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New York Times Pours Linguistic Gasoline on North Korean-US Negotiations

On the heels of the historic June 12th Trump-Kim Singapore Summit that de-escalated tensions between North Korea and the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his third visit to NK to move the negotiations for denuclearization and security on the peninsula forward.  He met with his North Korean counterpart, Vice Chair of the Party Central Committee, Kim Young Chol, on July 6th and 7th, for intensive negotiations.  At the end of the meeting, on leaving Pyongyang, Secretary Pompeo declared that the summit had been conducted in good faith and that he had “made progress on almost all central matters”.  Without divulging details, he stated there was more work to be done, which would be continued by working groups on both sides and that a follow up meeting had been scheduled.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry released a more sobering assessment, stating that despite high expectations after the summit they found “regrettable” the US failure to approach the negotiations in a balanced and constructive manner, and critiquing the “opposing winds” that recapitulate the “tired old process” (CVID, disclosure, verification first)  that could lead to failure, and that have ignored or misinterpreted  their unilateral gestures of good will, forbearance, and their desire for phased, mutual, step-wise measures based on the creation of “objective conditions for trust”.

Clearly, after the euphoria of the Singapore summit, this is a drilling down onto the details on process, timing, specifics, and reciprocity necessary for the successful implementation of the Singapore Summit’s four enumerated commitments:  normalization, peace, denuclearization, and repatriation of remains.  Clearly there is much to bridge in terms of procedure, protocol, sequencing, as well as a need to overcome mutual distrust and historical antagonism.

The North Korean statement is a quiet but firm dressing down of the Bolton Approach that seems to have been upfront in the recent negotiation, that seeks to rapidly frontload the process with North Korean concessions on disarmament, after which US concessions and security guarantees could be provided. The North points this “tired old approach” out as lacking simultaneity, mutuality, and trust-building measures, and points out it has clearly failed in the past.   They peg it—in polite diplomatic language–as the definitionally insane practice of doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different outcomes.  They take great pains to point out that Trump’s approach was the promise of a bold, new approach to denuclearization, mutually agreed-upon at the summit, and that they hint that “working level groups”, and “oppositional winds” might be working in a way that contravenes what they understand to have been proposed and agreed to by Trump.  There is, in the statement, a question to Washington whether its charges are faithfully implementing its own stated desires and will, as well as an inquiry as to whether there is congruence and internal alignment (or change of tactics) within the administration.  It is also a not-so-subtle hint that if the Bolton faction is ascendant, then the bets are likely to be called off.

It’s important to note here that the North Korean Foreign Ministry statement, while clearly critical and inquiring, is very measured, relative to past statements from the leadership, and there is little overblown rhetoric there.  If anything, the language is careful and circuitous, and the recrimination is largely self-directed: they may have been “naïve to the point of foolishness in their hopes and expectations”, and they express their worries of “great disappointment and tragedy”. They critique the “erroneous thinking” that assumes that “our forbearance” will accommodate the “demands based on such a strong-arming mindset” and consider “unhelpful” the “hurriedness that has seized” the US that elides the need for confidence-building measures to overcome “deep-rooted mistrust”.  Nevertheless, they mention that they still “faithfully maintain their trust” in Trump and make clear their intentions to continue to denuclearize.   They finish with an almost wistful tone: they warn of deep disappointment to the international society and global peace and security, and that there is no guarantee that a tragic outcome will not follow from this one-sided approach.

Trust the New York Times to misrepresent the above statement, the better to pour linguistic gasoline over the still unextinguished of pyres of recent North Korea-US brinksmanship.  There’s nothing like headlining a linguistic firebomb to torch any fragile, combustible agreements or relations that might be in the process of negotiation or exploration:  North Korea Criticizes ‘Gangster-Like’ U.S. Attitude After Talks With Mike Pompeo

By attributing “Gangster-like” invective to North Korea, the Times refreshes the “irrational, out-of-control, over- the- top, can’t-be-negotiated-with” framing that has prevented, sabotaged and derailed negotiation in the past.  It also puts the Trump administration further on the back foot, reprising the illogical trope that the US had demeaned its global standing just by meeting with North Korea, and is now further demeaned by tolerating being insulted by it.  Although early media outlets were circumspect in their characterization of the disagreement, focusing appropriately on the disappointment and regret by North Korea in the divergence in the talks from agreed upon approaches in Singapore, after the NY Times published this incendiary headline, the “gangster” trope was then picked up by the BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, even DemocracyNow! and is now the standard media sound bite about the meeting.  The administration is now in the humiliating position of defending against a single word that is far from the intent of statement.

