Archive for U.S. Politics

Breaking: Royce will make an announcement at Subcommittee hearing today, on H.R. 1771

Once again, I apologize for the short notice. If you’re unable to attend in person, the event will be webcast live at this link. The witnesses will include Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation, and Grace Jo, a very compelling and articulate young North Korean refugee who speaks fairly good English, and who recently founded the group NK in the U.S.A. The topic will be how to respond to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report.

Update: It’s now Yonhap’s lead story – Chairman Royce will take the bill to the next step, Committee markup, in May. That’s great, but the calendar isn’t a friend. This is an election year, and when Congress goes into recess in early August, we’re all done until the lame duck session after this fall’s election. So although Govtrack’s algorithm-generated odds-making is statistically worthless, this bill will have to get through other House committees with concurrent jurisdiction, get passed on the House floor, get introduced in the Senate, get through the Banking Committee, make it to the Senate floor, get a vote there, and make it to the President’s desk soon enough to avoid a pocket veto. (I doubt he’d veto this outright.) That’s a lot to do in very little time, so it still won’t pass without a lot of backing and support.

Fortunately, the Korean-American and human rights groups have put a lot of muscle behind this bill to overcome the pressure that Royce and others are no doubt feeling from what I’ll call “vested interests.” I can’t say enough for their dedication. Kudos to Royce, and to the Republican and Democratic members who have stood behind him on this.

Also, don’t miss the video of the hearing, with very strong testimony from Greg Scarlatiou, Bruce Klingner, and Grace Jo. Finally, I hope Priscilla Koepke, Chairman Chabot’s excellent staffer, won’t mind me recognizing all her hard work putting this hearing together.

Open Sources, March 6, 2014

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THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO CAME to this event on Capitol Hill yesterday and helped make it a huge success. We filled the room well beyond its capacity. There was an energy in the room that went beyond the question of numbers. It was who was there — young, old, in-between, conservatives, liberals, and a variety of ethnicities, including a very sizable Korean-American contingent. I don’t have words to express my admiration for the leadership of Suzanne Scholte, Greg Scarlatoiu, and Judy Yoo of the Federation of Korean-Americans. Human Rights Watch also made a very welcome contribution to the discussion.

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ADRIAN HONG, in The Christian Science Monitor:

We teach our children the heavy legacies of humanity’s grave past injustices: Nanjing. Auschwitz. The Killing Fields. Rwanda. Srebrenica. Darfur. Implicit in such education is the belief that had we been alive, or had we been in positions of influence while the great atrocities of the past century had been perpetrated, we would’ve acted decisively to stop them.

But the moral clarity with which we judge those who preceded us is elusive when we see our world today. Museums and memorials to the fallen victims of yesterday’s tyrants are meaningless if they do not translate to stands against the perpetrators of brutality today.”

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ANDREW W. KELLER, an American lawyer in Korea, writes in The American Thinker:

The United States Congress should pass H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013, which is currently in committee.  Sanctions restrict the export to and import from North Korea of goods and technology for the use, development, or acquisition of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.  Sanctions also ban the export of luxury goods to North Korea, a tactic that could help undermine the North Korean regime, which bribes its VIPs in Pyongyang with imported luxury goods while people in the countryside starve. 

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THE WASHINGTON POST writes a strongly worded denunciation of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, and of the isolationist escapism of too many Americans recently:

The urge to pull back — to concentrate on what Mr. Obama calls “nation-building at home” — is nothing new, as former ambassador Stephen Sestanovich recounts in his illuminating history of U.S. foreign policy, “Maximalist.” There were similar retrenchments after the Korea and Vietnam wars and when the Soviet Union crumbled. But the United States discovered each time that the world became a more dangerous place without its leadership and that disorder in the world could threaten U.S. prosperity. Each period of retrenchment was followed by more active (though not always wiser) policy. Today Mr. Obama has plenty of company in his impulse, within both parties and as reflected by public opinion. But he’s also in part responsible for the national mood: If a president doesn’t make the case for global engagement, no one else effectively can.

The White House often responds by accusing critics of being warmongers who want American “boots on the ground” all over the world and have yet to learn the lessons of Iraq. So let’s stipulate: We don’t want U.S. troops in Syria, and we don’t want U.S. troops in Crimea. A great power can become overextended, and if its economy falters, so will its ability to lead. None of this is simple.

But it’s also true that, as long as some leaders play by what Mr. Kerry dismisses as 19th-century rules, the United States can’t pretend that the only game is in another arena altogether. Military strength, trustworthiness as an ally, staying power in difficult corners of the world such as Afghanistan — these still matter, much as we might wish they did not. While the United States has been retrenching, the tide of democracy in the world, which once seemed inexorable, has been receding. In the long run, that’s harmful to U.S. national security, too.

