U.S. Courts North Korea's Army

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Wall Street Journal
December 29, 2007
Pg. 3
New Strategy Recognizes Military's Pivotal Role In Nuclear Disarmament
By Jay Solomon
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration, worried that the North Korean military may block advances in disarmament negotiations, has started an unusual campaign to reach out directly to the communist state's army leaders.
The new strategy comes as Pyongyang is expected to miss an important deadline Monday requiring the North to fully declare its nuclear assets and programs, including the believed pursuit of uranium-enrichment technologies.
But the White House is still expected to provide North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il more time to meet his commitments. And the U.S. continues to support expanding cultural engagement, such as a scheduled February performance in Pyongyang by the New York Philharmonic.
"What is important to us is that when we do get the declaration, whatever day it is, it needs to be full and complete," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Friday.
Senior-level engagement between the American and North Korean militaries has been significantly limited during the past seven years. Senior U.S. officials say their new outreach to the Korean People's Army, or KPA, stems from their knowledge that Pyongyang's military ultimately controls the majority of North Korea's nuclear assets and installations. These American officials also say their efforts are driven by a lack of certainty over whether North Korea's generals would even honor a request by Mr. Kim for them to turn over nuclear weapons.
"Would the military back Kim Jong Il if he truly wants to give away the program? That's the bottom-line question," said a U.S. official working on disarmament issues. "Maybe [Mr. Kim] doesn't have control of the military."
The official and other North Korea analysts say the KPA has the most to lose if Pyongyang agrees to destroy its nuclear weapons stock. Their development provides the KPA with leverage over the U.S. and Japan, and entrenches the military as the elite power center inside North Korea. Without nuclear weapons, the KPA and North Korea would have only a marginal profile internationally, these officials say, and Washington needs to make clear there are other ways for North Korea to prosper.
The U.S. outreach to the North Korean military has come during a number of recent negotiating sessions between Washington and Pyongyang.
American diplomats say they have specifically requested from North Korea's Foreign Ministry the attendance of senior KPA officers at these meetings. And U.S. officials also say they have been mindful to place American military officers, including a two-star general, on most of their diplomatic missions as a signal to Pyongyang that Washington seeks increased military-to-military engagement.
So far, however, these officials say, North Korean diplomats have rebuked Washington's requests, citing the Foreign Ministry's preeminence in the denuclearization talks. "We need more buy-in from their military," said a senior U.S. official pushing this engagement with the KPA. "The military remains the big question mark for us."
Confidence-building measures are another tool the Bush administration is using to try to soften the North Korean military's hostility to the denuclearization process.
Even as the negotiations continue, North Korea's state-owned media have regularly broadcast propaganda suggesting the Pentagon is using nuclear disarmament as a pretext for a full-scale invasion of the North. Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency reported this week that the "dialogue advertised by the U.S. while seeking confrontation is, in fact, nothing but a military option to disarm its dialogue partner mentally and mount a surprise preemptive attack."
The planned New York Philharmonic performance in Pyongyang is seen as one way Washington can soften its image inside North Korea, say U.S. diplomats. The orchestra is specifically expected to play the "Star Spangled Banner" and other symbols of American culture traditionally demonized by the North. North Korean diplomats view the coming visit of the large U.S. delegation to Pyongyang as a tool with which it can appeal to hard-liners in the KPA and Korean Workers' Party about Washington's intentions, according to U.S. officials.
Lower-level interaction between the U.S. and North Korean militaries occur regularly along the demilitarized zones that still divide North and South Korea. The Pentagon and KPA have also cooperated on searches for U.S. soldiers missing since the 1950-53 Korean War. But the last senior-level engagement came in October 2000 when Mr. Kim dispatched one of the KPA's top three officers, Vice Marshal Cho Myong Rok, to the White House to hold direct talks with President Bill Clinton.
Vice Marshal Cho carried a personal letter from Mr. Kim to Mr. Clinton inviting him to visit Pyongyang. And the two sides signed a nonaggression statement that many in Pyongyang's military viewed as a prelude to a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War, according to U.S. and South Korean officials. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang weeks later, and Mr. Clinton seriously considered going as well before his term expired.
Just months later, however, the detente between Washington and Pyongyang faded with the inauguration of President Bush, who later designated North Korea a member of an "axis of evil," including Iraq and Iran. This diplomatic U-turn made many in the KPA particularly skeptical about Washington's long-term strategic intentions, say U.S. intelligence officials.
Despite Pyongyang's recent negative rhetoric, U.S. officials say North Korea has actually been proactive in disabling the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, another key requirement of the disarmament pace. But North Korea appears to be stalling in declaring all its nuclear assets and programs. Pyongyang has denied in six-party talks that it secretly developed a uranium-enrichment program to produce fissile material alongside the Yongbyon facility, as Washington has charged. And Pyongyang also has denied aiding third countries, such as Syria, in developing nuclear power or weapons programs.
A specific dispute has already emerged between the U.S. and North Korea over the testing of an aluminum tube provided by Pyongyang to international inspectors. According to a U.S. counterproliferation official, the tube tested positive for contamination with a fissile material, suggesting it may have been used in uranium-enrichment work. The official said it was possible the tube was contaminated before being shipped to North Korea but Pyongyang hasn't been forthcoming about the source.
The U.S. is also pushing for clarity on North Korea's suspected cooperation with Syria in developing weapons of mass destruction. Israeli aircraft struck a Syrian facility in September near the Euphrates river, and American officials say intelligence showed a significant number of North Korean personnel working at the site going back years. These U.S. officials say they're not certain that Pyongyang was aiding Damascus in developing a nuclear reactor but that the North Koreans need to account for their activities in the Middle East.
"The North Koreans usually say: Let's just talk about the future not the past," said the U.S. counterproliferation official.