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[Herald Interview] Sanctions give NK ‘justification’ for nukes: senior diplomatic official

NK should also take corresponding measures if US takes forward-looking steps

Hong Hyun-ik, chancellor of the Korean National Diplomatic Academy (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Hong Hyun-ik, chancellor of the Korean National Diplomatic Academy (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Washington should ease sanctions on North Korea with a “snapback” clause, as current measures only give Pyongyang justification for nuclear armament, says the head of the Korean National Diplomatic Academy.

“The original purpose of sanctions is to make a country a normal state so that they stop further provocation or give up nuclear weapons. Punishment for doing wrong is incidental,” said Hong Hyun-ik, chancellor of the Korean National Diplomatic Academy, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

Hong sees the current US sanctions on the North as putting the cart before the horse and only punishing the regime. “This does not stop the North from giving up nuclear weapons and rather gives a justification for nuclear development.”

Hong was appointed as the chief of the academy in August. The academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs serves as a diplomatic and security research institution and educates diplomats. He formerly served as the head of Sejong Institute’s security strategy research division.

He believes sanctions only amplify the sufferings of ordinary North Koreans, while the ruling class continues to enjoy luxury and privileges.

“This could be a sanction that goes against the US stance of protecting North Korea’s human rights,” he said.

“To revive the original purpose of sanctions, it is necessary to negotiate with North Korea with a card to ease sanctions a little bit and obtain some kind of concession from the regime -- for instance, by freezing nuclear weapons or making some progress in denuclearization.”

“If North Korea fails to keep its promise, the US should take snapback measures to restore sanctions,” he said.

In early December, Hong attended a forum on US-North Korea relations’ outlook hosted by the US think tank Wilson Center in Washington, DC. At the time, he stressed the importance of the formally declaring the end of the Korean War, but the response on the US’ side was cold.

Through the visit, he learned why US politicians do not attach importance to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue or restoring peace on the Korean Peninsula, he says.

“Biden, for example, is now adopting a sort of ‘appeasement policy,’ such as withdrawing from Afghanistan or resuming nuclear talks with Iran. It is very burdensome to take another appeasement policy in problem areas like North Korea again,” he said.

“So if the US eases sanctions, North Korea should, in return, take corresponding measures, such as allowing the right to access the North Korean nuclear facility or freezing nuclear weapons. But because the US does not expect that much from North Korea, it is politically burdensome to take forward measures,” he said.

Simply put, he said, “To make the US proactively respond to the declaration of war, diplomacy is needed to prepare North Korea to take corresponding measures immediately.”

To have more diplomatic autonomy and take more initiative in the North Korean nuclear issue, he called for the quick takeover of wartime operational control as early as possible.

The wartime operational control is the right to control the military’s operations in an emergency on the Korean Peninsula. The United States Forces Korea commander currently holds Korea’s wartime operational rights.

“While continuing to maintain the ROK-US alliance, we should shift operational control and gradually reduce our dependence on the USFK so that our military capabilities can be improved. When we reduce dependence on the US, we can take less damage even if the US withdraws,” he said.

Both South Korea and the US agreed to resume the process of verifying whether Korea’s military capabilities meet the conditions for the conversion of operational rights next year. But they have not been able to set aside disagreements over the specific date. The US said it is appropriate to resume the verification process in the second half of this year, but South Korea insists on beginning in the first half.

Hong said, however, it is meaningless to verify the process either in spring or summer if the transition of the operational control is conditional, meaning only the US has the right to interpret and evaluate it.

“The transition of the operational control is impossible if it is conditional. This is because unless the South develops nuclear weapons, it can’t have capabilities to control North’s nuclear weapons,” he said.

He argues that the transition date should be specified now as the former Roh Moo-hyun administration did in the past with setting the date of April 17, 2012.

“Otherwise, it will be difficult for even the next government to transfer the operational control,” he said.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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