Monday, April 16, 2007

U.S. North Korean Snapshot

While possible to go back to the early 1990s for the start of the now-common look of dismay when the two words “North Korea” are uttered by a U.S. government official, in the last six-plus years in particular the White House reaction when U.S. unilateral policy intersected with a claimed North Korean interest – similarly unilateral – the context and “spin” by White House spokespersons has invariably been 100% negative.

Moreover, when diplomats from Pyongyang and Washington happened to be at multilateral meetings, happened to wander into the same room, happened to encounter each other and politely exchanged the proverbial time of day, administration briefers could be counted on to frame the happenstance as something akin to stalking.

If there is a positive aspect to the debacle that is Iraq, it is this: the lack of resolution of the Iraq conflict and the prospects that fighting there will absorb the last 21 months of the George W. Bush presidency, has finally compelled the administration to change emphasis from verbal and physical confrontation that could spark “war-war” to multilateral “jaw-jaw,” as Winston Churchill so inelegantly phrased it. Even so, Bush resisted this change, initially resorting to devices such as the “Six Party Talks” hosted by Beijing where there were no direct negotiations between U.S. and North Korean diplomats but “non-talks” were held “on the margins.” After a series of baby steps by both sides and even setbacks that included lengthy interludes between meetings, a deal was reached. The U.S. agreed to unfreeze North Korean financial and monetary assets held in United States banks and promised to fund deliveries of heavy oil to the North to produce electricity. In return, North Korea agreed it would re-shutter is experimental heavy water nuclear reaction that has been the source of the plutonium Pyongyang has amassed for its nuclear weapons

So when the news broke that Governor Bill Richards (NM) would travel to Pyongyang to meet with Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) officials, this seemed to be added, encouraging news. As it turned out, Richardson was going to North Korea to receive from the regime the remains of six U.S. servicemen who died in the Korean War. This was the first visit to the North for this purpose by any U.S. official – Governor Richardson was Secretary of Energy in the Clinton White House years – in nearly two years.

Reportedly, Governor Richardson took the opportunity to speak with the leaders of North Korea about the importance of both sides keeping to their pledges made in the Six Party talks. As it is, this latest deal almost unraveled before it got off the ground as the administration ran into unexpected hurdles unfreezing the North’s money and the North Koreans missed the April 14 deadline to begin shutting down the nuclear reactor.

Still, things between North Korea and the U.S. may actually be on a more solid base than those between South Korea and the U.S. On April 15, the Pentagon admitted that, in making public the results of its 2001 investigation of the infamous No Gun Ri massacre of civilians by U.S. troops early in the Korean War, it deliberately failed to disclose relevant documents – including one from the then U.S. ambassador to Seoul to the State Department – that said it was U.S. Army policy at that time to shoot refugees of any age and of either gender approaching U.S. lines from the North. In 2001, the Army had flatly denied there was such a policy, while the Pentagon downplayed the “possibility” that incidents similar to No Gun Re had occurred during the North’s onslaught in July 1950.

The current South Korean government plans on re-investigating all the reports of U.S. troops firing on unarmed civilians at the start of the war. Those responsible for this policy undoubtedly are all deceased, but were any still alive today they could be held for war crimes. It is not beyond the pale, should Seoul’s investigation turn up proof that actual military orders to kill any civilians approaching U.S. defenses from the north were issued by the chain of command, that the remaining U.S. ground troops might have to leave the peninsula. As it is, the U.S. and the UN presence is becoming more tenuous each month as the South’s interests and the direction of the relationship between the two halves of the peninsula continue to diverge.

A final thought to be saved for future development: have you noticed that a common thread seems to run through every major war of the past 65 years in which the U.S. participated. That thread is the splitting of a country into two or more parts:

-Post-World War II Germany into four parts and then into two;

Post-World War II Korea into two parts that remain today;

-Post colonial Vietnam following France’s defeat in 1954 and lasting until April 1975.

Little wonder that Iraqis fear for their country’s future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will ne going to North Korea. Is there anyway that I can help?

5:02 AM  

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