The phrase the NY Times is referring to in the statement is “강도적인 비핵화요구” . In literal translation, this would be “robber-like”, but in this context would be more accurately translated as “strong arming, or high pressure demands for denuclearization”*.  The North has no problem using strong language in its statements, but this statement hardly conforms to that type.  As noted above, it’s a pointed critique of the “cancerous” Bolton approach–tempered with self-criticism and an appeal to faithfully implement the new approaches and attitudes of the Singapore summit.  It’s hardly the incendiary firebomb the NY times would like it to be.

Further reading of the statement clarifies this:

But, if the US, sized by a sense of impatience, tries to enforce on us, the old ways asserted by previous administrations, this will not give us any help in solving the problem.

If the objective conditions conducive to denuclearization in accordance with our wills are not established, then it’s possible that the currents of positive development in developing bilateral relations in the beginning could become confused [turbulent].

Should opposing winds start to blow, this could bring great disappointment to international society that desires peace and security, as well as to the US and NK; and if that happens, then both sides would start to explore other options; there is no guarantee that this would not lead to tragic consequences.

[However] We still faithfully maintain our trust in President Trump.

The US should reflect seriously whether, in opposition to the will of its [own] leaders, permitting these opposing forces (“winds”) meets the aspirations and expectations of the people of the world, and whether it meets the interests of its own county.

This not a minor exegetical divergence.  The upfront voicing of a legitimate disagreement with an approach–at the beginning of a long, complex, negotiation fraught with mistrust—and an appeal to return to the agreed-upon spirit and intent of the summit are a far cry from reductively headlining and encapsulating the disagreement to a deal-breaking, incendiary cri-de-coeur of violent criminality and thuggishness.  On the contrary, the North Korean position is clear and reasoned:

Dispelling deep-rooted mistrust, and building trust between the DPRK and the U.S; seeking to resolve the problem in completely new way—by boldly breaking away from past methods and being unconstrained by conventional methods that have only resulted in failure; prioritizing trust-building while solving one-by-one problems that can be solved through a step-by-step process, [based on the] principle of simultaneous [reciprocal] actions: this is the fastest shortcut to denuclearization.

Perhaps the storied NY Times has no one on their large staff capable of rendering a nuanced, contextual interpretation of North Korean statements- even for the most delicate of delicate negotiations.  Perhaps this is part of their baked-in, irredeemable, click-baiting journalistic incompetence.  But taken in context with a past record of journalistic gangsterism—namely criminally irresponsible lies and misrepresentation agitating for violent war of aggression–it’s understandable it might jump to see gangsters and gangsterism everywhere.

Notes.

*KCNA seems to have used this word, but its translations often contain context-free and connotation-blind malapropisms, that should be taken with a grain of salt; for example, it states, “captivated in a fidget” when it means “seized by impatience”

Full Translation of NK Statement (Unofficial).

Pyongyang, July 7, 2018  (KCNA) – Statement of the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

After the first historic summit meeting was held between the DPRK and the U.S, International society has focused its expectation and attention on the high-level DPRK-U.S. talks for the implementation of the Joint Statement of the DPRK-U.S. summit.

We expected that the U.S. side would bring [to the talks] constructive proposals that would help trust-building in accordance with the spirit of the DPRK-U.S. summit meeting.  We, on our part, were also thinking of offering things to match this.

However, the the attitude and position that appeared in the US Side during the first high level talks held on July 6th and 7th was truly regretful.

Our side, during the talks, put forward constructive proposals in order to seek a balanced implementation of the Joint Statement, out of our firm willingness faithfully implement of the spirit and the agreed-upon provisions of the DPRK-U.S. summit meeting and talks.

These included proposing wide-ranging, simultaneous, mutual, proactive steps, such as realizing multilateral exchanges for improved relations between the DPRK and the U.S; making a public declaration to the end of war on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, in order to build a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula; as a single element of the denuclearization process, dismantling [our] high thrust jet engine test grounds as concrete proof of the suspension of ICBM production;  and making the earliest start on working-level talks for repatriating POW/MIA remains.

