Is it time for US concessions to defuse N Korea crisis? China says yes.

18-Nov-2017 Intellasia | USA Today | 6:00 AM Print This Post

China’s proposal for the United States to offer concessions to North Korea in return for a freeze on its nuclear weapons programme probably won’t halt the North’s already advanced programme but it might be the best way to lessen tensions, analysts say.

“It has lost a lot of value now that North Korea has tested weapons and missiles,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an analyst at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “It’s more about just reducing tensions.”

North Korea already has an arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles that can reach US allies throughout the region.

China said Thursday it is standing by its proposal, which calls for the US to suspend its large military exercises with South Korea in the region in return for an agreement by North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons programme.

China also said it would send a high-level envoy to Pyongyang on Friday.

A day earlier President Trump claimed China had abandoned the proposal and, instead, agreed with the US position that North Korea would have to abandon its nuclear programme before getting any American concessions.

The conflicting statements reflect confusion in Washington over how to handle North Korea and its secretive leader, Kim Jong Un. Trump has said Chinese pressure exerted on its heavily-dependent ally is central to US policy toward the North.

North Korea has gone two months without test firing a missile, the longest such dry spell this year. The lull follows a record 15 missile tests in 2017. It also detonated a powerful hydrogen bomb for the first time in a test in September.

It is not clear if the lull represents a political decision by Kim or a pause in development for technical reasons. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declined to speculate on the reason for testing pause.

The Trump administration says it would be willing to talk when North Korea makes clear it is not aggressively testing nuclear weapons and missiles. “So long as they stop testing, stop developing, they don’t export their weapons, there would be opportunity for talks,” Mattis said.

The challenge for any agreement with North Korea now is the advanced stage of its nuclear programme. Republicans and Democrats in Washington are reluctant to endorse any proposal that accepts the reality of a nuclear-armed North Korea.

“The United States is committed to the complete and permanent denuclearisation of North Korea,” Trump said last month during a visit to Beijing.

Trump doesn’t appear ready to make a first move, for example, by suspending joint military exercises in the region. The North views such exercises as a provocative prelude to an invasion.

In the 1990s, the US suspended the massive Team Spirit exercises it conducted regularly with South Korea and other allies to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear programme. North Korea continued developing its nuclear weapons anyway, and the agreement collapsed.

The US currently has three aircraft carriers operating off the Korean Peninsula as part of a major exercise.

The Pentagon has said the exercises are aimed at re-assuring South Korea and other allies in the region and improve the readiness of US forces.

“They also … exercise a powerful deterrent effect by the fact that they’re occurring,” said Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth Mckenzie, director of the joint staff.


Category: Korea

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