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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
North Korea

Trump Agrees to Summit With North Korea’s Kim


April 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Managing expectations for what constitutes success will be a key challenge for the United States if U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet as anticipated next month.

Although offering an opportunity to reduce the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons, a summit carries substantial risks, particularly because it would not be preceded by months of lower-level diplomatic preparation. There is little way to predict the course of any substantive discussions and the personal interaction between the two men, one a newcomer to international diplomacy who carries the mantle of U.S. power and the other a third-generation leader of an isolated, impoverished Communist nation armed with nuclear weapons.

A South Korean soldier walks past a television screen showing pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at a railway station in Seoul on March 9, 2018. Trump agreed on March 8 to a historic first meeting with the North Korean leader. (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)If critics of diplomacy, such as newly appointed U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, do not view a summit as making enough progress toward North Korean denuclearization, they could use the outcome as a reason to urge Trump to abandon talks and pursue a military option.

Trump confirmed his willingness to participate in a summit in response to an invitation conveyed by South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who met with Kim in Pyongyang before flying to Washington. When Chung told reporters at the White House on March 8 that Trump accepted the invitation, he said that Kim is “committed to denuclearization” and will refrain from further nuclear and missile tests.

Chung said Trump looked forward to meeting with Kim by May “to achieve permanent denuclearization.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed on March 8 that Trump was willing to meet with Kim and that he “expects North Korea to start putting action to these words that were conveyed via the South Koreans” regarding denuclearization. She said Trump is not willing to reward North Korea just for talking.

Chung and Sanders each reiterated that sanctions pressure will remain in place in the interim and that Kim understood that joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises would continue as planned. The exercises, delayed due to the 2018 Winter Olympics held in South Korea, are set to take place in April. In the past, Kim has viewed joint exercises as provocations and proof of the “U.S. hostile policy” toward his country.

Kim’s invitation for a summit with Trump came as a surprise, and there remained some uncertainty about whether it will take place. The two leaders traded insults in 2017, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence canceled a meeting with the North Korean delegation during a trip to South Korea for the Olympics. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping escorts North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a welcoming ceremony March 26 in Beijing. China's Xinhua news agency said that Kim confirmed his willingness to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, although the report did not confirm the anticipated May timeframe. Kim said "it is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula" in accordance with the will of his late father and grandfather, according to the March 28 Xinhua report. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)South Korea, however, built on the Olympic spirit that led to North and South Korea fielding a joint team and sent a high-level delegation to Pyongyang in early March. The two states are also planning a summit between their leaders for April that will include discussions over North Korea’s nuclear program and could help lay the groundwork for a Trump-Kim summit. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is planning to travel to Washington after his meeting with Kim.

Managing expectations for a summit may be complicated by Bolton taking office before the meeting. Three days before he was named to succeed Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Bolton in an interview with Radio Free Asia described himself as “skeptical” about North Korean intentions and warned that a summit could be a “very short meeting” if Kim is not prepared to move on denuclearization. Although the cautious McMaster allowed that a limited strike in North Korea was an option, Bolton has been a leading voice for pre-emptive military action against North Korea and Iran in order to eliminate their nuclear weapons capabilities and bring about regime change.

Further, Trump may hear similar views from outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo, his nominee to replace fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose early advocacy of diplomacy toward North Korea had been undercut by Trump. Pompeo, a strong critic of the Iran nuclear deal, said on March 11 on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Trump will demand “the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.”

In preparation for a summit, the Trump administration will need to consider what the United States is willing to put on the table. That could include easing current sanctions or holding off on new ones, scaling back provocative elements of U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises, and refraining from actions that North Korea views as hostile, such as flying B-1 bombers north of the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.

It is unlikely that Kim will agree to give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons at a summit, but he could recommit to denuclearization as a long-term goal and take steps that would decrease tensions and reduce the threat posed by the North’s nuclear program. Steps such as agreeing to continue regular talks, establish clearer lines of communication, and work toward a freeze on nuclear and missile tests and fissile material production could contribute to stability in the region.

Critics such as Bolton may view these steps as insufficient and use the failure to achieve denuclearization quickly as an argument against further diplomacy. In February, Bolton in an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal advocated a pre-emptive military strike, arguing that it is “perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first." Previously, he has asserted that the “only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea by effectively having the South take it over.”

Bolton has disrupted negotiations with North Korea in the past. When serving at the State Department under President George W. Bush in 2002, he used the discovery of North Korea’s illicit uranium-enrichment program as a reason to kill the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea. Although the uranium enrichment violated the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and needed to be addressed, it was outside the scope of the Agreed Framework, which had successfully halted North Korea’s plutonium production.

Bolton wrote in his memoirs that evidence of the illicit uranium enrichment was “the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.”

Will talks ease tensions or set the stage for U.S. military strikes?

The Wrong Choice for National Security Advisor

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For Immediate Release: March 23, 2018

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

(Washington, D.C.)—The United States already faces an array of complex and dangerous foreign policy challenges that require pragmatic decision and sober diplomatic engagement with American allies and foes alike.

With the choice of John Bolton as his National Security Advisor, President Donald Trump has chosen someone with a record of a hostile attitude toward multilateral security and arms control agreements and effective international institutions designed to advance U.S. national security and international peace and security.

Bolton's extreme views could tilt the malleable Mr. Trump in the wrong direction on critical decisions affecting the future of the Iran nuclear deal, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and the strained U.S. relationship with Russia, among other issues.

Bolton is a nonproliferation hawk, but he has a disturbing and bellicose record of choosing confrontation rather than dialogue, politicizing intelligence to fit his worldview, and aggressively undermining treaties and negotiations designed to reduce weapons-related security threats. 