These isolationist interludes are a feature of our history, just like our interventionist excesses. They remind me of Trotsky’s adage that you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you (hat tip). These interludes eventually end with unpleasant awakenings, and I worry that we haven’t seen the last of those yet.

While this certainly counsels against the dramatic reduction in our armed forces that the President has proposed, I also wonder when we’ll realize that the best way to protect U.S. interests abroad is often to ally ourselves with the people of the affected country who share our interests and values, arm them to the teeth, and train them well. If the Russian experiences in Finland, Afghanistan, and Chechyna tell us anything, it’s that the Russians are especially bad at fighting determined opponents who use unconventional tactics. If a messy border war eventually forces Putin out of power, Russia gaining control of the historically and ethnically Russian Crimea would be a small price to pay.

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I AM IN RARE AGREEMENT WITH JOHN KERRY when Kerry says that North Korea is “an evil place,” but then, there isn’t much we know about North Korea now that we didn’t know in 2003, when John Bolton made substantially similar comments about the North, and the North Koreans went histrionic on him. Now it’s Kerry’s turn. Does this disqualify Kerry as an effective diplomat?

“This is another vivid expression of the U.S.’ hostile policy toward the DPRK,” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said, according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency. DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Kerry’s remarks “are no more than a manifestation of his frustration and outbursts let loose by the defeated as the DPRK is winning one victory after another despite the whole gamut of pressure upon it over the nuclear issue,” the spokesman said.

“Before blaming others, Kerry had better ponder over what to say of the U.S., a tundra of human rights, as it commits horrible genocide in various parts of the world in disregard of international law under the signboard of ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy,’” the spokesman said.

Kerry should “bear in mind that no pressure is workable” on the North, he said. [Yonhap]

What’s dramatically different, of course, is that when Bolton said it, it was more evidence that Bolton was “a crazy neocon” and further reason to derail his nomination as U.N. Ambassador. Since Kerry said it, and since the North Koreans went histrionic on Kerry, there’s been almost complete media silence. Some of this is certainly because the consensus on North Korea has shifted, but the consensus has shifted because (quelle surprise) North Korea kept right on being North Korea after January 21, 2009. Bolton was right all along, but too many of us allowed our political polarities to blind us to the truth he spoke.

Update: The North Koreans make a similar comparison.

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NOW, THE U.N. PANEL OF EXPERTS is investigating Dennis Rodman’s gifts to Kim Jong Un.

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THE PANEL MAY ALSO DESIGNATE two more North Korean companies over the Cuba MiG-21 smuggling deal, which will eventually result in the blocking of their assets once Treasury and the EU get around to listing them:

The two include Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), a Pyongyang-based company with links to the North Korean government that is also the registered manager of the Chong Chon Gang. The other is Chinpo Shipping Co., registered in Singapore, allegedly used for the payment of costs for the Chong Chon Gang’s operation.

Chinpo Shipping? Really? So I take it the Urban Dictionary is blocked in North Korea. Pity.

I often ask myself why North Korea goes to so much risk and expense to buy up equipment that hasn’t had a combat advantage since the Johnson Administration. I often worry that North Korea’s doctrine for the use of these aircraft concentrates on low-altitude, one-way missions. After all, it’s clear that some of their airfields are fit for take-offs, but not really fit for landings.

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OVERALL, SANCTIONS ENFORCEMENT has a mixed record since the approval of UNSCR 2094, and my lapse of optimism about sanctions enforcement last summer was probably premature. First, via Yonhap and IHS Janes, we learn that North Korea is still able to trade in weapons, exporting $11 million and importing $63 million in weapons last year (that we know about). Admittedly, this isn’t very much, and some of these imports are probably pursuant to a loophole in the Security Council resolutions allowing North Korea to import light weapons from China. It isn’t clear whether that sum includes technology transfers and technical assistance, or North Korea’s recent acquisition of six road-mobile ICBM transporter-erector-launchers.

Second, and more worrisome, we see that despite signs of a banking crackdown last spring, trade between North Korea and China continues to increase. Obviously, the North Koreans have (1) found Chinese banks willing to accept their deposits and handle their financial transactions, and (2) avoided any significant financial disruption of their network of commercial agents in China after the Jang Song -Thaek purge.

This sort of rope-a-dope game is typical of China. They pretend to comply with sanctions for a few weeks, and go right back to the same old dirty business. That’s why we need H.R. 1771.

