Thae Yong-ho, who served as the No. 2 man at the communist state’s embassy in London before defecting to the South last summer, said that despite calls for dialogue, a new round of gathering would only buy time for leader Kim Jong-un to prop up the moribund economy as shown by the so-called Geneva agreement with the US in 1994.
“In my view, the Geneva deal was a joint work of fraud by Kim Jong-il and Bill Clinton,” he said at an international conference hosted by the Institute for National Security Strategy, an affiliate of the National Security Service, referring to the then North Korean and US leaders.
|Former senior North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho speaks at an international conference hosted by the Institute for National Security Strategy, Thursday. (Yonhap)|
“Back then, what Kim Jong-il needed the most was time, the time to achieve his purpose --patching up the country after his father Kim Il-sung died, the Soviet Union collapsed and so many people died from hunger,” Thae said.
“Clinton, for his part, had apparently assessed that the North was about to break down on its own and sought to buy time to manage the situation for the time being.”
Thae, who now works at the Seoul-based think tank, underscored that the incumbent Kim will not give up his nuclear ambition even in return for $10 trillion won. The leaders of South Korea and the US, too, would not be able to bear massive risks to strike such a deal at a time when they lack any authority or mechanism to inspect the reclusive country.
“It’s never about the quantity or quality of incentives. … Kim will never engage in any act that may pose threats to his long-term rule,” he said, referring to offers from Russia and China to build a gas pipeline and railroad running through the peninsula from there.
The one-day seminar also brought together dozens of former top policymakers and prominent scholars at home and from the US, China, Japan and Russia. They trade views on the prospects for the security situation in Northeast Asia and especially on the Korean Peninsula in the face of evolving North Korean threats and the Donald Trump leadership.
Lee Sang-hyun, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, said Pyongyang is presumed to have expanded its stockpile of highly enriched uranium to 280 kilograms and weapons-grade plutonium to 52 kilograms, with its arsenal reaching as many as 45 nuclear bombs.
“Given the stockpile estimates and that one nuclear warhead generally requires 2-6 kilograms of plutonium or 15-20 kilograms of HEU, it’s possible for North Korea to have built 22-45 nuclear weapons,” Lee said.
“Especially if nuclear boosting technologies are employed, it would help with not only the warheads’ miniaturization but also in making more weapons with relatively small amounts of nuclear materials.”
|Lee Sang-hyun, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute (Yonhap)|
The past Barack Obama administration’s Asia policy, which focused on alliance-building “raised more questions than answers” by leaving the peninsula “more divided” and fanning military tension. The plan to station a US missile shield here has “antagonized” two powers -- China and Russia -- and “divided“ the neighbors, he said, calling it a “wrong answer” to address the North Korean nuclear issues.
Yet Trump has “gotten much further than ever before,” taking advantage of the uncertainties as “weapons to scare almost everyone,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, everybody is confused and confounded because of the huge ‘Trump shock.’ What would be the US’ future foreign policy is really unknown,” Zhongzhe said.
“Furthermore, Trump’s ‘America First’ slogan has brought a backlash form the rest of the world. That kind of protectionist rhetoric goes against globalization and economic integration in East Asia.”
Despite signs of US-Russia rapprochement that may result in China’s withered clout, he said Beijing remains open to greater bilateral and trilateral cooperation.
“(An improved) US-Russia relationship is not against anybody else -- it’s motivated by domestic needs,” Zhongze said. “There’s no zero-sum game here, I don’t have much concerns. On the contrary, I’d love to see a friendly, positive relationship between Washington and Moscow.”
Thomas Spoehr, director of national defense at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, acknowledged the Trump factor, raising concerns about a potential reemergence of voices in South Korea for a reintroduction of US tactical weapons or creation of its own nuclear program
Spoehr pointed as another challenge to the impeachment campaign against President Park Geun-hye, which may lead to a reversal of decisions such as on the missile shield deployment. He also called for Seoul and Tokyo to overcome historical tension and “cooperate and counteract” in the face of uncertainties.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)