US-North Korea standoff: Give dialogue a chance

 21 Aug 2017 - 18:24

As the tension between superpower United States and defiant North Korea is mounting with increased rhetoric from both sides, the world media and international state actors including South Korea still see hope in negotiations to settle a long-standing, tricky crisis.

North Korea has said that it is “considering carrying out missile strikes” on the US Pacific territory of Guam where US strategic forces are based. In response to the threat, President Donald Trump threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury” and “locked and loaded” consequences.

The complicated North Korean crisis took a new dangerous turn after the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2371, imposing a new round of sanctions against North Korea on August 5 which caused intense repulsion from North Korea. Resolution 2371 was triggered by North Korea’s two tests of its Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the US conducted last month.

Some countries have recently stated that new UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea were an appropriate response to a series of recent missile tests but “talks are necessary to resolve an issue now at a critical juncture”.
Last month, South Korea too formally proposed opening talks with North Korea to reduce tensions along the border after North Korean defiant regime successfully launched an ICBM having capability of striking Alaska in the US.

“Talks and cooperation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace on the Korean peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual, virtuous cycle for inter-Korea relations and North Korea’s nuclear problem,” the South’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said.

Unfortunately, North Korea overturned South Korea’s offer of talks but it is not the end of the road therefore efforts to engage North Korea in talks should continue from all parties involved.

Analysts claim that the new South Korean leader will ‘continue pursuing dialogue while maintaining pressure and sanctions to encourage change’.

US Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has urged the Trump administration “to begin some very serious negotiation with the North.”  John Delury, a senior fellow of the Center on US-China Relations and an Assistant Professor of International Studies at Yonsei University, said that the US “needs to open up high level channels directly with Pyongyang, as direct to Kim Jong Un as possible, and work it from there.”  

South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently called on for calm in the standoff with North Korea, saying “there should never be another war on the peninsula.”

Moon, a leader who has previously advocated dialogue with the North, urged it to “stop all provocations and hostile rhetoric immediately, instead of worsening the situation any further”. He, as reported by AFP, also indirectly urged the US — the South’s key ally and security guarantor — to resolve the crisis peacefully.

“Our top priority is the national interest of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and our national interest lies in peace. We cannot have a war on the Korean peninsula ever again. I am confident that the US will respond to the current situation in a calm and responsible manner in line with our policy direction,” Moon said.

The 1950-53 conflict in the region, also known as “The Forgotten War” or “The Unknown War” due to low public attention it received during and after the war, saw more than one million deaths. Fear is mounting among world nations that any armed conflict between the US and North Korea will not only cast devastating effects on Asia’s fourth largest economy – South Korea – but also cause destabilising ripples in the whole region.  

Meanwhile, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during his meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said that the US still preferred diplomacy to force, but that the US was ready to use the full range of its capabilities to respond to any attack.

Richard Nephew, Program Director of Economic Statecraft, Sanctions and Energy Markets at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), who served as the lead sanctions expert for the US team negotiating with Iran urges US administration in his article published in the website “38 North” to start negotiations.

“The Trump administration should accept that, having inherited a North Korea that a bipartisan set of presidencies failed to constrain effectively, it is time to cut a deal to keep North Korea to reduce the threat of North Korea’s existing arsenal and to stabilise the peninsula before the situation gets out of hand. North Korea is admittedly not offering much by way of encouragement having underscored that its nuclear and missile capabilities are non-negotiable. That said, other countries have said something similar in the past—Iran included, regarding enrichment—and it is not a given that present resistance to concession and compromise will be carried forward into an actual negotiation.”

The writer is a Doha-based journalist.