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Veteran North Korea journalist Tim Shorrock explains that Russia’s Putin is right that sanctions will not cause North Korea to back down on its nuclear weapons program. Negotiations that put U.S. military maneuvers on the table are necessary
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The United States government is pushing for yet another series of sanctions to be imposed on North Korea. This follows what appears to be North Korean government’s sixth largest weapons test to date. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says that U.S. wants the 15-member Security Council to vote on September 11th on a U.S. drafted setup of sanctions against North Korea. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking in China just after the BRICS summit said sanctions won’t work. Here’s why. VLADIMIR PUTIN: The use of all types of sanctions in this particular case is useless and inefficient. As I’ve told one of my colleagues yesterday, they would rather eat grass than abandon this program if they do not feel safe. Russia condemns these exercises by North Korea. We think that they are of a provocative nature, but we also cannot forget what I’ve said in relation towards Iraq and then Libya. North Korea will definitely not forget this as well. SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us now to discuss the escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea is Tim Shorrock. Tim is a veteran journalist who covered the Korean peninsula for decades and is widely published. You could see his analysis in The Nation magazine, thenation.com and the Korea Center for Investigative Reporting. Good to have you back, Tim. TIM SHORROCK: Thank you. SHARMINI PERIES: Tim, let’s start with the latest nuclear test and the sanctions that are being proposed by the United States at this time. TIM SHORROCK: Well, we know that it’s the largest nuclear blast they’ve done. It’s their sixth test. It was expected that they were going to do another test. Kim Jong-un said at the beginning of the year that by the end of this year he wanted to have a nuclear bomb capable of being put on a ICBM. This test and the recent missile test, really if you’ve been following North Korean statements are not that much of a surprise, but this explosion was huge. Much larger than any of the U.S. bombs, the two U.S. bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Clearly really shook up the region, shook up South Korea, shook up Japan. It’s a very powerful bomb that they have, and they claim this can be put on an ICBM. That was the development there. As far as the sanctions go, this is what the U.S. Ambassador of the UN talked about yesterday, I guess it was in front of the Security Council. They basically want to cut off all oil shipments to North Korea, and that would pretty much bring their economy to a halt. Although Putin is right that they will continue to do this. I think it’s very dangerous do pursue a policy of sanctions only without having any kind of negotiation, without any kind of exit ramp that will allow the U.S. and North Korea to begin talking. There has to be some incentive to them to talk and to have some discussions about what they want and the U.S. wants. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. What do you think those incentives are? TIM SHORROCK: Well, the one incentive that the Chinese and the Russians have been promoting and which was slammed down by the U.S. Ambassador yesterday is this freeze for freeze, where North Korea would agree to stop its testing and its nuclear and missile testing in exchange for a freeze or scaling down of these very large U.S./South Korean military exercises that are held twice a year, one of which was just completed. The smaller one of the exercises was just completed over the last couple of weeks. The Chinese and the Russians say that this might be one way to get to the negotiating table, but the U.S. does not agree with that and seems to think that pushing further on the sanctions front and pressuring China, they’re really talking about putting sanctions, not quite sanctions, but trade pressures on China to make them conform more closely to what the U.S. wants. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. These military exercises that are going on, if the United States and South Korea won’t stand down, and if obviously if North Korea says, if we are to believe Putin, that they will not abandon their nuclear program, because as Putin suggests here in the clip off the top, they’ve seen what’s happened to Saddam Hussein in Iraq. They’ve seen what’s happened to Gaddafi in Libya. Why would they stand down? In fact, having nuclear weapons is leverage over any negotiating table. What do you make of that? TIM SHORROCK: Well, if you read the U.S. press and even listen to U.S. officials, what they say is that North Korea says it will not negotiate its nuclear weapons or its missiles, flat. They will not negotiate. That’s actually not true. What the North Koreans say consistently is they will not negotiate unless or until the U.S. drops what they call they call its hostile policy and stop its own nuclear threats. This hostile policy is something that they’ve been focusing on for many years. Back in the 1990s, ’94 when President Clinton negotiated what’s called the agreed framework with North Korea where they actually capped their, stopped their nuclear development