Tweet of the Day: How Excited Are South Koreans About Current Talks?

Analyst Believes Olympic Talks Are A Means for North Korea to Get Concessions and Buy Time for More Testing

Here is one theory on what the Kim regime is attempting accomplish with its offer of talks with South Korea over its attendance at the upcoming Winter Olympic games:

But perhaps Kim is a smarter student of the cutthroat game of geopolitics than we give him credit for—seeking to delay a showdown on terms more favorable to him. What if Kim keeps the talks focused on his nation’s participation at the games—and asks for nothing in return?

If talks go smoothly and North Korea does indeed join the games he appears like a winner back home, having secured his nation’s place at the Winter Games. He could even send his sister, Kim Yo Jong, as the lead representative.

Kim could even score another PR victory: imagine athletes from a divided Korea marching into the Olympic stadium together under a unified flag—with members of the Trump family sitting in the same stadium looking on. With there being almost no downside to this for Kim, I would argue this is very likely what North Korea is banking on.

And here is where Kim could get quite slick. He could leverage the positive nature of the talks to propose many other sweeteners to enhance inter-Korean ties—restarting joint development projects, offering family reunifications and even going so far to propose an inter-Korean summit between the two heads of state. This would occur of course while not talking to the Trump Administration—and quite on purpose, dodging key questions about Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. Negotiations would move slowly—with North Korea adding to its list of demands over time, but not quite sabotaging the talks. Negotiations seem to start to drag on, but overall, there is hope—just what Kim is wants.  [Harry J. Kazianis – Center for the National Interest]

You can read the rest at the link, but the analysis continues that eventually the Kim regime will restart missile tests while the negotiations continue.  The restarting of the missile tests is to perfect the reentry technology they have yet to master.  The talks will buy them time to do this which they may otherwise not have under the current dynamic of possible military action from the US.  With ongoing negotiations the ROK may not support any US military action in response to continued testing.  This has the potential of driving a wedge in the US-ROK alliance if the two allies do not agree with how to respond to renewed testing.

Negotiators and Topics Identified for This Week’s Inter-Korean Talks

Here is what will be discussed and who will be discussing it at this week’s inter-Korean talks:

This file photo shows Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (L), the chief South Korea delegate for high-level inter-Korean talks scheduled for Jan. 9, 2018, and his North Korean counterpart Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, the agency in charge of inter-Korean affairs. (Yonhap).

South Korea will seek to discuss ways to ease military tensions and reunite divided families during this week’s high-level talks with North Korea, Seoul’s chief delegate said Monday.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon made the remarks one day before South and North Korea will hold their first formal talks in more than two years to discuss the North’s potential participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and ways to improve their ties.

“Basically, the two sides will focus on the Olympics. When discussing inter-Korean relations, the government will seek to raise the issue of war-torn families and ways to ease military tensions,” Cho told a group of reporters.

Cho will lead a five-member government delegation to the first inter-Korean dialogue since December 2015. The North’s chief negotiator is Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of North Korea’s state agency in charge of affairs with the South.

The South’s delegation also includes Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, who has a range of experience in inter-Korean talks. It will be the first time that the country’s top point man on unification and the vice minister are included together in a delegation.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but what is interesting is that the North Korean lead representative Ri Son-gwon is the long time aid of North Korean General Kim Yong-chol.  Kim is believed to have been the person who planned the sinking of the ROK Naval vessel the Cheonan and shelled Yeonpyeong island in 2010.

The selection of RI as a negotiator makes me wonder if he was specifically chosen to remind the ROK negotiators that if the Kim regime does not get what they want from the talks more Cheonan and Yeonpyeong island attacks could happen during the Winter Olympics.

Moon Administration Wants to Open Talks with North Korea Starting Next Week

The Moon administration seems giddy after Kim Jong-un’s New Year message offering to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics:

This photo, taken on Jan. 2, 2017, shows Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposing high-level talks with North Korea next week. (Yonhap)

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed Tuesday holding high-level talks with North Korea, Jan. 9, to discuss its participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Cho’s offer came in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s message, in which he said he was willing to send a delegation of athletes to the South’s first Winter Olympics.