Please attend next Wednesday: House Foreign Affairs Committee to host event on U.N. Commission report

On March 5th at 3 p.m., the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold an event with a panel discussion featuring leaders of prominent human rights NGOs, including Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and Human Rights Watch. The Federation of Korean Associations in the U.S.A. will also participate — they’ve emerged as strong and highly effective advocates for the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act this year.

Also present will be Suzanne Scholte, head of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, who, by the way, is running for Congress in Virginia’s 11th District. Not all of the panelists have been finalized yet, but I’ll update this post as they are. (Yes, events hosted by Congress after often scheduled on very short notice. They’re driven by events and public interest.)

The discussion will focus on the findings of the COI report, and will also discuss policy responses to it, in light of China’s certain opposition to any action in the U.N. Security Council, including targeted sanctions or a referral to the International Criminal Court. (It’s good that the ChiComs timed the announcement of their obstructionism almost contemporaneously with the report’s release. That way, the focus immediately shifts toward other options designed to bypass China, minimize its influence, and shame its leaders.)

The event will take place in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building, which may be the most confusing building in the entire city.

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See you there next week.

As long as we’re on the topic of the COI, and reactions to it:

 ~   ~   ~

FORMER GUARD AHN MYONG CHOL, on the fate of children in the camps:

Speaking of an attack on children who were returning from the camp school, the former guard said: “There were three dogs and they killed five children. They killed three of the children right away. The two other children were barely breathing and the guards buried them alive.” [The Express]

~   ~   ~

Elliot Engel, the (Democratic) Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has called for a referral of the U.N. Commission’s report to the International Criminal Court. Samantha Power was not available for comment, but John Kerry did call North Korea an “evil place” before changing the subject back to nukes. But the administration has not taken a position on whether it will push an ICC referral in the Security Council, or do anything else of significance:

“This is an evil, evil place. And it requires enormous focus by the world in order to hold it accountable. And I think every aspect of any law that can be applied should be applied,” he added.

The top American diplomat said he and Chinese leaders had in-depth talks on ways to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program. He traveled to Beijing two weeks ago for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other top officials.  “We had very serious discussions there about the options available to us. And we are continuing to press for action,” he said. He did not elaborate.

Rhetorically, Kerry has now caught up with where George W. Bush was a decade ago. Both men have an equal record of success in doing anything about it. The State Department still appears to be paralyzed in formulating a policy response to the COI’s report:

“We’re still in the processing of reviewing the recommendations,” Zeya said. “We would like to see the U.N. Human Rights Council, working with our like-minded partners, like South Korea, adopt a resolution to implement and follow up on this groundbreaking report.”

The career diplomat, meanwhile, urged China to alter its view on North Korean defectors and discontinue its practice of sending them back to their homeland. “We certainly believe that they should not be forcibly returned to North Korea. They deserve protection as refugees fleeing an absolutely deplorable regime,” she stressed.

They manage to call North Korea’s human rights record “deplorable,” as if we didn’t already know that. I have to think that if they were serious about this and had a coherent policy vision, they’d have consulted with Kirby in advance of the report’s release, and Treasury would already have drafted an executive order to block the assets of known human rights violators — Kim Jong Un, and the members of the National Defense Commission and the Organization and Guidance Bureau of the Korean Workers’ Party. Like this one, maybe, in effect against Iranian and Syrian officials. The President could sign it with much fanfare. Vision! Action! Global leadership!

Instead, the administration appears to be (a) caught off-guard; (b) passive, directionless, and visionless; (c) outsourcing our North Korea policy to China, as if China shared any of our interests in North Korea, or (d) stalling, in the hope that things will just blow over, and that this will become just another foreign policy issue they won’t have to think about. As it stands, they’re not even able to say whether they will push a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court, which would at least force China to veto it.

The good news is that a serious response to Kim Jong Un’s crimes against humanity has won over a critical mass of classical liberals and Democrats. This is no longer a partisan issue, particularly given George W. Bush’s abdication of credibility in 2008. It’s now a battle between conscience and the absence of conscience — between a rump faction of a foreign policy establishment that hasn’t had an original idea since 1994 and whose record speaks for itself, and the rest of us. The rest of us are winning. We just aren’t winning fast enough.

Royce goes to Seoul, calls for cutting off Kim Jong Un’s cash

So Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was in Seoul last week, and sat down for an interview with Yonhap to talk North Korea:

“It seems that the strategy that slows down North Korea the most is not allowing them access to the hard currency which they use in order to create their offensive nuclear weapons capabilities,” said Royce in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul. 

Royce is now in Seoul along with a delegation from his foreign affairs committee. He met with President Park Geun-hye and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se earlier in the day. 