  • Bolton has long advocated for bombing Iran instead of pursuing negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program and he has called on the United States to abrogate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is working to verifiably block Iran’s pathways to the bomb. 
  • In the early 2000s, Bolton was among those in the George W. Bush administration who opposed further dialogue with North Korea which allowed North Korea to advance its nuclear program and test nuclear weapons. More recently, has argued that the United States should launch a “preventive attack” on North Korea, which would result in a catastrophic war. His approach runs counter to Mr. Trump’s own stated policy of using sanctions pressure and diplomatic engagement, including a summit with Kim Jong-un, to halt and reverse North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
  • Bolton has repeatedly criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, which is one of the few bright spots in the troubled U.S.-Russia relationship and continues to enjoy strong support from the U.S. military. Last year Bolton called the treaty “an execrable deal.”
  • While undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during the George W. Bush administration, Bolton cherry-picked the findings of intelligence community assessments of that country’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities, and was a key player in making the Bush administration’s flawed case for the war in Iraq—a war that Donald Trump has correctly ridiculed as a catastrophic American foreign policy blunder.

If Bolton succeeds in imposing his worldview on Donald Trump’s improvisational and impulsive foreign policy approach, we could be entering in a period of crisis and confrontation.

In particular, if Bolton convinces Trump to unilaterally violate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May when the U.S. is due to renew sanctions waivers, it would not only open the door to the re-emergence of Iran as a nuclear weapons proliferation risk, but it would undermine President Trump’s very tentative diplomatic opening with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In the next year or so, Trump will need to decide whether or not to engage in talks with Russia about extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is due to expire in 2021. Without the treaty, there would be no verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

We can ill-afford two nuclear proliferation crises, as well as abandoning a key brake on the growing risks of renewed U.S. and Russian nuclear competition and arms racing. 

Congress will need to play a stronger role to guard against further chaos and confusion in U.S. foreign policy, prevent the White House from blundering into unwise and catastrophic military conflicts, and to halt further degradation of the credibility of the United States as a responsible global leader.

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Press release on the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor

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Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances

March 2018

Contact: Kelsey DavenportDirector for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 462-8270; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 462-8270 x104

The world’s nuclear-armed states each have declared, to varying degrees of specificity, when and under what circumstances they reserve the option to use their nuclear weapons. Most nuclear-armed states have also declared under what circumstances they rule out the use of nuclear weapons. These “positive” and “negative” nuclear declaratory policies are designed to deter adversaries from military actions and to assure non-nuclear weapon states and allies they will not be subject to a direct nuclear attack on their territory and should be dissuaded from pursuing nuclear weapons themselves.

There is no universal agreement among nuclear weapon states on the first-use of intercontinental ballistic missiles.Today, most nuclear-armed states, including the United States, reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Only two nuclear-armed states (China and India) have declared no-first-use policies, by which they commit themselves to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

All five of the nuclear-weapon states recognized in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have issued a set of “negative” nuclear security assurances, which were recognized by the UN Security Council in Resolution 984 (1995). These pledges, however, are nonbinding and some nuclear-weapon states reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states under certain circumstances. The following is a more detailed summary of each country’s policies.

United States

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report declared that there are four missions for the U.S. nuclear arsenal: deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, assurance of allies and partners, achievement of U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.

The document reiterated that the United States does not maintain a nuclear “no first-use policy” on the grounds that U.S. response options must remain flexible to deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks. “Non-nuclear capabilities,” according to the report, “can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. In the event that deterrence were to fail, the report also declared that Washington could use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The United States issued assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members in 1978, 1995 and 2010 except in the case of “an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear- weapon State.” In 1997 the United States issued a classified presidential decision directive (PDD) reaffirming these pledges.

The 2018 NPR repeated existing U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” However, the report qualified that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies.” At the February 2 press briefing following the report’s release, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified that this may include cyber capabilities.

For a more details, see U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

China
China issued negative security assurances at the United Nations in 1978 and 1995 and is the only NPT nuclear-weapon state that has declared a no-first-use policy, which it reiterated in February 2018.

At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, Fu Ying, chairperson of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, said that “China is also committed to the principle of non-first-use of nuclear weapons, and no-use of nuclear weapons against any nuclear state [sic] at any circumstances and no-use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-free zones.”

In its April 1995 letter to UN members outlining its negative security assurances, China declared that it “undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” China consistently reiterates this policy in its defense white papers. The most recent, edited in 2016, stated that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, China also called for the negotiation of an international legally binding instrument to prohibit first-use of nuclear weapons and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear-weapon free zones.

France
France maintains a policy of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons. A 2013 French government defense white paper states that “the use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defence” and that “[b]eing strictly defensive, nuclear deterrence protects France from any state-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form.”

France issued negative security assurances at the UN in 1987 and 1995. In its 1995 statement to the UN, France pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT “except in the case of invasion or any other attack on France, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, or against its allies or a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a State in alliance or association with a nuclear-weapon State.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, France called for nuclear possessor states to “work resolutely to advance disarmament in all its aspects; in which the doctrines of nuclear powers will restrict the role of nuclear weapons solely to extreme circumstances of self-defence where their vital interests are under threat.”

Russia
According to the December 2014 Russian Military Doctrine Paper published by the Ministry of Defense, Russia reserves the option to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving any weapon of mass destruction, and in response to conventional attacks “when the very existence of the state is under threat.” This phrase suggests a willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in the event of an impending conventional military defeat.

