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(News Focus) Rare, serious debates under way in U.S. about how to deal with N. Korea

All News 05:53 October 13, 2016

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- Alarmed by the darker specter of a nuclear-armed North Korea in the wake of its fifth nuclear test, rare, serious debates are under way in the United States about how to deal with provocative regime, with the main focus on whether to use carrots or sticks.

Such long-overdue, soul-searching debates reflect genuine concern sparked by the increasing prospect of a North Korea churning out what it claims "standardized" nuclear warheads that can be delivered on long-range missiles capable of reaching the continental U.S.

That also shows a bitter irony -- that Pyongyang has provoked its way to the front and center of American attention after being under near-negligence of the administration of President Barack Obama, which had been preoccupied with Middle Eastern problems without paying due attention to the North in the name of its "strategic patience" policy.

Those advocating negotiations with the North argue that sanctions have been proven ineffective in dealing with the North and the U.S. must deal directly with Pyongyang without trying to subcontract the problem to China as Beijing has scant appetite for pushing Pyongyang hard.

One of the first to make the case for diplomacy is Joel Wit, a former U.S. negotiator with the North.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Wit said that the progress in the North's weapons program should "put to rest the misconceptions that have driven the United States' failed North Korea policy, especially the idea that China, Pyongyang's closest ally, will solve the problem."

"No amount of cajoling from Washington will cause China to squeeze North Korea with enough sanctions that it will give up its weapons or risk the government's collapse," he said. "The next administration must recognize that the United States, not China, is the indispensable nation when it comes to dealing with North Korea."

Wit, editor of 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea analysis, also said that the U.S. should launch a new diplomatic initiative aimed at persuading the North to first stop expanding its arsenal and then to eventually reduce and dismantle its weapons.

He even suggested temporarily suspending or modifying U.S-South Korea joint military exercises, which the North has long balked at, or replacing the Korean War armistice with a permanent peace agreement as short- and long-term concessions to Pyongyang.

(News Focus) Rare, serious debates under way in U.S. about how to deal with N. Korea - 1

Former top nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill then came forward with anti-"appeasement" case, claiming that resuming talks with North Korea in the wake of its fifth nuclear test would end up recognizing the communist nation as a nuclear state and further embolden the regime.

"The logic behind such suggestions seems to come down to, 'What have we got to lose?' The answer is simple: plenty. Such talks ... would most likely bring with it a general acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear-weapons state," Hill said in an article to the Project Syndicate late last month.

Moreover, Hill, former assistant secretary of state, said that the North would be unlikely to engage in any such talks, much less impose a moratorium on weapons tests, unless some of their longstanding demands, such as the suspension of joint military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea, were met.

He argued that joint U.S.-Korea exercises are an essential part of any alliance and should continue.

Then came a high-profile Washington Post op-ed piece written jointly by Jane Harman, a former congresswoman who now heads the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Wilson's Korea expert, James Person.

Its bottom line is: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." That refers to the U.S. policy of seeking sanctions after sanctions against the North when those restrictions have not achieved their intended results.

"While the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula remains the long-term goal, we propose using this U.S. leverage to enter into talks with Pyongyang with the stated goal of negotiating a freeze of all North Korean nuclear and long-range missile tests and a return of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors," the experts said.

"Realistically, this can only be achieved through direct talks with North Korea, not a return to a six-party process that evoked too much mistrust among key stakeholders, especially between Pyongyang and Beijing," they said.

Joshua Stanton, a sanctions expert, then strongly criticized Harmon and Person for their proposal, saying all past nuclear and other deals with the North for the past 25 years have unravelled as the North backtracked on its promises to disarm.

"There was also the 2005 Joint Statement, in which North Korea again agreed to disarm. In between, there were countless meetings of the New York Channel or Track 2, side meetings in ASEAN summits, and hostage-retrieval missions by ex-presidents and spymasters. Did no one talk during those meetings? Were our mouths full the whole time?" he said in an article to the Nelson Report newsletter.

Stanton also said that there is much room for further tightening sanctions on Pyongyang, pointing out that the U.S. actually had stronger sanctions against Zimbabwe and Belarus than against the North. He also also said that even tough sanctions take time to work, three years in the case of Iran.

These debates are still on-going, with experts and analysts making their cases for carrots and sticks in newspapers, magazines and on think tank websites, with some even calling for considering preemptive military action before it's too late.

Earlier this week, Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and James Przystup, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, released a joint article pointing out problems on both sides of the debate.

"Arguing that sanctions don't work is, at best, premature. Compared to the sanctions against Iran prior to the nuclear deal, those against Pyongyang are modest. Remove their access to the international financial system, as was done to Tehran, and let's see what unfolds inside the opaque regime twelve to eighteen months later," they said.

"At the other end of the spectrum, unrealistic calls for preemption and regime change are also surfacing. In regard to preemption: first, Seoul is within artillery range of the DMZ. North Korea has some 250 deployed Nodong missiles that could hit U.S. bases in North Korea and Japan, possibly with miniaturized nuclear warheads on the business end. Who wants to roll the dice?" they said.


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