How to deal with the rogue nuclear nation of North Korea remains a thorny political problem for leaders across the globe. The constant threats and saber-rattling from the cunning, but clearly deranged North Korean leader Kim Jong Un leaves leaders little choice other than to maintain the international isolation and boycott of the country. But by the same token, the growing threat of a megalomaniacal despot at the helm of a nuclear-armed nation can’t just be ignored.
Related to this, high-level envoys from the U.S., South Korea and Japan had a meeting in Seoul on Wednesday to discuss North Korea’s continued development of a nuclear program. Sources say the goal of the meeting was to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang, but also keep China and Russia’s support for maintaining Korea as a nuclear free peninsula.
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Concerns regarding the potential for sub-launch nuclear missiles
In a media presser after the Seoul meeting, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim expressed his worries regarding the North’s recent claims and purported video proof that it had tested a submarine launched missile and had even put together a nuclear warhead small enough to be loaded on a missile.
“I don’t want to comment on intelligence matters but I think whatever that may have been, it is of great concern to us that the North Koreans are continuing to pursue such capabilities. I think the intention is clear. We should be concerned,” Kim said in classic diplomat speak.
Analysts point out that North Korea’s claim that it has test-launched a sub has not been verified, and most experts believe that the secretive regime is at least two or three years away from developing the technology for these kinds of weapon systems.
Not close to resuming direct negotiations with North Korea
According to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. and its regional allies were nowhere close to resuming direct negotiations with Pyongyang. Of note, the six party talks regarding ending the North’s nuclear program for economic aid and security guarantees were called off almost seven years ago.
In Wednesday’s meeting, the envoys from the U.S., South Korea and Japan all concluded that the best path forward is to continue to put pressure on North Korea through greater enforcement of current sanctions and/or coming up with additional restrictions.
South Korean Special Representative Hwang Joon-kook said that North Korea’s “diplomatic and economic isolation will deepen” unless the country makes significant changes in the near future.
Hoping to convince China to use its influence on North Korea
Following the meeting, Japan’s foreign ministry envoy Junichi Ihara commented that there was clearly a shared “sense of urgency” among the parties to come to grips with the growing North Korean nuclear threat.
Special ambassador Kim commented that it is important that both Russia and China continue to support the group decision regarding how to handle North Korea. Kim emphasized he will make that point clear in his upcoming meeting with Chinese Special Representative Wu Dawei in Beijing tomorrow (Thursday).
“I expect to have full consultations with Ambassador Wu Dawei tomorrow on how the Chinese may engage the North Koreans to bring the North Koreans to some credible and authentic negotiations,” Kim noted.
However, Secretary Kerry focused on the fact that stridently nationalistic North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has recently rebuffed diplomatic overtures from China and Russia. Political analysts point out the two countries voted in support of U.N.-imposed sanctions against North Korea when it conducted its third nuclear test in 2013.
That said, Beijing has for the most part been resisting efforts to get it to pressure on Pyongyang because of worries relating to increasing instability and the high potential for armed conflict in the Korean DMZ.
On the other hand, analysts also say that China is growing more and more concerned over Kim Jong Un’s belligerence and unpredictability, and may be more receptive to ideas on how to rein him in. Secretary Kerry also recently indicated a new willingness on the part of the China authorities to explore new measures relating to North Korea.
Also of interest, the Chinese Defense Ministry published a defense strategy white paper earlier this week that revisited a number of important national security concerns. In typical Chinese fashion, the report noted, “The Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia are shrouded in instability and uncertainty.”