Sealed lips at Korea talkfest - or
else By Donald Kirk
SEOUL - North Korea's plan to fire off a
long-range rocket next month gives global leaders
something urgent to talk about when they sit down
Monday for two days of palaver on how to keep
nuclear devices from falling into the hands of
Only they won't be chatting in
formal sessions or breathing a word about North
Korea, Iran, or anything else that really counts
and might openly offend someone. In that spirit,
the formal "Seoul
communique" that emerges on
Tuesday is destined to carefully avoid what's
uppermost on everyone's minds.
South Korea's foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan,
branded the North Korean plan to launch a rocket
"a grave provocation" intended to test "a vehicle
with nuclear weapons" but bristled when asked
about a threat by North Korea to view any mention
of the North at the talkfest as "a declaration of
"Individual issues will not be
discussed at the nuclear summit," he said. "I do
not know why they keep saying that." Rather, he
said, "This is a peace summit," dedicated to
coming out with rules to keep terrorists from
acquiring and using nuclear weapons.
silence in the formal setting, however, doesn't
mean the 50 or more potentates and near potentates
at what's called the "nuclear security summit"
will ignore all the burning issues. In symposiums
and seminars staged here all week, analysts have
focused on the shock of the North Korean rocket
launch rather than on nuclear terrorism, and the
assorted heads of state and international agencies
and platoons of aides and assistants are sure to
do the same.
As long as the specter of the
North Korean rocket shot hangs heavy over the
summit, the assembled leaders will be yakking "on
the sidelines," over meals, in quiet sessions in
hotel rooms and in mini-summits with South Korea's
President Lee Myung-bak about the nuclear
ambitions of both North Korea and Iran. Lee can
actually thank the North Koreans for providing
just the opportunity he needs to impress upon
United States President Barack Obama the South's
desire to update a 32-year-old agreement with the
US that limits South Korean missiles to a range of
"We need an appropriate
range," Lee has been saying. "Realities and
circumstances have changed." He'll make his plea
for revision of the missile deal when he sees
Obama on Sunday after the US president gets back
from a quick visit to the truce village of
Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone that has
divided the Korean peninsula since the Korean War.
The South Koreans say they need a
longer-range missile since North Korea's real aim
is to test an advanced version of the same
long-range Taepodong missile that it has
test-fired on two previous occasions, in August
1998 and again in April 2009.
In each of
those cases, North Korea said it had put a
satellite into orbit, but scientists say they
never saw any sign of a satellite launch. The
bottom line among analysts is that North Korea has
no intention of giving up its nuclear program.
North Korea's plan comes as a bitter
disappointment considering that US nuclear envoy
Glyn Davies and North Korea's envoy Kim Kye-gwan
came up with a deal on February 29 that was widely
described as "a breakthrough". Kim said North
Korea would observe a moratorium on nuclear and
missile tests while Davies said the US would
provide 240,000 tons of food aid.
we accept that North Korea is not going to
denuclearize, all we can do is contain North
Korea." said Peter Beck, director of the Asia
Foundation here."The best we can do is to get them
to freeze the program."
the distinguished physicist who saw first-hand how
far North Korea had gone in its highly enriched
uranium program when he visited the North's
nuclear complex in 2010, said he was "pessimistic
in the short run but optimistic in the long run".
"We should give them a sense of security,"
said Hecker, director emeritus of the Los Alamos
National Laboratory. "In the longer term, I view
North Korea as an island of instability in an area
of stability" dominated by China and Japan as well
as South Korea.
Although North Korea
possesses enough material for six to eight nuclear
warheads, he said, the North is frustrated by its
inability actually to deliver a warhead to a
target. "They have the bomb but not much of a
delivery system.," he said. "That's why these
tests are so important."
Hecker called on
China to exercise pressure on North Korea to cease
and desist. "China will say, 'We want peace and
stability," he said, "but will they understand
these provocations are threatening peace and
One theory is that the missile
launch, timed for the centennial celebrations of
the birth of North Korea's founding leader Kim
Il-sung on April 15, is a show to buttress the
power of his grandson, Kim Jong-eun, who took over
after the death of Kim Jong-il in December.
In an effort by Kim Jong-eun to assert
himself on the home front, according to reports
here, North Korea has mounted a purge of senior
officials for showing signs of disloyalty during
the mourning period after the funeral for his
The purge paralleled increasingly
vitriolic rhetorical blasts leveled against South
Korea while Kim Jong-eun visits military units
closest to South Korean forces. He has been
ordering soldiers to fire back "without
hesitation" in order to "wipe out" President Lee,
routinely described as a "traitor."
official with South Korea's unification ministry
said news of the killing of officials seen as not
properly respectful are "plausible." North Korea,
said the official, "made it very clear that those
who violated the mourning would be punished".
South Korea's biggest-selling newspaper,
Chosun Ilbo, reported "a bloody purge" that saw
"barbaric methods including mortar rounds used to
execute high-ranking military officials". The new
leader, still in his late 20s, was credited with
having ordered officials to "get rid of" dozens of
officers and civilian officials. Those guilty of
infractions ranging from intoxication to sexual
harassment were also executed, said the report.
An assistant chief of the armed forces
ministry was reported executed not by a firing
squad but by a mortar round that tore his body to
bits. Kim Jong-eun, according to the report,
ordered execution by mortar round to leave "no
trace of him behind, down to his hair".
Experts questioned, however, whether Kim
Jong-eun would have personally issued the orders,
or whether he rubberstamped suggestions from lower
"I doubt whether Kim
Jong-eun directed everything completely," said Kim
Tae-woo president of the Korea Institute of
National Unification and a noted military expert
here. "Kim Jong-eun must be very careful" as he
goes about establishing his control over military
officers who are far older and more experienced.
"He wants to purge those generals standing
in his way," said Kim Tae-woo, but he would have
to do so through the small clique of generals who
see complete loyalty to him as the unquestioned
leader as essential to their own survival and that
of the regime.
Reports of a purge come as
no surprise considering that Kim Jong-il purged
the ranks in his first two or three years after
taking over from his father in 1994. Kim Jong-eun,
however, is not believed to have nearly as strong
a grip as his father - one reason he may believe
that he has to get tough very quickly to wipe out
the slightest sign of dissent.
spirit, Kim Jong-eun is believed to have placed
his imprimatur on North Korea's plan to launch the
satellite, which the US and South Korea are
confident is a pretext for testing a missile with
a range as far as the west coast of the United
"So what is Pyongyang up to,"
asked Ralph Cossa, who runs the Pacific forum of
the Center for Strategic and International Studies
in Honolulu. "The North Koreans pulled the rug out
from everyone" at a time when it appeared "safe to
go back to six-party talks" on getting the North
to abandon its nuclear program.
hosted by China, including the US, Japan, Russia
and the two Koreas, were last held in Beijing
December 2008. Now, to rev up the whole process,
said Cossa, "It's time for Beijing to stop
empowering North Korea's bad behavior."
Donald Kirk, author of Korea
Betrayed: Kim Dae-jung and Sunshine, has
visited Pyongyang four times, in 1992, 1995, 2005
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