South wants U.S. to accept piecemeal deal

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South wants U.S. to accept piecemeal deal

South Korea is in the process of persuading the United States to accept a piecemeal deal for the North’s denuclearization, Seoul’s spy chief told the National Assembly on Friday.

According to one lawmaker who sat through a briefing by Suh Hoon, head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), the director said the South Korean government is in the midst of “constant discussions” with the United States in regard to a denuclearization process by the North that “can only proceed piece by piece.”

“Complete denuclearization is not something that can be done immediately since it requires a gradual process,” Suh reportedly said. “But the United States and South Korean positions are not divergent.”

The step-by-step approach at the center of Seoul’s campaign is closer to the “small deal” favored by the North compared to the U.S. push for an all-in-one plan that has reduced negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang to a stalemate since the collapse of the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Feb. 27 to 28.

A top Blue House official on March 17 tried to clarify South Korea’s position, saying Seoul would try to mediate by convincing the North to agree to a road map toward a comprehensive goal while pushing for a “good enough deal” with the United States that would involve a checklist of smaller measures that leads to ultimate denuclearization.

In his scheduled summit with U.S. President Donald Trump on April 11, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is expected to promote this plan, appealing to the reported interest shown by Trump at Hanoi in partial sanctions relief on Pyongyang through a “snapback” mechanism.

This would enable United Nations (UN) Security Council sanctions measures to be reverted back to current levels in the event of North Korea’s non-compliance toward denuclearization.

The North was reportedly keen on receiving sanctions relief in Hanoi, starting with those affecting the livelihoods of its people, according to Pyongyang’s own Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho at a separate press briefing following the event. Their insistence on these economic concessions from the United States may be owed to recent signs of food insecurity in the country, as testified by reports from the UN and other humanitarian organizations.

Suh confirmed there were signs of a possible famine in the country, but added that the situation remains stable at the moment as grain prices in the North’s markets remain steady and there have been no reports of mass casualties caused by starvation.

He did, however, point out that grain production in 2018 fell by 3.4 percent compared to the prior year, and that as of March grain storage levels are 12 percent less than they were in the same period last year.

“According to the North’s own statistics, it is believed [the country] is lacking 1.49 million tons [of grain] to meet its necessary quota of 4.95 million tons this year,” Suh said, adding that the North’s Foreign Ministry is now seeking aid from international organizations at Kim Jong-un’s orders.

Nonetheless, with its talks with the United States in a protracted bind, the North has been observed renewing nuclear-related activities earlier this month, perhaps with the intent of showing Washington it could revert to the days of “fire and fury” if negotiations prove futile. Suh told Seoul lawmakers that North Korea has nearly completed restoration of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on its western coast, which became the focus of international media attention earlier this month as the country appeared to be preparing for a new missile test. As to the meaning of such resumed activities - like the possibility of an actual launch - Suh declined to comment.

He added that the North’s 5 megawatt reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear complex is dormant with no signs of reprocessing, though uranium enrichment facilities continue to remain in operation. In regard to the brazen raid on a North Korean embassy in Spain on Feb. 22 that an anti-Pyongyang political organization claimed responsibility for last week, Suh said the NIS has confirmed the group - known as Free Joseon or Cheollima Civil Defense - indeed appears to be an active entity.

He could not elaborate on whether the FBI or CIA was linked to the group, as alleged by Spanish intelligence, but said that Seoul is in talks with the relevant parties over the possible involvement of South Koreans in the raid. Citing Madrid’s spy agency, several Spanish outlets last week reported that up to five of the 10 assailants involved in the raid were of South Korean nationality and that the group’s leader - a Mexican citizen named Adrian Hong Chang - was seeking sensitive information on the North’s nuclear program from the embassy.

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