White House says it’s learned lesson on provocations

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White House says it’s learned lesson on provocations

The White House’s point man on Korean issues said in Washington Tuesday that the best way to prevent further provocations from North Korea is to not reward it for such actions.

Sydney A. Seiler, Korea policy chief at the National Security Council, said in a speech during a Center for Strategic and International Studies seminar on “Security on the Korean Peninsula in Washington” that the United States has gleaned three lessons from North Korea’s continued provocations.

He said these lessons were learned within the first two years of President Barack Obama’s administration, when North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in May 2009 and torpedoed the Cheonan warship in March 2010, which Pyongyang denies.

First, Seiler said, the traditional cycle of provocation and reward, provocation and dialogue no longer works. He also said that North Korea has failed in its tongmi bongnam strategy - literally “connect U.S. exclude South” - to get to the United States directly by bypassing South Korea.

Second, he said that the North’s nuclear weapons are no longer means of forcing negotiations but pose an actual security threat. Third, Seiler emphasized that the more provocations that come from the North, the stronger the military alliance between Seoul and Washington becomes.

Seiler also told reporters that the main obstacle to North Korea’s denuclearization remains “Pyongyang’s unwillingness to seriously engage in authentic and credible negotiations that lead to concrete denuclearization steps.

“What is clear is that we see no policy changes so far,” Seiler said, since Kim Jong-un came to power two years ago. Seoul and Washington, he said, will evaluate Pyongyang by its actions rather than its words.

Seiler said soured relations between Seoul and Tokyo have not had much effect on efforts toward North Korea’s denuclearization. But he said that Japan and South Korea need to resolve their historical issues and that it is encouraging that they and the United States are still cooperating on the North Korea issue.

Regarding Kenneth Bae, the Korean-American tour leader detained in Pyongyang for more than a year, Seiler said the U.S. government has offered to send a special envoy to Pyongyang and is awaiting a response.

Bae gave a brief news conference in Pyongyang Monday admitting to and apologizing for committing serious crimes against the North Korean government and making a plea to the U.S. government to help free him.

This may have been an indication that North Korea is “considering moving forward with progress by which Bae can be pardoned and returned,” Seiler said. Traditionally staged apologies come before the release of Americans held by the North, as in the case of 85-year-old Korean War veteran Merrill Newman, who was detained in October and released shortly after a video was released of him reading an apology in December.

Marie Harf, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said Tuesday that Washington recently repeated its offer to send Robert King, special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to Pyongyang to negotiate Bae’s release.

BY PARK SEUNG-HEE, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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