“We have tried various strategies and at this point, one of the problems is that if we give any additional support to the regime of North Korea, for example, we were to give them inducement in the form of currency, they would use that hard currency to further expand their nuclear weapons capabilities,” the lawmaker said. [....]

Royce also said the new United Nations report on the North Korean regime’s brutal human rights violations may help add pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program and may possibly make North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stand trial on crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court (ICC). [....]

“Perhaps there will be new opportunities (following the publication of the U.N. report) to have fresh pressure brought from governments such as Beijing on North Korea in order to try to slow its development of nuclear capabilities,” the U.S. politician said.

“I think it will galvanize international public opinion with respect to the conditions inside North Korea and hopefully can push to put North Korea on a different track.”

When the final report is submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 17, the international community could take actions to refer the North Korean leadership to the ICC, he said, adding, “I know there’s much discussion of that at the U.N.”

If you’re one of those who wonders why people worry so much about North Korea’s nukes when other countries also have nukes, read the COI report. It isn’t the proliferation of nuclear weapons that scares me. It’s the proliferation of nuclear weapons to people who don’t value human life and who have no compunction about killing large numbers of people that scares me.

And lest we think that South Korea has completely recovered from the Sunshine fad, its interviewer hasn’t quite shaken it off.

“An issue for the Obama Administration and Congress is to what extent they will support – or, not oppose – Park’s possible inter-Korean initiatives,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said in a report posted on its Web site Thursday.

For instance, it pointed out, the Park government has indicated a desire to someday internationalize and expand the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a historic joint venture between the two Koreas located just north of their land border.

“These moves could clash with legislative efforts in Congress to expand U.S. sanctions against North Korea, such as H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act,” it added. [Yonhap]

As much as it cramps my fingers to write this, I actually believe there are ways that South Korea could make Kaesong into something most Americans would accept. As it is, Kaesong “wages” are not only paid directly to the regime itself, but they’re paid at a ludicrous, confiscatory exchange rate. Then, there are also various “taxes” the regime charges the tenant companies, which requires the South Korean government to subsidize those companies to keep them afloat. In effect, it’s a scam to launder money from the South Korean government to the North Korean government, with slave labor as the medium of exchange.

The other problem with these arrangements is that they’re increasingly at odds with U.N. Security Council resolutions that require transparency in financial dealings with North Korea. That’s particularly true of UNSCR 2094, which passed with a “yes” vote from South Korea, as a non-permanent UNSC member. Need I remind everyone that those resolutions were passed, in large part, to protect South Korea’s own security? If you doubt me here, read Paragraph 11 and tell me how you square a big, fat, no-questions-asked cash pipe with that. Korea isn’t in a very good position to complain that China is violating UNSC sanctions when it’s arguably guilty itself. 

As it was advertised, Kaesong was going to be an engine of reform. But if we don’t know there all that money goes — and we don’t — then it could be used, for all we know, for nukes, yachts, and ski resorts. But Kaesong could become palatable to Americans if Park Geun Hye extracts enough financial transparency from the North Koreans, and ensures that those workers really are getting the $70-or-so a month, and to ensure that the money isn’t being used to build centrifuges. If that happens, Kaesong might diminish as a potential irritant in U.S.-ROK relations. It might even become an engine of change — this time, of North Korea.

Congress funds more broadcasting for N. Korea, online gulags database

If you can stomach some appropriations law this evening, there are a few items in this year’s Appropriations Bill that should be of interest to the OFK readership. As of this hour, both the House and the Senate have passed the bill, and the President is expected to sign it on Saturday.

Those of us who were early (and naive) enthusiasts for the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 have grown gray and cynical over the last decade, as we watched the State Department repeal it by disinterpretation. Few executive branch officials would disregard Congress’s limits on appropriations so casually. To do so would violate the Anti-Deficiency Act, which in extreme cases, carries criminal penalties. Even unintentional violations require onerous reporting to OMB and Congress, and can cost senior officials their jobs.

Congress’s most important authority over federal executive agencies is the power of the purse. By limiting or restricting appropriations, Congress can force federal agencies to bend to its will. That’s why appropriations and authorization acts are such important tools of congressional oversight. There are some provisions in this year’s appropriations bill that show us hints that the House in particular is growing more assertive on North Korea policy.

Several of the provisions in this year’s Act are limits designed to prevent tax dollars from falling into Kim Jong Un’s hands. Provisions like these are common in appropriations bills, although most of them weren’t in State’s Fiscal Year 2013 appropriation.

