North Korea: Less war, more talk

My latest, just posted on Daily Beast:

“The only way out of this box is to negotiate,” Leon V. Sigal, the director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York, told the Daily Beast. Sigal, who visited Pyongyang last week with two former State Department officials, added: “North Korea is prepared in detail to do things advantageous to the United States that are not impossible to do.”

The Obama administration, however, has made it clear that no talks with the North Korean government of Kim Jong Il are possible until the regime abandons its nuclear weapons program. In the wake of the shelling incident, President Obama announced that U.S. and South Korean forces will hold joint military exercises in the region that will include the aircraft carrier George Washington and other U.S. Navy warships. “We’ve had an underlying philosophy of not rewarding bad behavior with concessions,” a senior administration official told reporters.

In recent days, however, North Korea has opened the door for a possible shift in policy. In their meetings with North Koreans, Sigal and former U.S. officials Joel Wit and Morton Abramowitz were told that Pyongyang is prepared to ship out all of its nuclear fuel rods, the key ingredient for producing weapons-grade plutonium, to a third country in exchange for a U.S. commitment to pledge that it has “no hostile intent” towards the DPRK.

To read on, click here.

Before this went up, I spoke to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! about Korea and, at the end, paid tribute to the late, great Chalmers Johnson.

For the best Korean coverage of the situation, read the daily Hankyoreh. Here’s how they reported the story today:

North Korea’s artillery attack Tuesday on Yeonpyeong Island was a high-intensity military provocation without precedent since the armistice that ended the Korean War. Unlike previous military clashes over the year, private South Korean homes and civilians were subjected to an indiscriminate attack.

For the time being, North Korea is using South Korea’s military defense exercises as its rationale for the attack. On Tuesday morning, Pyongyang sent a message to South Korea criticizing the exercises as “effectively an attack on North Korea.”

The Hoguk Exercise in question involve 70 thousand South Korean armed forces troops, 600 tracked vehicles, 90 helicopters, 50 warships, and 500 aircraft. The U.S. military is contributing the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and 7th Air Force to the land and air training exercises, respectively. Pyongyang regards the exercises as training for an attack on North Korea, citing the fact that it is a large-scale joint South Korea-U.S. exercise encompassing naval fleets, air forces, and land exercises.

A former [South Korean] Navy admiral with experience as a squadron leader around the West Sea Northern Limit Line (NLL) said that Yeonpyeong Island “was probably chosen as the site for the attack because it is closest to the North Korea coast, allowing for easy firing and high precision.”

Update: Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to see no choice but to escalate the situation with a super-silent, US intelligence surveillance sub. When it comes to Korea, there’s not much difference between Obama and Bush.

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One Response to North Korea: Less war, more talk

  1. Steven Nagourney says:

    I agree with most of your reflections. But now we must think: What would Washington do if we found out that the DPRK was actually sending nuclear materials to terrorist groups for use in a dirty bomb? The way the game is played Washington would have to retaliate in some extreme military fashion. Oh boy! if that were ever to happen.

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