In 1993, Russia moved away from Leonid Brezhnev’s 1982 no-first-use pledge when the Russian Defense Ministry under Boris Yeltsin adopted a new doctrine on nuclear weapons. The new policy ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT but said nothing about use against states possessing nuclear weapons. Since the 1993 shift, many Western analysts have come to believe that Russia pursues an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy—the notion that, in the event of a large-scale conventional conflict, the Kremlin would use or threaten to use low-yield nuclear weapons to coerce an adversary to cease attacks or withdraw. However, other analysts maintain that this is not the case. 

Russia issued unilateral negative security assurances not to attack non-nuclear-weapon states in 1978 and 1995, but stated in 1995 that those pledges would not apply “in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the Russian Federation, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

United Kingdom
In the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with the treaty’s obligations. The United Kingdom appears to leave open the option to use nuclear weapons in response to WMD threats, such as chemical or biological attacks, if such threats emerge. Currently London acknowledged that there is “no direct threat” posed by WMDs to the United Kingdom in the 2015 document, but the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.”

The United Kingdom issued a unilateral negative nuclear security assurance in 1978 and again in 1995. In the 1995 pledge the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. This assurance does not apply, however, to any state acting “in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state” that attacks the United Kingdom, its territories or allies, or any state in breach of its commitments under the NPT.

India
India has a no-first-use doctrine. As the government stated in a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999, “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” Although India has adopted a no-first-use policy, some Indian strategists have called the pledge’s validity into question. The credibility of this pledge was weakened in 2009 when Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor suggested that the government should review the pledge in light of the growing threat of Pakistan. In 2010, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon stated that India's nuclear doctrine was “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states.” MIT professor Vipin Narang has also observed that “the force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it to pursue more aggressive strategies—such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’—against Pakistan.”

During debate at the Conference on Disarmament in 2014, India’s representative reiterated the government’s no-first-use policy and the policy on nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states and said that India was “prepared to convert these undertakings into multilateral legal arrangements.”

Israel
Given that Israel has not acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons, it has not made any statements regarding its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Israel generally abstains from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that would establish international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would not be used against them, including recently in resolution 72/25 in 2017.

Pakistan
Pakistan has only issued negative nuclear security guarantees to those states that are not armed with nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s position regarding when and whether it would use nuclear weapons in a conflict with another nuclear-armed state, namely India, is far more ambiguous. Pakistani officials have indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating clear redlines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any established threshold for use.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional, that is it for "stopping Indian aggression before it happens" “not for starting a war.” He also said in 2015 that Pakistan is capable of answering aggression from India due to Islamabad’s development of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India.

North Korea
Following its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, Pyongyang declared a policy of no-first-use under the condition that hostile forces do not encroach on its sovereignty. The Jan. 6, 2016 government statement said that North Korea, as a “responsible nuclear weapons state, will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.”  North Korea has re-affirmed this stance at the May 2016 Worker's Party Congress in Pyongyang and in the 2018 New Year's Address. North Korea, however, routinely threatens to use nuclear weapons against perceived threats, including against the United States and South Korea, a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Arms Control Association Welcomes U.S.-North Korea Diplomatic Opening: Now the Hard Work Begins

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For Immediate Release: March 8, 2018

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Thomas Countryman, chair of the board of directors, 301-312-3445

(Washington, D.C.)—The Arms Control Association welcomes the very positive signals and messages being sent by both sides this evening and over the past few days—by President Trump and the North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un—that they are interested in pursuing a diplomatic agreement that puts North Korea on the road to denuclearization and that also presumably will also seek to address North Korea's security concerns.

"South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his national security team deserve tremendous credit for their very skillful diplomacy that has made this breakthrough possible," stated Executive Director Daryl Kimball.

With North Korea's willingness to consider denuclearization if its security is guaranteed, its willingness to suspend nuclear and ballistic missile testing while there are talks with the United States, and Kim Jong Un’s acknowledgement that the regular U.S.-ROK defense exercises are not an obstacle to negotiations, the table is set for a meaningful, sustained dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

"But now, the hard work begins," noted Kimball. "Though President Trump deserves credit for being so bold as to agree to a summit meeting with North Korea by May, this is a process that will, if it is to succeed, require patience and persistence."

"A summit meeting must be carefully prepared, with expert-level negotiations beginning immediately. Preparations must take the planned North-South summit in April into account. It is too much to expect that a single Trump-Kim summit—no matter how intensively prepared—will bring an immediate and lasting solution to the nuclear issue," he cautioned. "But if the U.S. works closely and intensively with our South Korean allies in its approach to North Korea, a summit offers the potential for starting a serious process that could move us decisively away from the current crisis."

"The near-term goal," explained Kimball, "should be to maintain a long-term freeze on North Korean nuclear and missile testing and to discuss measures that can further reduce tensions on the peninsula, and agree on a balanced framework for sustained, direct, high-level negotiations on issues of mutual concern, including steps toward the longer-term goals of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the peace regime."

An Arms Control Association fact sheet details previous presidents' efforts in using a combination of pressure and incentives to curb North Korea's nuclear capabilities. "One important difference between the efforts of Bill Clinton in 1993-1994, George W. Bush in 2005-2006, Barack Obama in 2012, and the situation in 2018 is that North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities are much more substantial and dangerous today, their bargaining power is greater, and the cost of failure is higher," noted Kimball.

"Diplomacy will not guarantee success, but it offers the best chance for curbing the North Korean nuclear threat," he said.

