I’m going to give the reports that North Korea’s Ambassador to India floated the idea of negotiations for a freeze deal all they attention they deserve. The proposal, such as it is, came during an English-language interview with a local journalist.
First, the proposal is an obvious ploy to divide the U.S. and South Korean governments just before Moon Jae-In’s visit to Washington. (As I noted yesterday, that visit already looks to be a difficult one.) Even Moon Jae-In appears to see through this ploy, urging his people not to read too much into it. A secondary purpose is to manipulate the usual suspects in the left-of-center, Libertarian, and far-right commentariat* into writing a flurry of pro-appeasement op-eds.
Second, several of the phrases conveyed with the proposal have the potential to make it illusory, including, “we can negotiate in terms of,” “under the right circumstances,” and especially, “if our demands is [sic] met.”
Third, if Pyongyang is willing to freeze or dismantle its nuclear or missile programs, why did its Foreign Ministry representatives so recently tell Bruce Klingner and Sue Terry (among others) that it isn’t? That Pyongyang did not convey its proposal directly to the Americans during recent Track 2 talks suggests that it didn’t want to answer obvious questions about “circumstances” and “demands,” and that the proposal is spurious.
Fourth, even if a freeze agreement can be reached before the U.S. gains a persistent source of leverage over Pyongyang, how long would it be before the North Koreans renege again? The sine qua non of successful diplomacy with Pyongyang (if that’s still possible at all) is leverage.
If nothing else, a ploy this transparent should advance our recognition of how Pyongyang sees diplomacy, and what it really thinks diplomacy is for. The U.S. and South Korean position should be that if Pyongyang is serious about meeting the obligations it has undertaken — and broken — again, and again, and again, it knows how to contact the U.S. and South Korean missions at the U.N. After all, it knew how to contact Nikki Haley when it decided to dump the soon-to-be-lifeless body of Otto Warmbier.
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* Update: To give you an idea of what strange bedfellows North Korea makes, see this blog post at David Duke’s website, approvingly reprinting a Bruce Cumings op-ed in full. Yes, Professor Cumings knows. I emailed him to confirm it.