Korea Steps Back From the Brink

Realizing that its plan to intimidate North Korea has backfired and brought the peninsula to the brink of war, the Obama administration is now looking for ways to ease tensions. But South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak has decided to go ahead with the controversial artillery tests on Yeonpyeong Island and risk a resumption of hostilities. The North has warned that if the drills proceed, they will respond with a “counterattack….that would be deadlier than the strike on Nov. 23.”

On Monday, live-fire drills began on Yeonpyeong near the disputed border on the West Sea. An unknown number of South Korean citizens have been evacuated from the island and fighter jets have been scrambled.

The US State Department has defended Seoul’s plan to conduct the provocative operations saying, “A country has every right to train and exercise its military in its own self defense”. But the White House is worried that a flare up of hostilities will quickly escalate into a full-blown conflagration. So, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has been dispatched to Pyongyang along with Wolf Blitzer and a team from CNN to offer Kim Jong il inducements to back down. As of Monday morning, there are indications that Richardson is making progress on his mission. According to China’s Xinhua news service:

“Pyongyang has agreed to allow the return of UN inspectors following discussions with visiting New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, CNN reported on Monday.

“The North agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel to return to a nuclear facility in the country and agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 fresh fuel rods and ship them to an outside country, presumably to South Korea,” CNN quoted its reporter Wolf Blitzer as saying, who is traveling with Richardson….

“The DPRK has also agreed to consider Richardson’s proposal for a military commission between the United States, the DPRK and South Korea as well as a hotline for militaries between the two sides on the peninsula, CNN said.” (Xinhua)

The CNN report doesn’t clarify what the North gets in the negotiations, but that should be expected. After all, Blitzer was sent to construct a story that would make it look like the North was backing down. This report achieves that objective. But, in truth, the North has probably won major concessions from the US on bilateral talks as well as help building its lightwater reactors which is what they sought from the very beginning.

It’s clear that Richardson was acting in an official capacity and that his trip as not “personal” as the State Dept claims. This is from the Korea Times:

“Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor who is currently visiting North Korea, reportedly made some proposals to North Korea, amid high tensions on the Korean Peninsula as South Korea plans a live-fire drill.



“According to CNN, Richardson met with North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan for one and a half hours and said he would expect the current tension would lessen if his proposals are accepted by North Korea, Yonhap said.

Richardson didn’t disclose what the “proposals” were…” (Korea Times)



“Proposals”? What sort of proposals was Richardson prepared to offer on his “personal trip”? The State Dept. is lying about Richardson’s role in the affair which is clearly official. Richardson is trusted by Pyongyang because he worked on Clinton-era negotiations with the North (which the US now refuses to honor.) There’s no one in the US diplomatic corps who could have worked out an 11th hour deal like Richardson. 

As for Blitzer: By traveling with Richardson, CNN has shown that it’s able to control the news cycle by spinning the details of the negotiations in a way that best serves the interests of the Obama administration. In all likelihood, the US probably conceded more than Blitzer reveals in his report, but there is no way of knowing just yet.

The United States has repeatedly bullied the North with sanctions, added them to the State Dept’s list of terrorists, forced them from the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), disparaged them to the world as a member of the “axis of evil”, and threatened them with regime change. But now that US is faced with the real prospect of another war on the Korean peninsula, the administration has done a quick about-face and deployed its secret envoys (and propagandists) to defuse the situation.

So far, war has been avoided, but the details of the agreement remain sketchy.


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Mike Whitney

Mike Whitney

Mike Whitney writes on politics and finances and lives in Washington state. He can be reached at [email protected]

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