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Arms Control Association Hails South Korea-North Korea Breakthrough

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Urges U.S. Government to Agree to Talks Without Conditions on Issues of Mutual Concern

For Immediate Release: March 6, 2018

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) shaking hands with South Korean chief delegator Chung Eui-yong (R), who travelled as envoys of the South's President Moon Jae-in, during their meeting in Pyongyang. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)(WASHINGTON D.C.)—In response to today's announcement from South Korea that North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, said his country is willing to begin negotiations with the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons and that it would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while it is engaged in such talks, Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the U.S.-based Arms Control Association made the following comments:

"The results of the talks between senior South Korean officials and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang this week are an important breakthrough that the United States and the international community should welcome.

The preparations for an inter-Korean summit, the establishment of a hotline between South Korean and North Korean leaders, North Korea’s apparent willingness to consider denuclearization if its security is guaranteed, and willingness to suspend testing if there are talks with the United States, are all positive developments that strengthen the prospects for peace and security in the region.

The table is set for a meaningful, sustained dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. It is important that the United States government seize upon—and that Congress support—this important diplomatic opening that has been forged by our close South Korean allies and agree to engage in talks with North Korea at a very senior level without preconditions. It is in the U.S. national security interest to reciprocate with actions and statements that reduce tensions, including being prepared to modify planned U.S.-Republic of Korea military exercises.

The near-term goal should be to maintain a long-term freeze on North Korean nuclear and missile testing and to reduce tensions on the peninsula and begin sustained negotiations on issues of mutual concern, including steps toward the longer-term goals of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the peace regime.

Diplomacy will not guarantee success, but it offers the best chance for curbing the North Korean nuclear threat."

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Former Officials, Experts Urge Congress to Support More Robust and Effective U.S. Diplomatic Engagement with North Korea to Head Off Crisis

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For Immediate Release: March 6, 2018

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102

(Washington, D.C.)—In a letter sent to all House and Senate offices Monday, a group of former government officials, former members of Congress, nongovernmental organization leaders, and nonproliferation experts called on members of Congress to publicly express their support for a more effective U.S. diplomatic strategy with North Korea in a March 5 letter.

“Missing, so far, from the U.S. strategy has been an effective and consistent strategy for diplomatic engagement with North Korea to halt and reverse its dangerous nuclear and missile pursuits,” the letter states. “Unless there is a breakthrough in the coming weeks, the action-reaction cycle between President Trump and Kim Jong Un will likely resume soon after the conclusion of the PyeongChang Olympic Games.”

The letter calls on members of Congress to publicly support more robust efforts by President Trump to engage in negotiations with North Korea in order to reduce tensions and achieve a diplomatic agreement to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.

The letter is endorsed by several former ambassadors, former members of Congress, including Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), leading nonproliferation and security experts, and civil society leaders.

The letter highlights two bills, H.R. 4837/S. 2016, which clarify that only Congress can authorize U.S. military action in North Korea and calls for the administration to “avoid actions that could contribute to a breakdown in talks, and continue to search for confidence-building measures that are conducive to dialogue” and S.2047, which would withhold funding from military action in North Korea “absent an imminent threat to the United States without express congressional authorization.”

The full text of the letter and the list of signatories are below.

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Support Effective U.S. Diplomatic Engagement with North Korea

March 5, 2018

Dear Member of Congress / Senator:

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, its gross violations of human rights, and the risk of miscalculation that could lead to a catastrophic war pose serious, difficult, and urgent international security challenges.

We are writing to urge you, as a member of Congress, to express your support for a more effective U.S. diplomatic approach that improves the chances for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, and that reduces the risks of a conflict with North Korea.

To date, the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure and engagement,” presidential threats of “fire and fury,” and demonstrations of U.S. military capabilities, have failed to bring North Korea’s leaders to the negotiating table, let alone convince them to trade away any aspect of their nuclear weapons program. With additional missile tests, Kim Jong-un could soon have a reliable nuclear retaliatory capability, not just against our South Korean and Japanese allies, but against the continental United States.

International support for the more effective implementation of sanctions on North Korea is an important tool, but this is a means, not an end. The so-called “preventive” military strike option, which has been actively considered inside the Trump administration, is not a viable solution as it could trigger a catastrophic conflict with millions of casualties.

Missing, so far, from the U.S. strategy has been an effective and consistent strategy for diplomatic engagement with North Korea to halt and reverse its dangerous nuclear and missile pursuits.

The dialogue between senior leaders from North and South Korea that began early this year creates an important opportunity and may have helped dissuade North Korea from conducting ballistic missile flight tests since its Nov. 29, 2017, Hwasong-15 test. During a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence on Feb. 8, the Republic of Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said he would “work hard to use the opportunity of North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics to bring North Korea to the table for talks for denuclearization and peace.”

The current U.S. position, as expressed in recent comments by Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Tillerson, is that the United States is open to “talks” with North Korea but sustained negotiations will require that North Korea commit to denuclearization steps, including a missile and testing freeze. For their part, North Korean leaders insist that the United States should postpone major U.S.-RoK military exercises and end what it calls the United States’ “hostile policy” toward their regime.

Since this position was first communicated to the North Koreans late last fall, North Korea had not responded positively. But on Feb. 25 South Korea’s presidential Blue House reported that: “The North Korean delegation said that North Korea is willing to have talks with the U.S. and the North agrees that inter-Korean relations and North Korea-U. S. relations should advance together.”

Clearly, more will need to be done to create the conditions for a productive, sustained dialogue that defuses the North Korean nuclear crisis. Ideally, North Korea should agree—through private assurances or a public announcement—that it will refrain from nuclear and ballistic missile testing and the Republic of Korea and the United States should agree to modify their planned military exercises in such a way as not to engage in actions that might be interpreted by Pyongyang as a preparation for a preventive military strike on North Korea.

Unless there is a breakthrough in the coming weeks, the action-reaction cycle between President Trump and Kim Jong Un will likely resume soon after the conclusion of the PyeongChang Olympic Games.

