denuclearization talks with the United States.

In the joint statement signed after the first North-U.S. summit on June 12, 2018, in Singapore, Kim pledged his commitment to denuclearization while Trump committed to security guarantees for the North. But the two sides clashed in Hanoi in February over the scope of denuclearization for sanctions relief and failed to produce a deal. Washington has since been signaling more flexibility including considering the idea of a smaller deal starting with a nuclear freeze. Possible partial sanctions relief with a snapback mechanism in place has also been floated by experts, despite Washington’s official stance that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea’s complete denuclearization.

The U.S. State Department on Thursday rejected Korean media reports that Washington is considering offering 12 to 18 months of a suspension of some sanctions on the North.

Morgan Ortagus, the State Department spokesperson, said that Biegun “categorically denied that.”

However, other corresponding measures that could be offered by the United States could include humanitarian assistance, some form of a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War and the opening of liaison offices, which would help pave way for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and Washington.

But history shows the limitations of offering security guarantees to the North.

The 1994 Agreed Framework stated that the United States, then under the Bill Clinton administration, “will provide formal assurances” to North Korea “against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S.” The agreement signed in Geneva Oct. 21, 1994, also stated: “Each side will open a liaison office in the other’s capital following resolution of consular and other technical issues through expert level discussions,” leaving room to “upgrade bilateral relations” to an ambassadorial level.

Those plans fizzled after North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003.

A joint statement issued on Sept. 19, 2005, by the six-party nations after denuclearization talks in Beijing stated, “The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the [North] with nuclear or conventional weapons.” The statement was issued by the George W. Bush administration.

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun focused on a message of self-reliance in an article Monday, stating that “whatever difficult circumstances there may be, if there is water and air,” anything is possible.

The Rodong Sinmun in a Sunday article promoted a similar message and wrote in its English edition, “Only self-sustenance and self-support guarantee the sovereignty of the country and nation and their rights to existence and development.”

Michael Morell, a former U.S. acting director and deputy director of the CIA, wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post Sunday that a nuclear freeze is “actually the next logical step in President’s Trump’s diplomacy with Pyongyang.”

He added that in return for a freeze, Washington will be able to give “some limited sanctions relief” and “something to show North Korea the potential benefits of a long-term deal with the United States” such as restarting the Kaesong Industrial Complex and opening a diplomatic interests sections in Pyongyang and Washington.

Pyongyang would be expected, he added, to declare “the scope and location” of all its fissile material and long-range missile production facilities and to allow international inspectors into those facilities.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]