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For the last 2 weeks the North Koreans and the US have been playing many “cards” in their efforts to have the upper hand in Singapore. Let’s review the high points.
- The North Koreans walk out of a meeting with the ‘south Koreans and issue a searing critique of National Security advisor Bolton. The critique was against him personally, but more importantly the North Koreans were rebelling at the Libyan example—Kaddafi denuclearized and then 15 years or so he was overthrown by rebels armed and provided air support by NATO and then subsequently murdered. Not a good image to send the North Koreans.
- The North Koreans also slowed discussions about the summit.
- President Trump talked less positively about the probability of the summit and mentions the military option.
- The president send us a letter to Kim Jun Un that was very conciliatory and positive but cancelled the summit.
- However the President continues with a scheduled meeting with President Moon of South Korea. The two president talked about trade but one can be sure that they were seeking to show solidarity and soften the rhetoric.
- Today President Moon and Kim Jun meet in for 2 hours in Panmunjom and talked about the relations between the two Koreas. Some pundits of course argue that they can have a summit and don’t need President Trump probably because they don’t understand the “process”
- Sarah Sanders announced that the US advance team departs for Singapore tomorrow to prepare for the summit.
- Positive remarks are heard around Washington to include from the President
- There may be several more back and forths but unless the North Koreans play a strong antagonistic card one can expect a reversal of the cancellation this coming week.
The search for an advantage will continue by both sides but it looks like there will be a summit.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the Trump administration will embark on an “unprecedented” pressure campaign against Iran meant to fundamentally change its foreign policy. Delivering his first major foreign policy address as top diplomat at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, Pompeo listed 12 sweeping and uncompromising conditions for a new nuclear deal with Tehran after President Donald Trump withdrew from an existing one earlier this month.
Pompeo said that the JCPOA put the world at risk because of its fatal flaws. Therefore the list of US demands is long” because Iran’s activities are bold in scope, “We didn’t create the list – they did.” There were reported to be twelve demands, but a thorough reading of his speech makes it 15: (the number doesn’t matter the message does)
- We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime. The leaders in Tehran will have no doubt about our seriousness. The departments of Treasury and Commerce are already working on the sanctions.
- I will work closely with the Department of Defense and our regional allies to deter Iranian aggression.
- We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region. We will work to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyber activity. We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and we will crush them. Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.
- We will also advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people. The regime must improve how it treats its citizens. It must protect the human rights of every Iranian. It must cease wasting Iran’s wealth abroad. We ask that our international partners continue to add their voice to ours in condemning Iran’s treatment of its own citizens.
- Iran must declare to the IAEA a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program, and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity.
- Iran must stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing. This includes closing its heavy water reactor.
- Iran must also provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all nuclear sites throughout the entire country.
- Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems.
- Iran must release all U.S. citizens, as well as citizens of our partners and allies, each of them detained on spurious charges.
- Iran must end support to Middle East terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
- Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias.
- Iran must also end its military support for the Houthi militia and work towards a peaceful political settlement in Yemen.
- Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria.
- Iran must end support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan and the region, and cease harboring senior al-Qaida leaders.
These demands are broad in scope and in essence call for the end of Iran’s goal as to the creation of a caliphate across the Middle East from Egypt to Afghanistan. There are some wide ranging and probably on their face impossible to achieve. The center of gravity of his remarks appears to be a call for regime change. He said that we ask the Iranian people: Is this what you want your country to be known for, for being a co-conspirator with Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and al-Qaida? The United States believe you deserve better.
With a regime change all of the other goals become more possible.
With a regime change all of the other goals become more possible.When one sees this hard line approach to Iran (North Korea’s partner or client in weapons building) he must wonder how Kim Jun Un he sees the on again of again upcoming summit. Kim responded negatively to President Trump’s Libya analogy, with cause. Things went well for Libya for about 10 years before the revolution stared and was supported by NATO with arms and air support until the government was overthrown and Qaddafi killed.
In this complex world such examples provide the wrong message to both the Iranians and the North Koreans.
As things progress in the processes that have been started with North Korea and Iran we will watch them with interest and report on them when needed and appropriate.
Just as I think that I have the process and its linkages figured out the North Koreans throw a curve ball! The cancellation of yesterday’s talks as a protest against US – South Korean previously planned military exercises may tell us some things about the process continuation.
The North’s official news agency said Pyongyang had called off high-level talks with Seoul. Citing first vice minister of foreign affairs the news agency said the fate of the unprecedented U.S.-North Korea summit, as well as bilateral relations, “would be clear” if the United States spoke of a “Libya-style” denuclearization for the North.
“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit”.