Minister Cho suggested holding the cross-border dialogue at the truce village of Panmunjeom. He said Seoul is open to discuss the timing, venues, methods and other preparatory steps regarding the talks with Pyongyang.

“We propose to hold high-level talks on Jan. 9 at the Peace House (on the South Korean side of Panmunjeom),” Cho said during a press conference at the ministry in downtown Seoul. “We’re willing to talk with the North freely over the necessary steps both sides must take. To do so, the dialogue channel at Panmunjeom should be restored promptly. We expect to hear a positive response from the North soon.”

If North Korea accepts, this will be the first cross-border dialogue since President Moon Jae-in took office in May 2017. It will also be the highest-level contact between the two Koreas since December 2015 when vice minister-level officials met.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link, but for long time Korea watchers like myself this is just another example of the pattern with North Korea of raising tensions with provocations and then conducting a charm offensive to get concessions.  Once they get the concessions they will then break whatever agreement they made and blame the US and the ROK and restart the provocation cycle.

What is different this time is President Trump seems determined to enforce stricter sanctions and President Moon seems determined to start another Sunshine Policy particularly trying to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex.  I can easily see a return to the failed Sunshine Policy causing tension politically between the US and the ROK which is likely one of the goals of the Kim regime if they do implement a charm offensive.

North Korea Says It is Not Interested In Talks with the US Even without Preconditions

I expect the engagement crowd will say that the Kim regime doesn’t really mean what they say:

North Korea on Tuesday rejected U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s latest proposal for dialogue without preconditions, saying that it has no interest in Washington’s scheme to make it give up its nuclear program.

Tillerson said last week that the U.S. is ready to begin talks with North Korea “without preconditions” in a possible shift of U.S. policy. But days later, he said that the North should halt its “threatening behavior” before talks can begin, backpedaling on his previous remarks.

The Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), said that nothing has changed in its stance of pursuing nuclear weapons, regardless of whether Washington has offered talks without strings attached.

“The U.S. is trying to shift responsibility for tensions on the Korean Peninsula to us with its dialogue offensive,” the newspaper said in a commentary. “The move is seen as being intended to set the tone for manipulating new U.N. Security Council resolutions that may include a maritime blockade if we do not accept dialogue aimed at discussing the abandonment of our nuclear weapons.”

North Korea made it clear that it will not put its nuclear weapons and missiles on the negotiation table if the U.S. does not ditch its hostile policy toward Pyongyang.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but I believe in believing what the Kim regime says.  It is pretty clear they only want to talk if the US ditches its hostile policies.  What that means is that the Kim regime wants the sanctions to go away and a peace treaty to be offered as part of negotiations.  This basically rewards the regime for bad behavior before the talks have even begun.  From their perspective this strategy has worked in the past and I guess they figure at some point the Trump administration will reward them as well.

Former Nuclear Negotiator Says Even A Deal North Korea Cheats On Is Still a Good Deal

Here is what a former nuclear negotiator with North Korea had to say recently about the Trump administration:

Robert Gallucci, a former U.S. special envoy to North Korea, speaks in the National Assembly, Monday. / Yonhap

Robert Gallucci, the chief negotiator during the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis, called for dialogue with the North to make a breakthrough in the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, during his speech at Seoul’s National Assembly, Monday.

Gallucci, chairman of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., reiterated the U.S. should negotiate with Pyongyang, if there’s room for improved circumstances through the negotiation.

“What we should not ask is a perfect deal. We should not ask how much does it cost,” Gallucci said in an event co-hosted by Reps. Kim Kyung-hyup and Lee Tae-kyu, members of the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.

“We should rather ask are we better off with the deal,” the former special envoy noted, referring to his past experience of talking with his North Korean counterpart Kang Sok-ju in Geneva, Switzerland.

“In 1994, our intelligence community estimated North Korea was capable to produce 200 kilograms of plutonium a year. However, when President George Bush came into office in 2001, North Korea had zero nuclear weapons,” he said. “Did the North cheat us? The answer is yes. However, the deal was still a good one.”  [Korea Times]

That last paragraph is all everyone needs to see to understand the problem with past negotiations with North Korea.  Gallucci is apparently more than happy to allow the North Koreans to cheat on a deal as long as there is a deal.

