Subtle changes in the North

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Subtle changes in the North

The Business Executives for National Security (BENS) is an American nonprofit organization established in 1982 by American entrepreneurs whose top concern is national security. Eight BENS members recently visited North Korea, led by the organization’s current president, former Air Force Gen. Charles G. Boyd. The U.S. delegation included AIG’s former CEO Maurice Greenberg, Chairman of DRS Technologies Mark Newman and Chairman of the Board of Perot Systems Henry Ross Perot, Jr.

They are said to have visited the North at the invitation of North Korean authorities, which have been in contact with BENS for several years. It is likely a coincidence that they visited Pyongyang after U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth’s visit to the North two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, we are paying special attention to their behavior because BENS helped abolish nuclear weapons in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, the U.S. removed more than 7,000 nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. In return, the CIS countries were promised safety, economic incentives and incorporation into Western society, in accordance with the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CRT) in 1991.

Companies under the control of BENS were responsible for removing and destroying the weapons and other nuclear materials, after securing a commercial contract with the U.S. government.

The resumption of the six-party talks is still clouded with difficulties, but if North Korea decides to give up its nuclear weapons, there is a high possibility that the U.S. companies will spearhead their removal.

Subtle changes are already being noticed in North Korea after the visit by Bosworth. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il suddenly visited the Rajin-Sonbong Free Economic and Trade Zone, which has been neglected for a while. Also unexpected was Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s plea to President Lee to improve inter-Korean relations through dialogue when Xi visited Korea last week.

Despite these promising developments, we still worry. The incumbent administration could end up being “a duck egg in the Nakdong River,” floating alone with no help in sight. The Lee government must not give up its policy toward North Korea and devote all its energies to achieving a “grand bargain.”
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