North Korea nuclear crisis

Former US and Japanese nuclear negotiators warn that Kim Jong-un deserves no ‘carrots’

Christopher Hill and Mitoji Yabunaka sat at the negotiating table with Pyongyang in the past, but agree the onus is on North Korea to defuse the latest crisis

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 10:26pm

Former chief nuclear negotiators for the US and Japan on Monday squarely blamed North Korea’s long-standing refusal to enter denuclearisation talks for the failure of diplomatic efforts on the Korean peninsula.

Because the nation’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, continued to reject denuclearisation, now was “not a time” for the US to offer “carrots” in exchange for getting him to the negotiation table, they said.

Christopher Hill, the top US diplomat for Asia from 2005 to 2009, told a think tank event in Washington that Pyongyang had shown “zero interest” in talks or denuclearisation.

“The issue is North Korea has refused to engage in these negotiations, ” Hill said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Monday. “[North Koreans] have not started the conversation at all,” he added.

Hill was the head of the US delegationto the so-called six-party talks, a negotiation group that was aimed at solving the North Korean nuclear issue during the administration of former US president George W. Bush. In addition to North Korea, the other participants were South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

The risks posed by North Korea’s recent tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles will be front and centre at the United Nations General Assembly meeting this week in New York.

The US has been ramping up a campaign of military deterrence, economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation against Pyongyang. The administration of US President Donald Trump has made no offers to Pyongyang, putting the onus on North Korea to do more as a precondition for talks.

US Senator Cory Gardner, chairman of the senate’s East Asia subcommittee, has sent letters to the ambassadors of China, Germany and 19 other nations, requesting that they to sever diplomatic ties with Pyongyang and push for the expulsion of North Korea from the UN, Reuters reported.

“[North Koreans] have continued to say they would not enjoy a denuclearisation,” said Hill in an exchange with the South China Morning Post at the event. “In fact, they put in their constitution [that North Korea is] a nuclear-weapon state. This is problem to us.”

Mitoji Yabunaka, Japan’s former chief negotiator to the six-party talks, echoed Hill’s position. “North Korea goes for [a] nuclear test, launch of missiles, and provocative actions after provocative actions.”

“This is not a time to show any kind of carrots,” said Yabunaka. “Instead, it’s a time to show our readiness and seriousness. Finally, they come to negotiation table. Certainly, many negotiations can take place,” he added.

The US and North Korea signed a bilateral nuclear agreement in 1994, in which Washington agreed to provide North Korea two proliferation-resistant nuclear power reactors and oil shipments, in exchange of Pyongyang freezing its plutonium weapons programme. But the agreement collapsed in 2002.

Douglas Paal, vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the South China Morning Post it was the time for “more sticks”, in the form of enhanced missile-defence capability in South Korea, Japan and the US.

This should include a review of the possible redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, Paal said.

Such weapons could include short-range missiles, artillery shells and other armaments equipped with nuclear warheads. The US had about 100 nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea until 1991.

On Monday, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis was quoted as saying at the Pentagon that the US and South Korea have “discussed the option” of redeploying tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.