Another SK Official Expelled From NK; Progress in the 6PT
North Korea has requested that an official working on an inter-Korean family reunion center be expelled, reports the Hankyoreh:
North Korea expelled Thursday a South Korean official from the construction site of an inter-Korean family reunion facility in its Mount Geumgang resort, a government spokesman said.
“A working level official withdrew from the construction site of the inter-Korean family reunion facility in Mount Geumgang between 4:30 and 5 p.m. today at the request of the North Korean side,” the spoksman[sic] said.
He added that the measure was in accordance with the North Korean position that it would not allow any South Korean government officials to cross the military demarcation line.
North Korea has warned that it would block the passage of South Korean officials across the demarcation line following remarks made by the chairman of the Suth[sic] Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff
This is the same family reunion center that was in the news earlier this year following allegations North Korea “diverted” millions of dollars worth of cash intended to help with the facility’s construction.
North Korea’s latest move is part of larger series of moves taken by North Korea over the past weeks to highlight their disapproval of the South’s new government, among other things. North Korea is trying to keep the current state of hostilities at a low roil without getting the situation too agitated. Expect minor tit-for-tat measures to continue for the foreseeable future, unless a major breakthrough in the Six-Party Talks emerges.
We move to that story now.
Major Western news outlets are now more optimistic in their assessment of Christopher Hill and Kim Gye Gwan’s Singapore meeting. Yesterday, Hill was tightlipped about progress, while North Korea’s KCNA trumpeted a major breakthrough. Hill now says they have “found a way forward,” and that we should expect moves in the next couple of weeks to solve the deadlock. No specifics were given, but Yonhap, via Hankyoreh reports:
The envoy repeatedly emphasized that the second phase of the denuclearization agreements involved a package of different elements, suggesting that the U.S. would be ready to act on its promised incentives to Pyongyang.
The second phase sequences disabling of North Korea’s main reactor and provision of the declaration, and the U.S. starting the process to remove Pyongyang from the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Washington would also lift sanctions on the North imposed under the Trading with the Enemy Act.
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack reaffirmed that the U.S., along with other members of the six-party talks, is prepared “to fulfill our obligations, as North Korea fulfills its obligations.”
Thursday’s House briefing was heard by most of the committee members and their staff.
“I think it went okay,” said Hill. “They asked very fair questions.”
The Washington Post’s Glenn Gessler further elaborates. According to his sources, the U.S. may be prepared to lift two key sanctions against the North:
But after negotiations this week in Singapore and last month in Geneva, the United States and North Korea agreed that Pyongyang must “acknowledge” the allegations without precisely admitting them publicly.
That paves the way, diplomats said, for President Bush to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and to exempt it from the Trading With the Enemy Act.
U.S. officials have concluded it is more important to persuade North Korea to surrender its weapons-grade plutonium — enough for perhaps half a dozen weapons — than for the process to collapse over the impasse, according to Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator.
Assuming the North throws up no further roadblocks (a pretty big assumption), inter-Korean tensions may subside in the next few weeks. There is still a long way to go in this process. One wild card is the military: to what extent has the military been involved in fomenting the latest spasm of tension? I have speculated before that the military, fearing it is losing its primacy in North Korean society, may be trying to reestablish its dominance by creating a minor crisis situation. Of course, that’s just my own idle hypothesizing.
But Kim Jong Il is facing a desperate situation at home and needs to start earning foreign currency and collecting aid so he can feed his people. A breakthrough probably bodes well for regional peace, but it does not bode well for reform in North Korea.