To improve the prospects for a diplomatic solution and to avert a conflict, we urge you to publicly express your support for more robust and realistic efforts by the President, in coordination with U.S. allies and partners, to engage in negotiations with North Korea designed to:

  • reduce tensions and improve communication in ways that reduce the chance of miscalculation; and
  • achieve a diplomatic agreement designed to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile pursuits, toward a denuclearization and a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

One way to do so is to cosponsor H.R. 4837/S. 2016, which clarifies that only Congress can authorize U.S.-initiated military action against North Korea and urges the Trump Administration to “avoid actions that could contribute to a breakdown in talks, and continue to search for confidence-building measures that are conducive to dialogue.” Another way to do so is to support S. 2047, which would prohibit funds from “being used for kinetic military operations in North Korea absent an imminent threat to the United States without express congressional authorization.”

We urge you to voice your support for a more robust and realistic diplomatic strategy that improves U.S. efforts to defend allies in the region, prevents proliferation, and halts and eventually reverses Pyongyang’s dangerous nuclear and missile programs.

Sincerely,

Alexandra Bell, Senior Policy Director, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Dr. Rachel Bronson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists*

Thomas Countryman, Former Acting Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, U.S. Department of State and Chair of the Board of Directors, Arms Control Association

Toby Dalton, Co-Director, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace*

Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association

Michael Fuchs, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Dr. Lisbeth Gronlund, Co-Director and Senior Scientist, Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Morton H. Halperin, Senior Advisor, Open Society Foundations

Frank Jannuzi, Former East Asia Policy Director, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Amb. Bonnie Jenkins, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution* and Chair and Founder, Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation*

Amb. Laura E. Kennedy (Ret.), Former U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, U.S. Department of State

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

David Krieger, President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Jessica Lee, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Council of Korean Americans

Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, Adjunct Professor, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey*

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ret.), Former Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Paul Kawika Martin, Senior Director, Policy and Political Affairs, Peace Action

Stephen Miles, Director, Win Without War

Amb. Thomas R. Pickering (Ret.), Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper, Senior Research Scholar, Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School

Joel Rubin, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, U.S. Department of State

David Santoro, Director and Senior Fellow for Nuclear Policy, Pacific Forum, Center for Strategic and International Studies*

John F. Tierney, Former U.S. Representative, 6th District MA and Executive Director, Council for a Livable World

Cassandra Varanka, Nuclear Weapons Policy Coordinator, Women’s Action for New Directions

Dr. Paul F. Walker, International Director, Environmental Security and Sustainability, Green Cross International

Anthony Wier, Legislative Secretary for Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Dr. David Wright, Co-Director, Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Sam Yoon, Executive Director, Council of Korean Americans

Philip W. Yun, Former Senior Advisor for East Asia, U.S. Department of State and Executive Director/Chief Operating Officer, Ploughshares Fund

*Institution listed for identification purposes only

 

Description: 

A group of former government officials, former members of Congress, nongovernmental organization leaders, and nonproliferation experts are calling on members of Congress to publicly express their support for a more effective U.S. diplomatic strategy with North Korea.

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North Korea Signals Potential Talks


March 2018
By Kelsey Davenport and Terry Atlas

North Korea’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games eased tensions on the Korean peninsula and opened space for potential dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington. But that opportunity may not last as the United States plans to resume military exercises with South Korea and North Korea threatens to resume it nuclear and ballistic missile testing activities.

In the immediate aftermath of the Olympics, held in South Korea, North Korea signaled its willingness to engage in direct talks with the United States, though on what terms remains to be determined. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who conveyed word of North Korea’s overture Feb. 25, called on the United States to lower its threshold for talks and for Pyongyang to “show its willingness
to denuclearize.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, sits next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics on February 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Though nearby, Pence did not acknowledge or speak with Kim Yong Nam (top left), president of the Presidium of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly, and Kim Yo Jong (top right), sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Secret plans for a February 10 meeting collapsed at the last minute, according to U.S. officials. (Photo: Patrick Semansky - Pool /Getty Images)Moon has sought to build on the fledgling North-South dialogue to bring about U.S.-North Korean talks to reduce the risk of war over Pyongyang’s advancing nuclear weapons program. His efforts, however, may not be fully supported by the Trump administration. “We want to talk only under the right conditions,” President Donald Trump said Feb. 26.

The developments will focus attention on the uncertain diplomatic skills of the new U.S. administration. It hasn’t filled the key U.S. ambassador post in Seoul and just lost a key State Department official, Joseph Yun, who retired March 2 as special representative for North Korea policy. The public diplomatic exchanges over potential talks followed the collapse of secret plans for U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to meet with senior North Korean officials Feb. 10 during the Olympics’ opening days. U.S. officials said the North Koreans backed out, although North Korean officials said publicly on Feb. 7 that there was “no intention” of meeting with U.S. officials during the games.

That breakdown came as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, through sister Kim Yo Jong, invited Moon to come to Pyongyang for talks. The North Korean delegation was in South Korea for the Feb. 9 Olympics opening ceremony.

The Trump administration has taken a wary view toward the favorable attention focused on North and South Korea’s joint participation in the Olympics, saying Pyongyang continues to press ahead with a nuclear weapons program that will soon put all of the U.S. mainland at risk. U.S. officials say time is running out before the United States may take military action.

Kim’s moves threaten to open a rift between South Korea and the United States, particularly if the U.S. administration is seen as hindering outreach efforts by Moon, who seeks to continue the inter-Korean dialogue that began in January. En route to South Korea, Pence told reporters he would urge Moon to return to a policy of maximum pressure and “diplomatic isolation” toward the Pyongyang regime once the games ended.