for 12 years. A key part of that agreement was an agreement by both sides, North Korea and the United States, to end their hostile policy toward each other and then move toward full diplomatic and economic relations. North Korea actually expected that, and I lay out in an article I just published in The Nation magazine, they felt that the U.S. actually reneged on that part in the agreement, and the agreement actually fell apart in part because the North Koreans felt the U.S. was cheating and then the U.S. accused them of cheating. The whole thing fell apart during the Bush administration and reached crisis proportions which we’re still in now. I think the key is to getting and understanding of what North Korea wants in terms of guarantees to its security and then moving from there. SHARMINI PERIES: Tim, much hope was invested in the new South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, particularly regarding his apparent desire to chart a different course with North Korean relations compared to his predecessor. However, he has just come out calling to re-write a treaty with the U.S. to remove or modify the caps to the size of a payload in the tip of a missile. I believe you recently secured exclusive interview with the new South Korean president. How do you interpret these developments? TIM SHORROCK: I actually interviewed Moon Jae-in two days before his election victory, which was on May 9th. Actually, at the time, he was under a lot of criticism, sort of backbiting by U.S. officials, saying that his policies of engagement could create a big problem for the Trump administration and would be very different than what the United States wants. I asked him about that and he kind of laughed it off, and he said through engagement they hope, he hoped at the time, to be able to begin talks again and begin bilateral discussions with them again and thus reduce tensions. He said to me, “If engagement brings a reduction in tensions, that should be welcomed by the United States.” He thought that would be welcomed by President Trump. Actually, when President Moon Jae-in met with President Trump in June here in Washington as part of their statement they put out, there as an agreement there that the United States supports South Korea’s path of engagement and talking and moving towards eventual unification with North Korea. That was in the official statement. This is part of the policy that … the part of the platform that President Moon ran on, and it’s very important to note that in recent polling … I mean, he won the election. That tells you something there, but in recent polling 80% of the South Korean people support North/South dialogue and moving back towards what Moon Jae-in … what in the past was called the Sunshine Policy under his progressive predecessors Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Moon Jae-in was the Chief of Staff to Roh Moo-hyun in the early 2000s until 2007. Under that policy, under the Sunshine Policy there was a lot of exchanges between North and South. Many people traveled North. There as an economic zone set up north of the DMZ that was functioning until just a couple of years ago. He was hoping to go back to that kind of policy and reduce tensions that way. Unfortunately, the North Korean side Kim Jong-un government has not been very receptive to his overtures since he took office in May, and see his close military alliance with the United States as problematic for those negotiations. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Do you think this recent test of this weapon has shifted his position in terms of the South Korean diplomatic ventures here? TIM SHORROCK: Well, yeah, I think the test of the nuclear bomb, and the North Koreans say it was a hydrogen bomb. I don’t know if that’s been completed determined yet, but yes, I think it was quite shocking to the president and his new government. I think they see the latest North Korean actions as a real repudiation of his overtures to seek some dialogue with them and to reduce the tension. He’s been under very strong pressure from his own military, from the very strong right wing in South Korea to have much tougher policies. Of course, it was very shocking to South Koreans the other day, and especially to President Moon, that one of the first things Donald Trump said about the North Korean nuclear test was Moon Jae-in’s policies are really policies of appeasement. This was something that deeply angered President Moon, as I think you can see from his statement since then. He’s been trying to be very closely aligned with President Trump, but to be accused of appeasement for trying to heal divisions within your own country is quite an insult. I think it’s very dangerous thing for Trump to be saying. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Then, in your opinion, Tim, what can be done to de-escalate the situation from all parties involved? TIM SHORROCK: Well, I think the United States has to give North Korea some kind of off ramp. Make some kind of statement like, “Okay, next spring when these large exercises start again, maybe we will scale them down.” Do something to that effect. At this point, the North Koreans seem to be saying that they’re going to make sure that their nuclear capability and their missile capability is clear and apparent to the world as a way to really build up their posture before they begin negotiations. I think that there is going to be another UN Security Council meeting, and from what I’ve been hearing from the Russia side and the Chinese side and even in the statements they made the other day, they’re really going to press for some kind of diplomatic solution, and I do think the Chinese role and the Russian role and the Security Council could be very important, because after all, they could veto any further sanctions. Maybe there could be some negotiations between those parties as a way to sort of think about steps that the U.S. could take to show the Kim Jong-un government that they’re serious about trying to de-escalate the tensions if they are. SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Tim, why the U.S. having much of a say in what’s going on, even at the Security Council? I mean, China, Russia being closer geographically to North Korea, plus South Korea and Japan having a real stake in being right there in the region. Why is the U.S. having so much a say? Could they for example, Moon Jae-in in South Korea, I mean, he actually called for a Security Council meeting last week. Why don’t they take the lead and proceed here? TIM SHORROCK: Well, that’s a very good question. I mean, I think the South Koreans have been saying, and Moon has been saying, they should be in the lead, but the statements and threats made by Trump largely on Twitter and these very public statements he’s made, these very loud and dangerous threats he’s made, has really escalated the situation and created a situation where North Korea has responded with their own threats. It’s ratcheted is up and I think … That’s why I think it’s important for some other party to step in, but I can’t answer why the U.S. has been so dominant and oppressing. I think it’s very clear to China and Russia that many of the North Koreans steps or their tests have been quite provocative, especially shooting the rocket over the Japanese island of Hokkaido the other day. They’re showing that they have capability to shoot rockets long range, missiles long range. In their statements they say this shows that “We’re perfectly capable of fighting a war in the Pacific.” They’ve talked about threatening Guam because that’s where any U.S. attack of North Korea would come from, from the B1 bombers that are in Guam. I think this escalation, this verbal escalation and the words that the U.S. is using, is to me been a little bit shocking, particularly Mattis’ statement the other day about “While we could annihilate North Korea, but we don’t want to do that. We want them to just end their nuclear program.” I mean, I don’t remember the Bush administration or people in the Bush administration when they were talking about … before they attack Iraq and invaded Iraq, talking annihilating the entire Iraqi people. When you talk about annihilating a nation, you’re talking about 25 million people you’re going to kill. That’s really a very naked statement of potential violence to another country. I think in this context those kinds of threats have really made this situation far worse. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. We were speaking with Larry Wilkerson earlier, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, who was actually one of the people negotiating and a part of the working committee between South Korea and North Korea and discussions that were taking place with them, with the U.S. involvement at the table. He said that there was a lot of room for negotiations given his experience, and this kind of rabid talk that’s coming out of Washington was really a distraction from what’s actually going on in Washington these days. Would you tend to agree with that assessment? TIM SHORROCK: Yes, I would agree with that very much. In fact, I mentioned this article that I just published in The Nation. I mean, there was detailed negotiations. I mean, once they reached that agreed framework, they talked about where the oil went, and there was U.S. delegations would go to North Korea and discuss how to proceed on the normalization front, economically, politically, opening embassies. I mean, there’s a lot of issues that can be negotiated, but first they’ve got to back off from this crisis, from this near-war situation we’re at. For this to happen, I think it’s going to take some wise heads, and I myself don’t see any kind of peace gestures coming from this administration. Although, they did reduce the number of American soldiers participating in the last exercises, the military exercises that just ended. The U.S. reduced them by a few thousand, but they did not end the part of the training where they practice a strike on the North Korean leadership which they call decapitation strike, and they did not delete the nuclear bomb tests they also did. Some of these trainings were computerized. They’re still talking about this kind of regime change military operation in these exercises. I think that’s what really frightens the North Korean side, and that they consistently talk about … they want to see these exercises scaled down, and I think in this situation when you do have these exercises, the possibility of misunderstandings, miscalculations is extremely high. That’s what is so dangerous about the situation today. SHARMINI PERIES: All right, thank you so much for joining us, and looking forward to you joining us again as the situation unravels. TIM SHORROCK: I’ll be happy to. SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining here on The Real News Network.