There are several possible messages here:
- There may be a power struggle between the hardliners and those in favor of denuclearization within the hierarchy of North Korea
- We may be witnessing the traditional North Korean drive a hard bargain approach, which is not incompatible with the first observation
- This may be a test of President Trump—how tough will he hang? Will he be willing to walk away?
Interestingly the dialogue with Secretary Pompeo by phone has continued. This is most likely just another negotiating gambit. However, the power struggle argument must be given serious consideration. The North Korean military is first in the “chow line” when it comes to the government distributing what little bit of resources that it has. If the military believes that this favored position will be threatened by denuclearization and the end of the “almost hostilities with the South and the US” then it may be trying to force a more belligerent and stronger position. It wants its share of whatever good comes form the summit.
Only time will tell.
Yesterday we published an analysis of the process leading to the meeting of President Trump and Kim Jung Un in Singapore on 12 June. This is an update on that analysis.
The north and south are meeting today in Panmunjon to further refine the issues of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.
This is a further part of the process. The process has two levels:
1. The north south issues
2. The denuclearization issues which is the US focus
Obviously the two levels of processes are interconnected and it will be impossible to work one process to a successful outcome without the other. The economic vitalization of North Korea is dependent upon the relaxation of sanctions and economic embargoes which is in turn dependent a denuclearization agreement.
Given these dependencies one can imagine a direct linkage between steps in the two. In other words, as certain steps are taken in denuclearization certain sanctions and embargoes will be relaxed. These connected steps will be detailed and require significant negotiation. /this suggests that the best one can hope for coming out of Singapore in 28 days is a broad agreement that sets the negotiation of the detailed linkages noted above. The agreement will have both sides make good faith actions immediately to establish a maintainable momentum.
As the details emerge in the coming days this framework should become more evident. Stay tuned.
In one of his walking out of a ceremony remarks President Trump mentioned that the process. To date there has not been any press speculation about this process. There has been speculation that the Iran nuclear deal cancellation has made the upcoming denuclearization negotiations more difficult. This is contrary to the process. The process has included a series signals (public and private) and actions. Several of these are:
- Convincing the Chinese to tighten the screws on the North Koreans. (It should be noted that Kim Jung Un has made 2 visits to China in recent months.)
- The Winter Olympics north south cooperation and accompanying discussions
- The recent north south summit in Panmunjom that included:
- Movement towards a peace treaty
- Opening of family reunions
- The provision of a USB stick with an North Korean economic development plan on it
- The Pompeo back channel discussion in North Korea
- Discussions at the UN with Niki Haley
- The cancellation of the Iran Nuclear Agreement signaled that a cosmetic do nothing agreement will not be tolerated. This is necessary to define expectations and set the bar at a high level.
- The recent release of the three detainees as part of Secretary of State Pompeo’s latest visit to coordinate the negotiation
- The North Korean announcement that they will dismantle their nuclear testing facility and allow the media to visit it
- The suggestion that the North Koreans provide 3 warheads to the French to have them dismantled
- President Trump’s more positive remarks about Kim Jung Un, while stating hopes for success but simultaneously allowing the possibility for a lack of success with the blame for failure being pre-positioned as a North Korean failure
- Secretary Pompeo’s remarks yesterday that US funds would not be used to rebuild North Korea, HOWEVER with a lack of sanctions private capital would flow into North Korea. “He talked of the potential for U.S. investment in the North Asian nation from America’s “entrepreneurs, our risk takers, our capital providers” to help North Korea’s people “get the opportunity that they so richly deserve.” Of course allowing such capital flow would be dependent upon proof of denuclearization.
So the process is ongoing providing the standards, some initial agreements, the removal of issues (the hostages) and the terms for whatever is to occur in Singapore next month. This process started with the “Rocketman” rhetoric and the display of force. Another key part of this process was convincing the Chinese to tighten the embargo on the North Koreans.
Watching this process unfold may provide a textbook approach to reaching critical, peaceful negotiated agreement.
Immediately after the President’s announcement that the US will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal the liberal fake analyst pundits announced that the decision would undermine the negotiations with the North Koreans. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
In my recently published blog (the workup to the Korean Summit) I wrote: “The Trump Administration will most likely add into the Korean position its stand on Iran. The Iranian agreement does not provide the example that the Trump Administration wants the North Koreans to think is in the realm of the possible. It is sure to highlight the loopholes in the Iranian deal no matter how it decides to go forward.”
In other words the withdrawal will highlight to the North Koreans that they cannot get away with some fluffy document that has numerous loopholes and a lack of comprehensive verification of whatever is agreed to.
As the “we hate Trump pundits” look for something wrong with the withdrawal the North Koreans will have received several meaningful messages. The most important is that they must agree to a comprehensive denuclearization or they too can be isolated like Iran.
What are your thoughts?