Here is what else he had to say:

Touching on the heightened tension sparked by the North’s Nov. 29 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Gallucci pointed out that it is a crisis between the North and the entire international community.

“It is a crisis because if military activity were to begin in days, indeed just days, no one in this room could be surprised, or should be surprised. That I think is a fair definition of crisis,” he said.  [Yonhap]

Who is assessing military action to happen within days except for people that don’t closely follow North Korea?  The ICBM launch was a research and development activity like their other prior test launches.  The US military has not launched any retaliatory strikes in response to these R&D activities and has instead focused on deterrence responses.  If the Kim regime fires a missile that lands in or near US territory than we will definitely have a military crisis on our hands.

The Kim regime has clearly been firing missiles in areas that are no where near US territory in order to not provoke a crisis.  Additionally the Kim regime has not shelled any islands, attacked ROK naval vessels, or murdered ROK servicemembers in quite sometime.  It is clear the Kim regime does not want a military crisis and instead is focusing on R&D of their ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities.

Why they are developing their ICBMs and nuclear capability Gallucci believes is for deterrence:

“This North Korean capability raises a question about whether the U.S. will fulfill its alliance responsibilities to its allies,” he said. “It raises a question about whether the U.S. will put Washington D.C. and New York City at risk in order to prevent North Korea from blackmailing South Korea and to deter any attack on Seoul specifically.”

But he noted the military dominance of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, saying Pyongyang cannot hold Seoul “hostage” with its artillery or nuclear weapons unless it is “suicidal.” He also voiced skepticism about the existence of a “good” military option without any cost or risk.

“Its nuclear weapons are good for one thing only to deter an effort at changing their regime. That is plausible,” he said.

“But the North cannot plausibly blackmail, it cannot deter a military response to its adventurism, it cannot compel the ROK (Republic of Korea) or the U.S. to do anything, it cannot break our alliance,” he added.   [Yonhap]

I think his remarks that North Korea is not developing nuclear weapons to blackmail the South is in direct response to ROK Drop favorite Joshua Stanton.  Stanton of One Free Korea fame has long argued that the North’s nuclear program is less about deterrence and more about driving concessions out of the South to create a confederation of the two countries on Kim’s terms.

I support Stanton’s position because reunification is a driving force within the Cult of Kim.  The Kim regime has long had deterrence through its conventional weapons that could destroy Seoul.  Most other countries in the world would have faced regime change retaliation for the provocations the North Koreans have executed over the years.  However, the Kim regime has faced little military retaliation because of the threat to Seoul.

Developing nuclear weapons allows the regime to threaten the US homeland for the first time.  It is arguable the regime wants to create a negotiating environment where it hopes to separate the ROK from the US.  This would explain why the North Koreans continuously bring up wanting to negotiate a peace treaty to end the Korean War.  If a peace treaty is signed then why would US troops be needed in South Korea any more?  The next goal for the Kim regime would be to co-opt the ROK into a confederation on North Korean terms.

Only time will tell who is right or who is wrong.

US Secretary of State Says He is Willing to Meet with North Korea to Discuss the Weather

Another ICBM test has quickly changed the calculations at the State Department in regards to talks with North Korea:

Rex Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that Washington is willing to begin talks with North Korea without preconditions.

Tillerson’s remark came as tensions have increased over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs with its latest test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29.

“We’re ready to talk whenever North Korea is ready to talk and we’re willing to have a first meeting without preconditions,” he told a forum here. “We can talk about the weather if you want.”

It was a markedly different tone from Washington’s earlier insistence that Pyongyang first halt its missile and nuclear testing and demonstrate its sincerity about denuclearization.