SEC. 8042. None of the funds appropriated or other wise made available in this Act may be obligated or expended for assistance to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea unless specifically appropriated for that purpose. [Page 273]

The Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriations Act contains similar language. Everything else you’re about to see wasn’t in last year’s appropriation. For example:

SEC. 7007. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance or reparations for the governments of Cuba, North Korea, Iran, or Syria: Provided, That for purposes of this section, the prohibition on obligations or expenditures shall include direct loans, credits, insurance and guarantees of the Export-Import Bank or its agents. [Page 1203]

The titles referred to are within Division K of the Act, the State Department’s annual appropriation. Title II is called “United States Agency for International Development, Title III is “Bilateral Economic Assistance,” Title IV is “International Security assistance,” Title V is “Multilateral Assistance,” and Title VI is “Export and Investment Assistance.”

If you dig into the specific provisions of those titles, however, you’ll see only the most general correlation between the actual provisions and what the titles lead you to expect there. That means if you want to know how a specific provision affects a specific program, you have to know what appropriation the program is funded from.

Next, Curtis and I are about to get some competition from the government.

SEC. 7032(i) Funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘‘Democracy Fund’’ that are made available to DRL shall be made available to establish and maintain a database of prisons and gulags in North Korea, including a list of political prisoners, and such database shall be regularly updated and made publicly available on the Internet, as appropriate. [Page 1252] 

You will see a similar provision in H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act.

Congress is increasing funds for broadcasting to North Korea, which is also provided for in H.R. 1771. For years, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has suffered from a severe lack of funding. For years, Congressman Ed Royce made it a personal priority to fix that. With respect to North Korea, the drought is about to break. This is a much-needed boost for broadcasting as we learn that the BBC (this time, I mean the British one) will not fund broadcasts to North Korea.

SEC. 7043(d) NORTH KOREA.— 

(1) Of the funds made available under the heading ‘‘International Broadcasting Operations’’ in title I of this Act, not less than $8,938,000 shall made available for broadcasts into North Korea. 

(2) Funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘‘Migration and Refugee Assistance’’ shall be made available for assistance for refugees from North Korea, including for protection activities in the People’s Republic of China. 

(3) None of the funds made available by this Act under the heading ‘‘Economic Support Fund’’ may be made available for assistance for the government of North Korea. [Page 1312] 

The broadcasting appropriation is significant. The amount appropriated is infinitesimal in terms of the federal budget as a whole, but generous with regard to the Board’s needs. The migration assistance could remove an excuse for China to shun refugees who cross the border, but don’t count on it persuading China’s policy to change. It’s unlikely to be used unless there’s some severe crisis in North Korea.

The last provision I’ll mention is one that doesn’t mention North Korea by name, but could affect assistance to it.

SEC. 7021.


(1) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by titles III through VI of this Act may be available to any foreign government which provides lethal military equipment to a country the government of which the Secretary of State has determined supports international terrorism for purposes of section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 as continued in effect pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act: Provided, That the prohibition under this section with respect to a foreign government shall terminate months after that government ceases to provide such military equipment: Provided further, That this section applies with respect to lethal military equipment provided under a contract entered into after October 1, 1997. 

Section 7022 contains an “important to the national interest” exception, within the President’s discretion. Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act is a reference to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea is not listed, but Iran and Syria — both major arms clients of North Korea — are.

The question then becomes what aid really is being provided to North Korea. Certainly North Korea hasn’t accepted U.S. food aid for years. That was Kim Jong Il’s decision, not President Obama’s. With respect to any miscellaneous aid or exchange programs that are getting taxpayer support, and that are funded under Title III or Title IV appropriations, their funding is done for this year. Of course, Section 8042 arguably terminates all assistance to the North Korean government, although I can imagine how a program could be structured to pay the money to some gullible NGO, which would be an easy mark for the North Koreans.

Ordinarily, appropriations acts aren’t supposed to make positive law. That’s why ad hoc appropriations are a good start, but won’t be a substitute for H.R. 1771. On the other hand, without the backing of an assertive Congress that knows how to use the power of the purse, State will ignore H.R. 1771, too.

Ed Royce’s leadership of the Foreign Affairs Committee is starting to leave its mark on North Korea policy. An important part of that leadership is Royce’s ability to work effectively with tough-minded Democrats like Elliot Engel, Albio Sires, Ted Deutch, and Tulsi Gabbard, as well as with leading Republicans like Chris Smith and Steve Chabot (who leads the Asia Subcommittee).

Picture of the Day

Taken at L’Enfant Plaza, at about 11 a.m. today.


What’s that? Our fucking plan for North Korea, you ask? It’s called “H.R. 1771″

Update 2, 9/24: So now that I’ve noticed that I was reacting quite strongly to a seven year-old post, recently retweeted by another blogger–but still, sheesh–let me offer my apologies to Mr. Lewis for the tone of my reaction, and my compliments to Robert Gallucci for at least conceding that the old policy didn’t work.