U.S. officials on Feb. 21 confirmed a report in The Washington Post that Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, pulled out of the scheduled meeting at the last minute. Trump had approved plans for the meeting, at which Pence was to reiterate Washington’s demands and threats of further punitive actions, the article said. Pence said in an Feb. 11 interview, just after the then-secret meeting plan failed, that the United States is willing to engage diplomatically if North Korea wants to talk.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a Feb. 18 interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” said he “does not know precisely” how much time is left, although “diplomatic efforts will continue until that first bomb drops.” Mixed messages and failure to provide clarity about the diplomatic approach have complicated his efforts. Trump previously tweeted doubts about the likelihood of a diplomatic resolution.

U.S. threats to use military force and plans for joint military exercises may overshadow the most recent overtures and could reignite tensions. A Feb. 19 editorial by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said North Korea is open to “both dialogue and war” with the United States. The commentary called a U.S. threat to “pull the trigger” for military action a “hideous attempt to block the improvement of inter-Korean relations and again coil up the military tension on the Korean peninsula.”

Last August, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said a so-called limited preventive strike was on the table as an option. While other officials have since downplayed or denied a “bloody nose” scenario is being considered, Victor Cha, whose anticipated nomination to become U.S. ambassador to South Korea was abruptly dropped by the White House, said he had warned administration officials against any such plan.

“The answer is not, as some Trump administration officials have suggested, a preventive military strike,” Cha wrote on Jan. 30 in The Washington Post. He warned that such action could lead to an escalation that, in addition to Koreans, “would likely kill tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans” in South Korea and Japan.

Cha, who served as the National Security Council’s director for Asian affairs in the George W. Bush administration, wrote that a preventive strike would “only delay North Korea’s missile-building and nuclear programs” and “would not stem the threat of proliferation but rather exacerbate it.”

The United States is planning to resume U.S.-South Korean military exercises, delayed for the Olympics and the subsequent Winter Paralympic Games on March 9-18. U.S. officials said on Feb. 20 that there would be no changes to the original size and scope of the drills.

Pyongyang has long viewed the joint exercises, particularly the so-called decapitation drills, which simulate strikes on North Korea’s leadership, as provocative. China and Russia called for the United States and South Korea to suspend the joint military exercises in exchange for a nuclear and missile testing moratorium from North Korea, an offer which Pyongyang made to the Obama administration in 2015. (See ACT, January/February 2015.) McMaster has rejected this “freeze for freeze” proposal.

Although North Korea has refrained from missile testing since December, Pyongyang did hold a parade Feb. 9 that displayed its intercontinental ballistic missiles and a new short-range ballistic missile.

 

False Missile Alert Panics Hawaii

A false missile attack alert in Hawaii was caused by human error when a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) employee thought an exercise was a real attack, officials said.

The agency employee mistakenly sent out an emergency alert Jan. 13 warning of an incoming ballistic missile and directing residents to take shelter. Despite quickly discovering the mistake, it took the agency 38 minutes to notify the public, which is longer than the flight time for a North Korean missile to reach the Hawaiian Islands.

ALISON TEAL/AFP/Getty ImagesGov. David Y. Ige (D) called the mistake “totally unacceptable” and apologized for the “pain and confusion” caused by the false alert. The unidentified employee reportedly was fired.

Heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea compounded the fear invoked by the false alert. In response to North Korean threats and tests of ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, Hawaii began testing attack-warning sirens in December for the first time in 30 years and updating emergency management plans in the event of a nuclear attack. HI-EMA Administrator Vern T. Miyagi said in December that Hawaii “couldn’t ignore these constant threats and missile tests from North Korea.”

In a Jan. 15 Politico column, William Perry, defense secretary in the Clinton administration, argued that the false alarm is a “new manifestation of an old problem,” namely that human error or technological failure could lead to a “horrific nuclear catastrophe.” Perry wrote that the incident demonstrates the critical need to re-engage with Russia to reduce nuclear dangers, including giving up the launch-on-warning policy.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Next steps will focus attention on the uncertain diplomatic skills of the Trump administration.

U.S. Targets Support for North Korea


March 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States continues to ratchet up pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear weapons and missile development, with Washington imposing additional sanctions and calling for better implementation of UN sanctions.

A U.S. Treasury Department news release Jan. 24 stated that nine entities, 16 individuals, and six ships were added to the sanctions list as part of U.S. efforts to “systematically target individuals and entities financing the [Kim Jong Un] regime and its weapons programs.” The effort is to target “illicit actors in China, Russia, and elsewhere” for working on behalf of North Korean financial networks and for entities that “continue to provide a lifeline to North Korea” in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

This photo, released on February 9 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency, shows Hwasong-15 intercontinental-range ballistic missiles during a military parade in Pyongyang. Analysts believe the missile is capable of reaching much or all of the continental United States, depending on the weight of its payload. (Photo: KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/Getty Images)Earlier in the month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on all states to improve sanctions implementation during a meeting of 20 countries in Vancouver. The countries represented were the 18 that supported South Korea during the Korean War by sending troops under UN command, plus South Korea and Japan.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters Jan. 16 that the states agreed to take “significant steps to keep North Korea from evading sanctions and to sever financial lifelines for the country’s weapons of mass destruction.”

Sanctions implementation remains a problem, according to a leaked report from a UN panel of experts that assesses implementation of Security Council measures on North Korea.

The experts report, obtained by the Associated Press in early February, said that North Korea is using “deceptive practices” to circumvent financial sanctions and noted that there are “critical deficiencies” in sanctions implementation. The report concluded that Pyongyang is engaging in prohibited ballistic missile activities with Syria and Myanmar and exceeding caps on oil imports, including through illegal ship-to-ship transfers.

