SEOUL — U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday refuted the assessment made this week by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in which he said that trying to persuade North Korea to denuclearize «is probably a lost cause.”
“We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state. We will not accept North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, period,” said Blinken.
The U.S Deputy Secretary of State was meeting in Tokyo with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama and South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung Nam to coordinate a unified strategy to deal with ongoing North Korean provocations that include two nuclear tests and the launches of 24 ballistic missiles this year.
Washington and its allies, Blinken said, are “focused like a laser” to persuade the Kim Jong Un government to engage in credible talks to end its nuclear ambitions through increasing deterrence, diplomacy and pressure.
However, at the independent Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, Clapper said the North Korean leadership, «Are not going to do that. That [nuclear program] is their ticket to survival.»
Blinken Thursday restated the U.S. commitment to provide extended nuclear deterrence to Japan or South Korea, a promise that the U.S. military would retaliate with overwhelming force against a nuclear attack by North Korea.
Washington is also moving more conventional military assets, like warships and bombers into the region, and the allies are deploying missile shields like THAAD in South Korea.
At the United Nations, the U.S. and China are negotiating additional North Korean sanctions that could further tighten restrictions on trade and overseas labor, and possibly close loopholes that continue to permit the lucrative coal and mineral trade to go on for “humanitarian purposes.”
However in Seoul this week South Korean regional analysts voiced skepticism over the viability of the current strategy, saying either that it is not strong enough to coerce the North to give up its nuclear weapons, or that it offers insufficient incentives for the Kim Jong Un government to comply.
Speaking at a regional security conference at the Korea National Diplomat Academy, Chun Young-woo, who headed the South Korean delegation to the six party talks on North Korea denuclearization in 2008, said incrementally increasing sanctions will not work against the insulated leadership in Pyongyang.
“North Korea will not have any incentives to give up its nuclear (program) unless its existence is threatened,” said Chun who currently the chairman of the Korean Peninsula Future Forum.
China’s implementation of international sanctions is considered key to their effectiveness since 90 percent of all trade flows across the Sino-Korean border.
Beijing is reluctant to strictly implement measures that could lead to instability on its border or the collapse of the Kim government, that would likely result in a unified Korea under the control of Seoul and in alliance with Washington.
The U.S. recently imposed secondary sanctions against a Chinese conglomerate that allegedly sold North Korea banned materials that have potential military purposes, and was involved in illegal currency transfers.
However China has also protested the increased military deterrence by the U.S. and its allies as being provocative, and has voiced concern that Washington is using the nuclear crisis as a justification to increase its military presence throughout the Asia Pacific region, interfering in what Beijing sees as its sphere of influence.
Yoon Young-kwan a former chairman of South Korea’s Committee on Unification said Washington must increase the pressure on Beijing to get tough on Pyongyang through secondary sanctions and the military buildup in the region.
“If China does not cooperate, the only option for the U.S. is deploying its strategic assets and military forces around the Korean peninsula,” said Yoon who is also a Professor Emeritus at Seoul National University.
Blinken said North Korea has shown no willingness to engage in dialogue on the nuclear issue.
Washington’s diplomatic efforts have focused on engaging other nations to isolate North Korea and strictly implement the international sanctions.
Moon Chung-in, who was a delegate at two inter-Korean summits in the last decade, has been critical of Washington and Seoul for not at least making counter proposals when North Korea offered to suspend nuclear tests in exchange for halting joint American/South Korean military drills or to work on a peace treaty.
“If we also propose back to North Korea and if North Korea accepts our suggestions, we may actually realize something towards denuclearization,” said Moon, who is now Professor Emeritus at Yonsei University in Seoul.
Ha Young-Sun, a member of South Korea’s Presidential National Security Advisory Group, said if neither pressure nor dialogue cannot persuade the Kim government to give up its nuclear weapons, the only other option available to eliminate the threat would be the use of force, which could trigger mass instability, devastation or even plunge the region into a nuclear war.
“As neither ways work, we think of other options such as breaking the regime by entering in North Korea, or the collapse of the regime but we would have to pay a higher price for these two ways,” said Ha who is also chairman of the board of trustees at the East Asia Institute.