Original Post: 

You know, Jeffrey, you ask that question with a boldness that seems to presume the absence of a ready answer. If reading the bill is too much to ask, then I’ll let Congressman Ted Deutch (D, Fla.) give you the Cliff notes version. (He’s one of 125 co-sponsors, and a respected member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.)

P.S.  I can’t speak for others who are also of the hard-line persuasion, but I’m not against talking to the North Koreans. It’s paying them I have a problem with. So now that we’ve framed the question that way, do you or do you not support paying North Korea when almost no one believes they’ll disarm? Because if we can agree that North Korea isn’t going to disarm–and just about everyone does–then I guess talking about paying them is a plan. Now tell me what you have a plan for.

P.P.S. Maybe I can put it this way:  our fucking plan for North Korea is actually a plan for fucking North Korea. Or rather, fucking Kim Jong Un, financially speaking.

P.P.P.S. I should be clearer whose plan it really is–and of course, that would be Chairman Ed Royce. Ranking Member Elliot Engel was an original co-sponsor. In the interests of full disclosure, I helped the Committee staff with the drafting and legal advice.

I should also clarify that Jeffrey Lewis is really echoing Robert Gallucci’s question–expletives included–although he does so with apparent approval.

Update: 9/24: Please note the disclaimers here. Anything I write on this blog represents nothing more than my views as a private citizen. I don’t work for the House or any of its Committees or members. I use the possessive “our” above not because I speak for anyone else, but as one of those presumably painted with Gallucci’s broad brush as having no plan because I oppose a continuation of failed “engagement” and “Sunshine” policies.

Although I’ve often disagreed with Gallucci’s policy views, I respect his integrity and the honesty of his appraisals, such as this recent concession:

“The policy we have pursued over the last 20 years — engagement, containment, whatever — has failed to reduce the threat posed by North Korea to the security of the region,” Robert Gallucci said in a keynote speech during a security forum held in downtown Seoul.  [Yonhap]

This makes Gallucci’s criticism seem especially strange.  What good is a plan that’s no different from the one that, by your own concession, doesn’t work?


Rep. Albio Sires and Rabbi Abraham Cooper on Human Rights in North Korea

I’ll begin a gradual return from my hiatus by linking to this excellent op-ed by Rep. Albio Sires, Democrat from New Jersey, on the imperative of addressing North Korea’s human rights abuses. It’s a welcome sign that this isn’t a partisan issue.

This op-ed, by Rabbi Abraham Cooper, follows it logically and compares North Korea’s abuses to some of those that occurred during the Holocaust.

Last week’s Senate hearings on N. Korea marked by skepticism and ambivalence

Last Thursday, two days after the  hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also held a hearing (on video here).  This time, consensus was much less evident than ambivalence, and the views of the State Department were much more in evidence.  Most of the oxygen was consumed by the first witness, Special Envoy Glyn Davies.

Our Special Envoy’s testimony, by the way, was sponsored by Deer Park Bottled Water (written statement here).

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Chairman Bob Menendez (opening statement here) and Ranking Member Bob Corker* seem to agree that past policies, whatever you may think of them, have failed. (* Yes, Corker, not McCain. Noted.).  You may also be interested in what Menendez had to say in Foreign Policy.  On the Senate side, it’s just as clear that the current policy direction is considered a failure; it’s less clear what the Senators think a better policy would be, and the State Department’s traditional influence was much more evident in the selection of witnesses.

Say what you will about Davies, but the man certainly knows how to follow a script. Listening to him talk about North Korea’s “deplorable” human rights conditions, or its starvation of its people while it pours money into WMD programs, you wouldn’t think that this was the same guy who once asked a State Department colleague to Trotsky the naughty bits out of a human rights report on North Korea, during the heyday of Agreed Framework II.  His statement today reads like an indictment, and he didn’t counsel the senators to show patience or restraint while he works on Agreed Framework III, although later in the hearing, he let on that that’s still his objective. For now, however, the focus has clearly shifted to counter-proliferation and sanctions.  Davies mostly talked about U.N. sanctions, but also talked about “national” sanctions, such as the weak ones Treasury recently imposed under E.O. 13382.

Behind the tough talk, however, Davies still sees sanctions as just another way to pressure North Korea back to the bargaining table.  To Davies, sanctions are “not punitive, but a tool to impede,” “make clear the costs” of refusing to engage in “meaningful dialogue” and “authentic and credible negotiations” to “bring North Korea into compliance with its international obligations” toward irreversible disarmament.  Davies says he (meaning he) “will not engage in talks for talks’ sake,” and that he will insist on “serious and meaningful change in North Korea’s priorities.” I wouldn’t disagree with a word of that last sentence, but then, I didn’t disagree with it when Chris Hill said it, either.