Six months ago the common wisdom was that the United States and North Korea were on a collision course to armed intervention by the US and response by the North Koreans. Today as the Kim Jung Un and President Trump summit draws near there are some who are touting President Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. How did we get here?
Some analysts believe that the North Korean change in direction is not the result of weakness, as many would have you believe. They argue that the North Koreans now perceive that they have demonstrated that they are valid members of the “nuclear club” and thus can come to a negotiating table in a position of strength. They have demonstrated nuclear weapons and ICBM technology. This capability can be redeployed in the future should an agreement fail. What is probably missing is reentry vehicle technology which is necessary to deliver a nuclear weapon. This with the construction of a new test facility can be mastered– the North Korean nuclear underground test site is collapsing.
On the negative side there is no doubt that the sanctions have hurt the North Koreans—especially since the Chinese have cooperated, somewhat in those embargoes. Given the nuclear standoff they have created there is no doubt that the North Koreans see an opportunity to greatly improve their economic situation. The question on the table is whether they will be willing to trade denuclearization for economic growth?
The North Koreans have played the fear of conflict in South Korea to improve their position vis-à-vis the US. The Olympic icebreaking followed by the recent Panmunjom north south summit with the announcement of the cessation of hostilities agreement was no doubt orchestrated to try and get the south to apply pressure, when/if needed to reach some form of agreement coming out of the upcoming meeting between Kim Jung Un and Donald Trump. The visit of President Moon of South Korea to the White House in coming weeks is no doubt focused on having a unified position going into summit.
There are also plans on the economic partial integration of the two Koreas that the South Koreans have created to increase the incentive for s for the North to agree to nuclearization. This is a two edged sword for the South Koreans. The South Koreans should talk to the Germans about the huge costs that they bore with the German unification.
Both sides have continued to move in jerks toward the historic meeting. The North has agreed to release 2 Americans being held in a labor camp so as to take that issue off of the table. The President has announced that 28,000 US forces stationed in Korea are not on the table. The North has complained of US rhetoric while promising to let experts and journalists visit the nuclear test site to verify its decommissioning.
Reaching an agreement on the denuclearization of North Korea will be a difficult negotiation. It will be difficult process to agree on the terms and their implementation. It is in this process that the Iranian nuclear deal sets a precedent. The Trump Administration will most likely add into the Korean position its stand on Iran. The Iranian agreement does not provide the example that the Trump Administration wants the North Koreans to think is in the realm of the possible. It is sure to highlight the loopholes in the Iranian deal no matter how it decides to go forward.
No one should expect a detailed agreement to come out of the upcoming summit. The best that could be hoped for is a broad agreement that:
- Codifies the denuclearization of North Korea
- Limits the development of ICBMs
- Provides for future technical negotiations with periodic reports of status to principals either individually or at subsequent summits for approval and further guidance.
- Links the relaxation of sanctions to progress on the limiting/eliminating of ICBMs and nuclear warheads.
Obviously verification protocols will be critical to the successful conclusion of this historic negotiation.
The upcoming summit is not an end in and of itself! It is a meeting to define and agree to a process that may take a year or more to conclude.
North Korea has recently announced a willingness to:
- Meet in a summit of the Koreas
- Defer its nuclear and missile testing while seeking some form of negotiated agreement
- Stated a willingness to de-nuclearization in exchange for some form of non-aggression effort from the US.
The recently concluded Winter Olympics provided a scene changer and face saving opportunity for the North Koreans. Behind the screen of the Olympics the North Koreans could say that the atmosphere of détente offered by the South and the world conclave showed a different face of a world willing to talk to the Koreans. It might be that the continuing tightening embargoes and financial and trade isolation of the North was finally being felt. Those who oppose President Trump’s saber rattli9ng will be quick to jump on this position. They will also quickly seek a loosening of the military build-up and potentially the offer of lifting of trade restrictions to show good faith. To say that this is what the North Koreans are seeking would be an under-statement.
The North Koreans played a similar game with Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama with the desired results. The North Koreans have demonstrated a much longer view of history than past US administrations. The North’s bellicosity is reduced, promises made, military preparedness reduced and from Clinton energy and trade concessions made in exchange for what? Words? What concessions in reality were made? NONE!
A program of international inspections to verify the dismantling of certain production facilities—nuclear and missile technologies—is what is required for there to be a meaningful change in the situation on the Korean peninsula. Will the North Koreans agree to such terms? Will the South Koreans have the backbone to hang tough in demanding such terms in the face of numerous promises and possibly even the renewal of family visits? That would be tough for the South Koreans to do.
In short while the North Korean words sound good, we are a long way from a meaningful resolution to this almost 75 year old growing problem. This will require continued vigilance and as Ronald Reagan said: “Trust but verify.”
