A warning for PyongyangOver the weekend, the United States, Britain and France fired over 100 missiles on three chemical weapons facilities in Syria. The attack was much stronger than a similar one last April but avoided military bases. The bombardment appears to be aimed at demonstrating the massive firepower of the United States against the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on civilians, while refraining from a full-fledged intervention in the crisis. The attack was retaliation against Syrian troops for killing at least 40 people on April 7 in Ghouta, an area outside Damascus controlled by rebel forces.
Chemical attacks by Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s regime are nothing new. In 2013, the regime invited international denunciation after launching a similar attack that took the lives of more than 1,000 people. The United Nations Security Council pushed for a resolution to launch a fact-finding mission, but it was frustrated by Russia’s immediate veto. The use of chemical weapons against civilians cannot be accepted no matter what.
The allied forces’ attack on Syria sends a stern message to North Korea as it could serve as a warning to the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang. The missile attack could be a preview of a so-called “bloody nose” operation aimed at precisely pinpointing nuclear facilities in the reclusive state and bombing them in a limited way. U.S. President Donald Trump has made clear that he will return to engagement against North Korea, including a military option, if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un does not show determination to denuclearize during a summit in May or early June.
In that sense, the attack on Syria is a serious warning to Pyongyang. If Kim wants to be free from the fear of a potential raid, he must be willing to denuclearize. Only when he presents a detailed road map devoted to achieving complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of his clandestine nuclear weapons can his sincerity be recognized by his counterpart. If Kim opts to protract a negotiation process based on what he calls a “phased and simultaneous resolution” of the problem, no one can be sure what will happen next.
At the same time, if Washington could show some flexibility while keeping its principle of “denuclearization first and rewards next,” that would be even better.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 16, Page 30