Davies didn’t express, and did not seem to harbor much optimism about diplomacy.  He took a swipe (1:30) at the “Camelot” view of Kim Jong Un, a view that he now thinks has been discredited by events.  He suggested (1:34) that the most effective sanctions are those directly focused against luxury good and proliferation (seriously?). In his highlighting of sanctions directed at particular categories of transactions, Davies reveals an approach that targets the proceeds of prohibited activities, rather than the instrumentalities of regime maintenance and WMD proliferation.  He’s clearly more interested in pressuring North Korea at the margins than in rocking their world.

With respect to what diplomatic approaches stood the best chance of being effective, Davies said that North Korea “allowed” the famine to happen (1:42) in 1990s, so food aid isn’t worth much to the regime as an inducement.  He noted that that the Chinese are paying close attention to debates like the one he’s participating in there, at the Senate.  In what was clearly intended as a message to China, he references the U.S. “pivot” to Asia and told China (1:44) that if it doesn’t bring North Korea to heel, it will see “more of the same” and “you’re not gonna like it.”

Chairman Bob Menendez was hard to read, but clearly skeptical of past strategies and ready to be persuaded (if not yet persuaded) that the right kind of sanctions could work.

Corker wasn’t hard to read at all.  He thinks we’re at a “crossroads,” where if we don’t get results now, we may never get them.  Later, at 1:04: “Some people are saying we should call the entire North Korean government as a money laundering concerns, which we could then enforce against third party entities, some of which reside in China.”  Gee, who might that be?  Davies thinks we’ve already reaped a lot of the benefits to be gained from sanctioning illicit activities, but we should continue to focus on it.  Corker also endorsed a greater emphasis on human rights issues in North Korea, and suggested we should increase broadcasting to the North Korean people.

Later, Corker suggested that Davies conceded that a diplomatic solution was years away at best, and that North Korea is well past the red line we drew for Iran.  Do we need a red line in North Korea, like with Iran?  Why is our policy in North Korea so different than it is from Iran (1:56).  Davies thinks pressure will eventually get North Korea to change course.  Corker called that “highly aspirational” and unrealistically optimistic.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D, Conn.) gets it.  Listen to him distinguish the peoples’ economy from the palace economy at 1:38.  Davies notes that “many people are fooled when they go to Pyongyang” based on more cars on the street, and more cell phones.  Hmm.  He really doesn’t sound like an AP fan, does he?

Sen Chris Coons (D, Conn.) also seemed interested in emphasizing the human rights issue, potentially via the inquiry proposed by the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights.  He also expressed concern about our inability to monitor food aid distribution.  Davies seems to think the answer is following the examples of groups like Mercy Corps, that have continued to work in North Korea (not the World Food Program, interestingly enough).

Sen. Mark Udall (D, N.M.) asked if negotiated denuclearization is still our goal.  Davies thinks there’s still a hope for the six-party talks.  Maybe “within a generation or so” we’ll see a very different situation in North Korea.  He certainly is good at being cryptic.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R, Fla.) thinks North Korea wants to be accepted as a nuclear power and stay isolated notwithstanding its “atrocities.”  He doesn’t think they can be negotiated out of that goal. Everything North Korea does until it achieves that goal is a scare tactic or a delay tactic. Japan and South Korea will want nukes, and Iran will see what North Korea can get away with.  Rubio thinks we should (1) delay North Korean’s proliferation, (2) never let the world forget what the North Koreans’ atrocities, and (3) begin to create the conditions for reunification — a unified, democratic, peaceful Korea.  Rubio doesn’t think Davies is likely to succeed, and Davies (1:19) agreed to a great extent.

Sen. Mark Warner (D, Va.), thinks the transition to a hereditary dictatorship is a dangerous and unstable time for North Korea.  He’s clearly focused on the potential for “fracking” the “microfractures” inside North Korean society.  Good analogy.  I think I’ll use that.

After Davies’s testimony, there was a second panel, consisting of Amb. Stephen Bosworth, Amb. Joseph DiTrani, and Amb. Robert Joseph.

I had not realized what an extreme figure Bosworth really was until this hearing.  You could have mistaken him for Christine Ahn with sensible glasses. Bosworth thinks we’ll eventually engage again, because there are no better ideas.  But for what purpose?  (Bosworth didn’t say it here, but he has acknowledged that North Korea will never verifiably disarm.)  Bosworth wants broad engagement that would give North Korea aid, diplomatic recognition, and a peace treaty.  He thinks we need to make North Korea feel secure.  Bosworth blamed the BDA sanctions for the collapse of the 2005 agreement — because all negotiations with North Korea are tenuous, and they have to be “reassured” that they are not giving up their one piece of leverage for nothing.