Tillerson, at the Vancouver meeting, specifically called for improving maritime interdiction activities and putting an end to ship-to-ship transfers.

The report found that North Korea evaded UN sanctions on coal by shipping it through other countries and using deceptive practices to hide the origin of the coal. Coal purchases were fully banned by Security Council Resolution 2371 in August 2017. The UN report also noted that China imported iron ore from North Korea in violation of sanctions.

China and Russia were not invited to participate in the Vancouver meeting, but Tillerson specifically called on both countries to do more to implement UN sanctions. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a Jan. 16 press briefing that China opposed the Vancouver meeting and that it has “no legality.”

Leaders at the Vancouver meeting emphasized the importance of full implementation of UN sanctions, but they appeared split on how to engage with North Korea diplomatically.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said “tough sanctions and pressure” and “the offer of a different, brighter future” must work hand in hand.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said that North Korea’s decision to engage in inter-Korean dialogue was proof that the sanctions regime is working. Kono said that it would be “naïve” to reward North Korea for engaging in inter-Korean dialogue and that now is the time to “fully and rigorously” implement UN measures. He also called for states to consider additional measures, such as cutting diplomatic ties with North Korea and repatriating North Korean workers.

Sanctions implementation remains a problem, according to a UN panel of experts.

North Korea Tests New Long-Range Missile

January/February 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea tested a new ballistic missile capable of targeting the entire continental United States, a move that considerably extends Pyongyang’s missile flight range.

This December 12, 2017 photo from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang presenting awards to scientists for their successful work on the Hwasong-15 intercontinental-range ballistic missile. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)The Nov. 29 test took place just before 3 a.m. in North Korea, and the missile flew on a lofted trajectory for 53 minutes before splashing down in the Sea of Japan about 1,000 kilometers from the launch site. The test, which violates UN Security Council resolutions, was firmly condemned by the international community and escalated concerns about a potential pre-emptive or preventative strike by the United States in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile advances.

North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) heralded the test of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), designated the Hwasong-15, as a success and described the missile as “capable of carrying super-heavy nuclear warhead and attacking the whole mainland of the U.S.”

David Wright, co-director of the Global Security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, estimated that the missile would have a range of 13,000 kilometers if flown on a standard trajectory, which would put the entire continental United States within its range. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed the range capability on Nov. 28 when he told reporters that the missile could hit “everywhere in the world.”

North Korea did test an ICBM, the Hwasong-14, twice in July, but the estimated range of that system is 10,500 kilometers. (See ACT, September 2017.) At that range, Washington, D.C., would likely have been just out of range, and experts assess that the weight of a nuclear warhead would further reduce that missile’s range.

Like the Hwasong-14, the Hwasong-15 is a two-stage, liquid-fueled system. The Hwasong-15, however, has a number of different characteristics, including a pair of rocket engines powering the first stage, unlike the single-engine Hwasong-14.

Michael Elleman, senior fellow at the International Institute for Security Studies, concluded in a Nov. 30 analysis for the website 38 North that the Hwasong-15 could “deliver a moderately-sized nuclear weapon to any city on the U.S. mainland.” Further, the missile is large and powerful enough to carry decoys or countermeasures that would complicate U.S. missile defense efforts, he said.

Elleman also noted improvements on the Hwasong-15 that would give the North Korean weapon additional accuracy. The missile could be fitted with a postboost control system that could be used to adjust the payload’s velocity and positioning, he said.

When asked about the test, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Nov. 28 that the United States “will deal with it.”

The KCNA announcement said that the test accomplished the “historic cause of completing the state nuclear force” and that North Korea had attained its goal of “completing the rocket weaponry system development.”

A South Korean official told Arms Control Today on Dec. 19 not to read too much into the use of the word “complete.” The official said that North Korea is likely directing that comment at a domestic audience because leader Kim Jong Un set the goal of completing the nuclear arsenal in his Jan. 1, 2017, speech. The officials said that “completion” should not be interpreted as an end of tests.

Many experts and officials assess that North Korea will need to conduct additional tests to demonstrate the reliability of the ICBM. There are continuing doubts about whether North Korea has the technology to ensure that a warhead would survive re-entry into the atmosphere.

Mattis told reporters on Dec. 15 that the Hwasong-15 “has not yet shown to be a capable threat against us right now.” Yeo Suk-joo, South Korean deputy minister for defense policy, said on Dec. 1 that North Korea still needs to prove re-entry and warhead activation.

Elleman made a similar point, noting that more testing is necessary to validate the missile’s performance and verify the re-entry system to ensure that the warhead survives re-entry into the atmosphere. If North Korea is willing to accept “low confidence in the missile’s reliability,” Kim Jong Un could declare the Hwasong-15 combat ready after two or three additional tests, he said.

South Korea responded to the missile test by launching its own precision-strike missiles six minutes after the North Korean test. The South Korean response included army, navy, and air force systems, likely demonstrating that the country’s intelligence agencies detected preparations for the test.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in described the North Korean test as a “reckless provocation” and warned that Pyongyang’s actions may drive the United States to consider a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.

Moon’s concerns about a pre-emptive or preventative strike were reinforced by several U.S. policymakers. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that the test brought “the world closer to war” and although the United States does not seek a military conflict, “if war does come, it will be because of continued acts of aggression,” such as the ICBM test.

North Korea tested a new ballistic missile capable of targeting the entire continental United States, a move that considerably extends Pyongyang’s missile flight range.

