Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arrived in Seoul, South Korea yesterday for talks on stalled nuclear diplomacy hours after North Korea said it had “no intention of sitting face to face with the United States.” President Trump had said earlier in the day that he was willing to have yet another summit with the North Korean leader. But Biegun reiterated the U.S. position that North Korea must give up all of its nuclear weapons, something North Korea has always maintained it would not do unilaterally without concurrent sanctions relief.
North Korea is in the news again. As always, that means that it is time for mainstream journalists and establishment figures to reach for the handy cliché and to recycle received opinion as a substitute for thought. Terms like “provocation,” “threat,” and “aggression” abound. Not surprisingly, powerful political and military actors in the United States are seizing the opportunity offered by strained inter-Korean relations to try and kill any prospect of reengagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK – the official name for North Korea).
Back in August, South Korea’s 90-day notice that it would withdraw from the General Security of Military Intelligence Agreement (GSOMIA) set off alarm bells in Washington. The agreement provided the means for South Korea and Japan to directly share military intelligence on North Korea.
Although widely derided by the Washington Establishment as an empty photo opportunity, the recent meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un at Panmunjom produced an agreement to resume working-level talks in the near future. According to the North Korean news agency KCNA, the two leaders discussed stumbling blocks in improving relations and easing tensions, and agreed to work towards a “breakthrough in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and in the bilateral relations.”
President Trump’s hasty decision to pull the plug on the Hanoi Summit ahead of schedule came as a stunning surprise. The feeling of disappointment in those who were hoping for success contrasted with the sense of relief in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, which remains steadfastly opposed to any improvement in relations.
Review: The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965-66, by Geoffrey B. Robinson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018. Cloth, pp 429.
Half a million people killed and more than a million imprisoned and tortured; the tragedy that befell Indonesia in 1965 was among the more dramatic moments in 20th-century history. It was also one of the most ignored. After more than half a century, Geoffrey B. Robinson’s new book is the first comprehensive history to appear in the English language.
An announcement by the North that it has developed an unspecified new “tactical weapon” is causing controversy. The hawkish CSIS think tank said this week that they had discovered 13 supposedly secret North Korean missile development sites. President Trump, however, said that he’s known about the sites for a long time. Is the Intelligence Community trying to sabotage the Korean peace talks?
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s meeting with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un on September 18-20 culminated in the signing of the Pyongyang Declaration, which marked a significant advance towards peace and heralded a welcome warming in relations. Since that time, however, contradictions within the Trump administration’s North Korea policy threaten to forestall further progress and test the patience of its South Korean ally.