DiTrani took a more careful view — yes, we have a lot of benefits to offer North Korea, but only after they denuclearize.  In a way he didn’t when he testified at the House, he seemed to blame the BDA sanctions for the collapse of the 2005 agreement.  Menendez picked up with this in a revealing question, asking why, if North Korea was serious about diplomacy, it still refused to allow verification in 2008, long after we dropped the BDA sanctions. DiTrani backed away from what Menendez and I heard, saying that we’d always told North Korea that law enforcement was a separate matter, unrelated to disarmament talks.  Later, under questioning by Corker, DiTrani spoke up that economic sanctions against the regime could be an effective pressure point.

Robert Joseph, in my view, got it exactly right: North Korea will only abandon its nuclear and missile programs “if it is judged essential to regime survival.”  Listen to his statement at 2:17; it’s a shame no one was listening anymore.  Joseph doesn’t suggest we should shouldn’t abandon diplomacy, but we should do it right, and we should adjust our expectations to reality.  We need to pressure China “the principle obstacle to effective pressure on North Korea,” which supports them unconditionally, no matter how deadly their behavior.  and we always release pressure prematurely.  “Promotion of human rights, while part of official U.S. talking points for years, has not been a significant element of U.S. strategy.  It should be ….”  Listen to him again at 2:36.  He’s on fire.

Did Obama Buy North Korea’s Pre-Election Silence?

I’m not fond of conspiracy theories, and I’ve credited President Obama with a “not bad” North Korea policy so far, but when the evidence right before your lying eyes begs for an inference … well, I’ll stop short of answering my own question and say that Congress ought to inquire further.  Exhibit 1:

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Yonhap) — A White House delegation made a secret trip to North Korea in August in what might be an attempt to discourage it from taking provocative steps ahead of the U.S. presidential elections, a South Korean newspaper reported Thursday.

If confirmed, it would mark the second known visit by U.S. officials to Pyongyang this year, following the previous one before the North’s rocket launch in April.

“A U.S. Air Force plane flew into Pyongyang through the Yellow Sea route after leaving Guam on Aug. 17,” the Dong-A Ilbo quoted an unidentified diplomatic source as saying. “This jet stayed in Pyongyang for four days and flew out of the city on Aug. 20.”

The source was quoted as adding it took the same route four months earlier.

Given such a relatively long journey, the newspaper said, the Barack Obama administration might have attempted “in-depth negotiations” with North Korea prior to the Nov. 6 elections.

“Chances are high that the U.S. sought to curb North Korea from taking military provocations and offered some measures in return,” the source said, according to the daily. [Korea Times]

Less than a month after America’s election, Kim Jong Un announces his next great erection.  Exhibit 2:

North Korea announced Saturday that it would attempt to launch a long-range rocket in mid-December, a defiant move just eight months after a failed April bid was widely condemned as a violation of a U.N. ban against developing its nuclear and missile programs.

The launch, set for Dec. 10 to 22, is likely to heighten already strained tensions with Washington and Seoul as the United States prepares for Barack Obama’s second term as U.S. president and South Korea holds its own presidential election on Dec. 19.

This would be North Korea’s second launch attempt under leader Kim Jong Un, who took power following his father Kim Jong Il’s death nearly a year ago. The announcement by North Korea’s space agency followed speculation overseas about stepped-up activity at North Korea’s west coast launch pad captured in satellite imagery.  [AP]

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, to reward it for its progress toward disarmament.  Discuss among yourselves.

There is a distinctly murine odor to all of this.  A Grand Bargain with North Korea would be a diplomatic policy choice and debatable on its own terms, but that isn’t what this story suggests.  No fair-minded citizen — regardless of whether you voted for this President — should tolerate the use of our diplomats as partisan political bagmen to buy the temporary silence of the world’s worst despots with taxpayer funds.  Democrats who are old enough to have condemned arms-for-hostages can’t offer a principled defense to buying Kim Jong Un’s pre-election silence, if that is what the evidence shows.  If Republicans are an effective opposition, then it is their duty to the people to explore this question at confirmation hearings for the next Secretary of State, if not sooner.

For the Administration, shooting the North Korean missile down over the Yellow Sea would be an excellent way to show North Korea and China that there are limits to our patience without attacking North Korean soil.  It would also be a good way to show Japan and South Korea that if they’re not willing to defend themselves, they need us.