N.Korea Asks for S.Korea's Help in Softening up U.S.

  • By Ahn Jun-yong

    March 26, 2018 13:13

    North Korea is highly suspicious of the U.S.' position ahead of a scheduled summit in May and no longer confident whether the meeting will take place.

    At dinner with South Korean officials last week in Helsinki, Finland, Choe Kang-il, a deputy director general for North American affairs at North Korea's Foreign Ministry, expressed deep suspicion and said, "I am not sure whether the North Korea-U.S. summit will take place. We ask the South Korean government to mediate," according to sources who were present at the dinner.

    The unofficial meeting in Helsinki was to have paved the way for more concrete summit preparations. One diplomatic source said, "North Korea was busy trying to verify the U.S.' intentions. They were particularly surprised to see the U.S. maintain maximum pressure even after accepting the summit offer."

    North Korean state media remain mum about the summit while slamming the U.S. sanctions, frequently citing Iraq's fate after yielding to U.S. demands.

    The state-run Rodong Sinmun daily has mentioned Iraq seven times since Trump agreed on March 9 to a summit, and diplomatic sources said Trump's North Korea policy is reminiscent of the U.S.' approach to Saddam Hussein just before the invasion in 2003. The U.S. applied intense economic sanctions on Iraq over its alleged weapons of mass destruction and also pointed out human rights violations.

    Libya has been another point of reference, because a few years after leader Muammar Gaddhafi gave up his nuclear program, NATO sided with rebels in the emerging civil war eventually killed him.

    Nirj Deva, a member of the European Parliament in charge of Korean affairs, who held 14 closed-door meetings with North Korea over the last three years, said North Korean officials pointed out the fates of the former leaders of Libya and Iraq whenever he raised the subject of denuclearization.

    North Korea's anxiety will only get worse with the appointment of the hawkish John Bolton as new White House national security adviser.

    North Korean officials reportedly told South Korean envoys in Finland, "We are concerned about the hawks in the U.S. government having a stronger influence. What if Trump does not show up for talks?"

    There are also concerns in the South Korean government. One former high-ranking diplomat said, "This dangerous matchmaking diplomacy may have worked so far, but if the U.S.-North Korea summit falls through, South Korea could end up losing the confidence of both the U.S. and North Korea."

    Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution at a plenary session in Switzerland last week urging North Korea to improve its human rights situation.

    Although lauding the North's participation in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the UNHRC urged Pyongyang to grant foreign detainees access to consular officials and stressed the need for the resumption of reunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

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