Recently I have read in multiple publications the exact same article—verbatim. I guess some must think that because it is printed in so many publications that it must be true. Well, maybe. The articles say that the US is considering what is called a bloody nose attack against North Korea. What is a bloody nose attack you ask?
A bloody nose attack is said to be an effort to destroy the next missile that Kim Jun Un launches. The idea is to intercept the missile early in the launch phase. The goal is to show the North Koreans that the US is serious about its demands of limits on North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons. Many argue that such an attack is fraught with dangers,
- How will the North Koreans respond? Will they perceive this action for what it is a limited attack? If they do not perceive this or do not wish to perceive it those that are against the attack fear that they will respond massively against South Korea.
- What if the attempt fails? The prestige of the US will be greatly reduced, the pundits argue, and that of the North Koreans enhanced.
- What if the attack succeeds? The North Koreans will have been embarrassed and because of the loss of face will either retaliate or be more willing to negotiate since it had been shown that their missiles could be intercepted.
I should also note that several congressmen have reported that F-35s with heat seeking missiles could destroy any missile in the launch phase. Most of such reports do not link this to the time it takes the North to prepare a missile for launch or the ability of US intelligence to “see” the preparations and thus put the F-35s on station. (I have been amazed that this information was leaked, but maybe it is part of my fourth option below.
The media is reporting that the National Security Advisor supports the attack while the Secretaries of State and Defense oppose it. One almost never reads anything about the positions the LTG McMaster has supported. Such deliberations are usually one thing that remain secret in a leaky administration. This leads me to my fourth option.
The fourth option is a psychological warfare against the North designed to ratchet up the pressure. One could argue that the saber rattling and now the threats of a bloody nose attack are designed to force the North Koreans to seek alternative ways to lower the pressure. If one buys this strategy he could say: “Look it is succeeding.” The North Koreans have in fact held talks with the South Koreans that have reduced the pressure some. Possibly, in response to this, President Trump has stated his willingness to negotiate with the North Koreans.
Only time will tell how this will play out but the saber rattling psychological pressure may have worked. If it worked the next question is why previous administrations did not try such an approach? The answer probably has something to do with hutzpah and the willingness to go as far as necessary. We will see.
As the debate swirls about North Korea’s latest shows of force:
- Launching a missile over Japan
- Exploding what may be a thermo nuclear weapon of some size bigger than that used against Hiroshima
There is need to consider the next steps for the west and North Korea. Several weeks ago North Korea seemed to be backing down as its rhetoric and actions slowed after the US show of force. And then last week the US and South Korea conducted the military training exercise that the North had been trying to stop. The training included an attack by B-2 bombers and other aircraft against simulated North Korean targets. This was obviously part of the signaling that the US has been doing trying to deter the North Koreans. It obviously didn’t work!
One doubts that UN ambassador Niki Haley’s comments that:”We have kicked the can down the road long enough, there is no more road left.” Or Secretary of Defense Mattis”s comments that the US can annihilate North Korea will have any effect. Another UN declaration condemning North Korea will also not have any effect.
A UN declaration that any country that trades with North Korea will have all of its trade from the other member nations suspended might be tried. The US stopping $600 billion a year of trade with China would be significant, but is not likely. It would harm the US as much as it might harm China. Conversely, it might create the leverage that President Trump has been seeking in negotiating with China about trade in general. Interesting—the short term pain might be worth the long term gain—increased pressure for China to rein in North Korea and a new trade arrangement between the US and China.
On the military front the US is dropping its limits on the weight limit of South Korean missiles—they will be able to carry more powerful warheads. The Japanese are talking g about pre-emptive strikes against North Korea. We haven’t heard a Chinese response to this discussion, yet. (One must remember that the Chinese have said that they would defend North Korea against a US attack, but would not get involved if the North Koreans started a conflict.) Are the Japanese (or the US and South Koreans) trying to provoke the North Koreans to truly step over the line in the sand—whatever it is? What do the North Koreans have to do to provoke the disarming and decapitating attack we talked about in an earlier article?
- Fire missiles near Guam?
- Fire missiles at Japan?
- Take some form of aggressive action towards South Korea?
- Begin the mobilization and readiness enhancement that are necessary on the road to war?
It is interesting to note that there has been no mention of the last bullet above and yet it is the most important indicator that military conflict may be coming. Given the limited transportation and other logistical shortcomings of the North Koreans should they begin mobilizing for war this would be a very critical indicator. One wonders if they could stop the mobilization once it started. (History reminds us that many authors of contended that once the mobilization started before World War I it could not be stopped. “How can I stop if he doesn’t?)
The diplomatic posturing will continue as will the threatening rhetoric, but will there be military signaling by missile launches or other activities that cross that mystical line in the sand. That is what we must look for, anticipate and be fearful of. In the meantime the North Koreans will continue to try and be relevant and considered a true international actor.