“I don’t think it’s realistic if you say we’re only going to talk if you give up your programs,” Tillerson continued. “It really depends on how you bring it up. He’s clearly not like his father or his grandfather, and we don’t know what it will be like to engage with him.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

North Korea Expert Kelsey Davenport Says More Diplomacy Needed to Resolve Nuclear Crisis

Here is what another so called North Korea expert says should be done to resolve the ongoing nuclear crisis which is basically more of the same that has led to the slow motion acquisition of North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles:

Kelsey Davenport

Diplomacy is the only way to achieve a peaceful resolution of the North Korea nuclear crisis, according to Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

She said that in order to bring North Korea back to negotiations, U.S.President Donald Trump and his administration should send a sincere, consistent message that the offer of engagement is real.

“Diplomacy is the only path forward to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis,” Davenport said in a recent interview.

“The Trump administration purports to advance a strategy of maximum pressure and engagement but U.S. actions and rhetoric expose a serious diplomacy deficit,” she added.

She pointed out that mixed messages from Trump and top administration officials about U.S.intentions to engage in talks further complicate the environment.

“The Trump administration can and must signal to North Korea that it is willing to engage in talks without preconditions,” she said.

“Direct talks would give the U.S. an opportunity to discuss a path forward with North Korea to reduce tension.”

Davenport stressed that the U.S. Congress should also refrain from activities that heighten tension and muddy the waters regarding the prospects of diplomacy.

“That may require putting denuclearization on the back burner, voicing support for shorter-term, more manageable goals, and giving existing sanctions time to work before pushing new measures,” she said.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link, but all I read was more of the same strategy used for the past 25 years that has led to where we are at today.

Ms. Davenport’s strategy is to once again reward the North Koreans for their bad behavior by limiting US-ROK military drills.  She says it would not impact military readiness, how would she know that?  In my opinion cancelling a UFG or Key Resolve exercise would impact readiness considering the constant change over of personnel in Korea and the amount of off-Pen augmentees that participate in the training.

Ms. Davenport believes offering up a military exercise will lead to the “freeze deal” that many in the academic world are calling for.  I think if any freeze deal is pursued it should include robust inspections and the risk of a retaliatory bombing strike if it is not complied with.  However, I am doubtful the Kim regime will ever sign up for vigorous inspections when they know the so called experts are more interested in making a deal than actually denuclearizing North Korea.

North Korean Official Says there “May Be An Exit” from Current Crisis

I don’t get what the supposed smart people in the diplomatic community are getting excited about after these comments from a North Korean official.  Basically the official said that if the US backs off and gives the Kim regime everything they want then there may be an exit from the current nuclear crisis.  Does anyone think President Trump is willing to settle this current crisis by signing some agreement that leaves Pyongyang with nuclear tipped ICBMs pointed at the United States?:

The head of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s North American bureau, Choe Son-hui, speaks at the 2017 Moscow Nonproliferation Conference on Oct. 20. “[North Korea] will not be returning to the Six Party Talks until issues with the US have been resolved,” she said. (ITAR-TASS/Yonhap News)

Choe Son-hui, the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs bureau chief, recently said there “may be an exit” from the North Korean nuclear crisis if the US “makes the right choice to abandon its hostile policies and co-exist with North Korea as a nuclear state,” it was reported on Oct. 24.

The message is being interpreted as suggesting Pyongyang is leaving the possibility of dialogue open.  Choe’s remarks were made during a closed-door session on “Detente on the Korean Peninsula” at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference on Oct. 21, a South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs official reported.

When asked what was specifically meant by the US “abandoning its hostile policies,” Choe reportedly replied, “For a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to happen, the right atmosphere must be formed, but North Korea cannot sit down at the negotiating table when there are threatening tweets from President [Donald] Trump every day.”“North Korea will not move an inch if the US’s policies of pressure with military and nuclear threats and economic sanctions continue,” she was also quoted as saying.“We will not be bound by the Sept. 19 Joint Statement [of 2005] stipulating denuclearization, nor will we return to the Six-Party [Talks] framework.”

Choe’s remarks differ little from Pyongyang’s other recent statements of principle on the international stage. But her use of the terms “exit” and “right atmosphere” are drawing notice, as they could be seen as a signal that Pyongyang may pursue negotiations.“Choe’s remarks could be taken a signal that [North Korea] is starting to negotiate,” said University of North Korean Studies (UNKS) professor Koo Kap-woo.  [Hankyoreh]

You can read more at the link.