kim dae-jung, kim dae jung, south korean president funeral
Ahn Young-joon/AP
South Korean Buddhist monks pray during the funeral of late former South Korean President
Kim Dae-jung at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009.

A Mellowing North Korea Is Yet to Forgo Nuclear Ambitions

August 26, 2009 05:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Recent events indicate a thawing of North Korea’s relationship with its neighbors and the U.S., but have not yet led to the fulfillment of the country’s denuclearization promises.

The “Hermit Kingdom” Reaches Out

North Korea’s warming approach to international relations suggests a relaxing tension between the country and the United States, Bill Powell reports for Time magazine. Yet the question of North Korea’s denuclearization, discussed twice since 1994, remains unsolved.

Recent events such as former President Bill Clinton’s rescue mission for two captive journalists, North Korea’s liberation of a hostage South Korean businessman and a later attempt to reconcile with South Korea over the funeral of late President Kim Dae Jung, point toward an apparent conciliatory desire on the part of North Korea. As Time explains, Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung’s son, seems to be willing to “ste[p] back from the ledge and tr[y] to re-engage” with the United States and its allies whenever the situation gets overly tense.

North Korea’s potential cooperation, however, comes with conditions. According to what North Korean diplomats told Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., “Pyongyang would return to the negotiating table only if it could deal directly with the U.S. and not the other countries involved in the six-party talks” that were held during George W. Bush’s presidency, Time magazine reports.

At the same time, despite disapproval from the United States, North Korea has continued developing its nuclear weapons program, a move that violates the terms of the Agreed Framework, a treaty signed in October 1994 between both countries. This agreement “call[ed] upon Pyongyang to freeze operation and construction of nuclear reactors suspected of being part of a covert nuclear weapons program in exchange for two proliferation-resistant nuclear power reactors," explains the Arms Control Association.

As Time Magazine explains, the Obama administration is willing to comply with North Korea’s desire for direct dealings with the United States, but “under no circumstances will they [and their South Korean allies] back off their demand for complete denuclearization in the North.” In exchange for this, however, the U.S. will offer economic aid that will run “in parallel” to the denuclearization progress.

Background: The Korean War and its international consequences

The conflict between North Korea and the United States has been ongoing since the onset of the Korean War on June 25, 1950, when Communist North Korea invaded South Korea, the American zone of occupation. After the North’s infringement, the United Nations called for UN member countries to come to the South’s aid; The United States saw the invasion as a Communist challenge to the non-Communist world, and soon entered the fray. Chinese and Soviet Union forces came to the aid of North Korea. Though the two sides pushed and pushed back, they ended up settling on a truce where the war began: at the 38th parallel. It took two years to settle the truce, and the war finally ended on July 27, 1953.

The peninsula was devastated by the three-year conflict; much of its infrastructure was destroyed and most of its people were thrown into poverty. And the Cold War would continue elsewhere in the world for several decades. “The modern world still lives with the consequences of a divided Korea and with a militarily strong, economically weak, and unpredictable North Korea,” according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

Related Topic: South Korea launches rocket to spite the North

In a test of its budding space program, South Korea launched its first rocket on Tuesday, “but failed to put a scientific satellite into its planned orbit,” Reuters reports. The covert objective of this launch was to rile North Korea, recently sanctioned by the U.N. because of a rocket experiment that was “widely seen as a disguised missile test.”

South Korean Science Minister Ahn Byong-man attempted to explain the launch’s failure at the South Korean space center later that day. “The first stage engine and the second-stage kick motor operated normally and the satellite separated, but it did not put it precisely in the target orbit,” he told Reuters.

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