North Korea Holds Talks With Seoul

January/February 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un opened the door for talks with South Korea in his annual New Year’s address while warning the United States that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal should deter Washington from starting “an adventurous war.”

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (L) shakes hands with the head of the North Korean delegation Ri Son Gwon after their meeting at the border village of Panmunjom on January 9.  (Photo: Korea Pool/Getty Images)Although talks between North Korea and South Korea have the potential to reduce tensions and lead to further communications, an improved relationship between the two countries could stress the U.S.-South Korean alliance and put Seoul and Washington at odds over the strategy on dealing with Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

U.S. officials were quick to point out that addressing the threat posed by the North’s ongoing nuclear weapons development, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking as far as New York and Washington, is the dominant issue for the United States. Kim, in his address, said his country would continue and even accelerate production of nuclear warheads and missiles in 2018, leaving U.S. officials skeptical about his new overture to South Korea.

“We won't take any of the talks seriously if they don't do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on Jan. 2. “We consider this to be a very reckless regime, we don't think we need a Band-Aid, and we don't think we need to smile and take a picture.”

The Trump administration has worked to tighten international sanctions on North Korea to increase diplomatic leverage, even as reports surfaced of Chinese and Russian entities covertly supplying oil to North Korea. President Donald Trump has said he is disappointed that China has not done more to force North Korea to curtail its nuclear activities.

In his Jan. 1 remarks, Kim wished South Korea success with hosting the Winter Olympics and offered to send a delegation of athletes to participate in the event. He said that authorities from the two countries “may meet together soon” to discuss the details, a shift from past responses that largely ignored South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s calls for dialogue since Moon’s election in May.

South Korea responded the next day with an offer to talk, and the two sides met Jan. 8 at the border town of Panmunjom. To facilitate a meeting, North Korea restored a hotline between the two countries that it shut down nearly two years ago when South Korean President Park Geun-hye closed a joint industrial complex.

In photo provided by the South Korean Unification Ministry, a South Korean official checks the direct communications hotline being re-activated to talk with the North Korean side at the border village of Panmunjom on January 3. (Photo: South Korean Unification Ministry via Getty Images)In his remarks, Kim seemed to be implying that the North and South could work together to reduce tensions while casting the United States as a warmongering country that threatened the peninsula. Kim said in his speech that the United States is “wielding the nuclear stick and going wild for war” and that “when the north and the south are determined, they can surely prevent the outbreak of war and ease tension on the Korean peninsula.” He further called for “improved inter-Korean relations” in order to “avoid acute military confrontation.”

Any talks between Pyongyang and Seoul are unlikely to focus on North Korea’s nuclear program, but decreased tensions between the two countries might lessen South Korean support for the current U.S. pressure-based approach, particularly if the Trump administration continues to increase tensions.

White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders did not directly respond to a question about whether the United States supports South Korea’s decision to engage in dialogue, but said on Jan. 2 that U.S. policy toward North Korea has not changed and Washington “will still continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea to change and make sure that it denuclearizes the peninsula.”

Trump tweeted on Jan. 2 about Kim’s offer for talks with South Korea, saying “perhaps that is good news, perhaps not—we will see!”

Although this was not overtly negative, Trump adopted a more belligerent tone toward North Korea later in the day when he responded to Kim’s reference to having a “nuclear button” on his desk and weapons that can strike the entire U.S. mainland. Trump tweeted that he too has a nuclear button that is “much bigger and more powerful” than Kim’s and that his button works.

Further, the Trump administration may oppose South Korea conceding too much to North Korea to ensure stability during the Winter Olympics, set for Feb. 9-25.

Seoul expressed an interest in postponing annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises that are normally held around the time of the Olympics to try and mitigate any provocations by North Korea in response.

After initial U.S. resistance to a delay, Trump agreed Jan. 4 to Moon’s request to postpone the joint military exercises until after the Olympics. Moon asked for the delay so South Korea can focus on “ensuring the security” of the games, according to a White House statement. It is unclear whether Trump agreed for that reason, or whether his administration saw the move as a way to reduce tensions with Pyongyang.

Trump has consistently undermined signals from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the United States is willing to talk to North Korea, and a number of U.S. officials have sent mixed messages about the actions Pyongyang would need to take for Washington to start talks.

Tillerson said on Dec. 12 at the Atlantic Council that the United States is “ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk” and willing to “have the first meeting without precondition.” The White House quickly walked back Tillerson’s comment, saying on Dec. 13 that North Korea must refrain from provocations and take “sincere and meaningful actions toward denuclearization” before talks can begin.

Kim indicated that North Korea intended to continue its nuclear and missile activities in 2018. He described “perfecting the national nuclear forces” over the past year as “an outstanding success.” Kim said the country would emphasize the mass production of nuclear warheads and missiles to “spur the efforts for deploying them for action.”

In line with the U.S. strategy, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a new sanctions resolution Dec. 22 in response to North Korea’s Nov. 29 ICBM test (see page 30). North Korea is prohibited from conducting missile launches by previous Security Council resolutions.

Resolution 2397 further reduced the amount of refined petroleum products that North Korea can legally purchase and bans additional North Korean exports, including food and agricultural products. The resolution requires states to seize illicit goods on ships caught evading sanctions and to expel North Korean workers by the end of 2019.

Haley said on Dec. 22 that “leveling these unprecedented sanctions is a reflection of the international outrage” over North Korea’s actions. She said the measures in the resolution “cut deeper” and reiterated the U.S. call for all states to“sever diplomatic and trade relations with North Korea.”
 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un opened the door for talks with South Korea in his annual New Year’s address while warning the United States that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal should deter Washington from starting “an adventurous war.”

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