Outside View: Same old North Korea

By SAMANTHA RAVICH, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  April 5, 2012 at 6:45 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- In a world full of change, with the Arab Spring and the Myanmar Rethinking, North Korea remains pitifully stuck in its broken, backward ways.

These were on full display during this past weekend's meeting, which I attended, that brought together a small group of Americans and North Koreans to talk about possible paths toward defusing tensions and promoting progress.

Hosted by the Aspen Institute Germany, the setting couldn't have been more perfect. The conference was at a former East German secret police retreat near the Polish border. The North Koreans must have felt fully at home in the resort's system of tunnels that connected many of the property's buildings.

The retreat has also been updated with a yoga studio through which the North Korean delegation had to pass each morning to get to the meeting hall.

I imagined the irony was lost on them -- that while much of the world had moved to a more peaceful place, North Korea remained mired in the hostilities of the Cold War.

Once in the meeting, the North Koreans displayed the same dishonest, disturbing and dangerous traits that I had seen from them during my five years in the White House and my nearly two decades of following the issue.

When asked why they had broken the latest agreement with the United States, signed on Feb. 29, by announcing they would launch a missile in clear violation of both the recent understanding and a U.N. Security Council Resolution, they sprang into a litany of grievances against the United States, including their assertion that the United States continues to house nuclear weapons in South Korea ready to destroy the North.

When told by the American delegation that not only had all such weapons been removed in 1991, as a confidence-building measure they were welcome to inspect such suspected U.S. sites in the South if we could reciprocate with a similar inspection of suspected North Korean facilities.

When pressed a second time as to why they felt the need to launch a missile now, only to break a potential new start to negotiations, they stated that in honor of the late Kim Il Sung's 100th birthday they would send a weather satellite into orbit to help in their planting and harvesting to feed their people.

We pointed out that the missile technology they were testing was banned not because it could launch a satellite but because it was the same technology that could launch a nuclear warhead. But if it was a weather satellite they desired, the international community could certainly find a way to launch it into space for them.

Their stated concern over the livelihood of their people rang hollow in that eastern German great hall, coming as it did from a regime that systematically starves its own people.

In a last valiant attempt to gain a better understanding of why they thought it was to their benefit to give up the promised 265,000 tons of food aid and a possible road back to international negotiations, one North Korean delegate declared that Pyongyang will undertake the launch as is its sovereign right while another stated that North Korea will manufacture "as many nuclear weapons as it deems necessary."

To no one's surprise and everyone's disappointment, well-crafted American suggestions on more productive means to better the economic, political and security environment fell on deaf ears.

We relayed that even monumental change in the relationship between countries is possible. Myanmar, formerly called Burma and long hostile to the West and Western allies in Southeast Asia, has had a tremendous change of heart of late, not only moving toward a brighter future domestically but also working hard to repair relations with its neighbors.

Myanmar has reportedly even expressed an interest in joining Cobra Gold in the future. The military exercise in question is Washington's longest-standing military exercise in the Pacific, with 13,000 forces involved in the drill from the United States, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The point was that international recognition and acceptance is possible if North Korea wanted to think anew. The converse, signaled by the missile launch that is scheduled to take place in two week's time, would only increase Pyongyang's isolation, bring further sanctions on the elites and ratchet up an already tense situation on the Korean Peninsula to even more dangerous levels.

But, just like that, the conference ended. The North Koreans had decided to walk a different path, leaving the two-day meeting half a day early.

As their delegation departed, out through the yoga studio and through the tunnels, it was hard not to look at their backs and think they were making a choice to stay in a very dark past while risking the future of themselves and the entire Korean Peninsula.


(Samantha Ravich was deputy national security adviser for U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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