Prior to the talks, Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, our chief delegate from our side to the talks, was tasked to convey, with due respect, to U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, a personal letter from the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un to President Trump.

Chairman Kim Jong Un expressed his hope and conviction that the excellent personal relations and his feelings of trust forged with President Trump at the Singapore summit would be further consolidated through the process of this and other future dialogues.

But, contrary to the spirit of the [agreed upon provisions of] the Singapore summit, the U.S. side came out only with unilateral and strong-arm demands for denuclearization, that is, calling only for CVID, declaration and verification.

The U.S. side never mentioned the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean peninsula which is essential for preventing the deterioration of the situation and preventing war. It took the position that it could delay the agreed-upon statement to end the war with sundry conditions and excuses.

The issue of announcing the declaration of the end of war at the earliest possible date, is the [key] priority process [necessary] to defuse tension and establish a lasting peace regime on the Korean peninsula. It is the priority factor in building trust between the DPRK and the U.S. This issue was also stipulated in Panmunjom Declaration as the historical task to terminate the nearly 70-year-old condition of war  on the Korean peninsula. President Trump, too, was more enthusiastic about this issue at the DPRK-U.S. summit talks.

The issues the U.S. side insisted on till the very end at the talks are a cancerous [i.e. destructive] entity [position], which previous administrations also had stubbornly insisted on, that sabotaged the dialogue process, and increased distrust and the danger of war.

The U.S. side, during the talks, made a great publicity about suspension of one or two joint military exercises as a tremendous concession. But the temporary suspension of single exercise-type action is a highly reversible step which can be resumed immediately at any moment as all of its military force remains in its previously positioning, with not a single rifle removed. This is incomparable with the irreversible steps taken by us to explode and dismantle our nuclear testing site.

We cannot but be extremely worried about the outcomes of the talks.

One could say we were naïve to the point of foolishness in our expectation and hope that the US would come forth with a constructive proposals in accordance with the spirit of the US-NK summit meeting.

Tired, old methods can never create new outcomes.  Only failure comes from following proven-to-fail, worn out methods.

Because President Trump himself proposed that US-NK relations and denuclearization of the peninsula be resolved in a new fashion, for the first time in US-NK relations, a valuable agreement was reached in a very short time.

The historic Singapore summit—achieved by the determination and the will of its top leaders to open a new future for the peace and benefit of the whole world–will become pointless, if working-level groups renege on the mutually agreed new approach agreed at the summit, and return to the old methods.

These first DPRK-U.S. high-level talks, rather than consolidating trust, have brought us face-to-face with a dangerous situation where our unshakable will for denuclearization might waiver.

In the past few months, we exercised maximum forebearance and observed the U.S. while initiating as many goodwill measures as we could.

But, it seems that the U.S. misunderstood our goodwill and forebearance.

The U.S. is fundamentally mistaken in its reasoning if it goes so far as to conclude that its demands –reflecting its strong-arm mindset–would be accommodated by us out of our forebearance.

Dispelling deep-rooted mistrust, and building trust between the DPRK and the U.S; seeking to resolve the problem in completely new way—by boldly breaking away from past methods and being unconstrained by conventional methods that have only resulted in failure; prioritizing trust-building while solving one-by-one problems that can be solved through a step-by-step process, [based on the] principle of simultaneous [reciprocal] actions: this is the fastest fastest shortcut to denuclearization.

But, if the US, sized by a sense of urgency [impatience], tries to enforce on us, the old ways asserted by previous administrations, this will not give us any help in solving the problem.

If the objective conditions conducive to denuclearization in accordance with our wills are not established, then it’s possible that the currents of positive development in developing bilateral relations in the beginning could become confused [turbulent].

Should opposing winds start to blow,  this could bring great disappointment to an international society that desires peace and security, as well as to the US and NK; and if that happens, then both sides would start to explore other options; there is no guarantee that this would not lead to tragic consequences.

We still faithfully maintain our trust in President Trump.

The US should reflect seriously whether, in opposition to the will of its [own] leaders, permitting these opposing forces (“winds”) meets the aspirations and expectations of the people of the world, and whether it meets the interests of its own county.

Juche Year 107 (2018), July 7th

PyongYang (end)

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K.J. Noh is a long time activist, writer and teacher.  He can be reached at k.j.noh48@gmail.com

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