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Christine Ahn on US Tensions with North Korea: More South Koreans Fear Donald Trump Than Kim Jong-un

Web ExclusiveOctober 30, 2017
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We continue our look at North Korea, where tensions continue to mount with the United States, and President Trump is slated to leave later this week for a 12-day visit to Asia. A month ago, Donald Trump publicly undermined efforts by the U.S. to open direct talks with North Korea over the country’s nuclear weapons program. A day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. has two or three back channels open to North Korea’s leadership and that he was pursuing dialogue, Trump responded to the news, tweeting, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man… …Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump has previously threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea, and told the U.N. General Assembly he was prepared to destroy the entire nation of 25 million people. We are joined by Christine Ahn, the founder and executive director of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, with Part 2 of our discussion about U.S.-North Korea relations with Christine Ahn.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We continue our look at North Korea, where tensions continue to mount with the United States, as President Trump is slated to leave later this week for a 12-day visit to Asia. A month ago, Trump publicly undermined efforts by the U.S. to open direct talks with North Korea over the country’s nuclear weapons program. A day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. has two or three back channels open to North Korea’s leadership and that he was pursuing dialogue, Trump responded to the news, tweeting, quote, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man… …Save you energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!” Trump has previously threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea, and told the United Nations General Assembly he was prepared to destroy the entire nation of 25 million people.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Republican Senator Bob Corker Sunday, speaking on Face the Nation. Corker, who’s also chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned against compromising efforts at diplomacy with North Korea.

SEN. BOB CORKER: When our secretary of state is sitting down with the partner that matters most, China, trying to negotiate something that would resolve and keep us from going into military conflict with North Korea, which brings in South Korea, Japan, China and Russia, and he’s knee-capped by the president, it hurts our nation. It hurts our efforts. It leads us more fully towards the conflict, that most of us would like to see resolved in another way.

The tweets that are sent out mocking a leader of another country raises tensions in the region. And so, people are sitting there. They know they’ve got an erratic leader in North Korea. They’ve lived with three erratic leaders, actually. This is the third one. And then, when we start exhibiting some of those same tendencies, it creates an air that leads, again, more fully, towards conflict, where what we need to be doing is supporting the efforts that Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis, who is involved in this diplomacy, are carrying out.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Senator Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Republican from Tennessee.

And we’re turning now to Christine Ahn for Part 2 of our conversation. Christine is founder and executive director of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War, joining us from Honolulu, Hawaii.

Christine, so you hear these Republican senators, people like Bob Corker, and then you have Mattis, who is in South Korea, who are clearly trying to pull back Donald Trump and his rhetoric against North Korea and who he calls the “Little Rocket Man,” Kim Jong-un. Can you talk about both what’s happening on the floor of the Senate among the Republicans to what’s happening around the world, mobilizing, as President Trump plans this trip later this week to Asia, including going to South Korea?

CHRISTINE AHN: Well, it’s phenomenal. I mean, I’ve been doing this work for, you know, nearly two decades, and the kind of mobilization and fear and resistance that I’ve seen across this country is just remarkable and heartening. And I think because of that, because there has been a call for national mobilization to stop a U.S.-Trump war on North Korea, that, you know, protests, teach-ins, webinars, I mean, all sorts of actions to both educate a U.S. population, that has been so woefully uneducated and misinformed about the roots of this historic conflict—I mean, it’s important to remember that the 1950-to-’53 Korean War ended just with a ceasefire. That is, you know, a very fragile truce, that has maintained a state of war between the U.S. and North Korea for 65 years. And, you know, they promised within 90 days to return to peace talks to negotiate a peace settlement, and that has yet to be signed.

But that’s why it’s so important that there are people on the ground, that peace—the U.S. peace movement has been revived and has been working with and urging members of Congress to take action. And, you know, if there is going to—I mean, yes, it’s great that there is Mattis and Tillerson that is trying to rein in Donald Trump, but, you know, the true check on any kind of executive authority to launch a first strike against North Korea comes from the Congress. And I think that it’s a really important debate that is taking place. And just last week, Congressman John Conyers, who’s one of the two Korean War veterans, from Michigan, you know, introduced a bipartisan bill with Thomas Massie, Republican from Kentucky. Basically, it’s called the No Unconstitutional First Strike on North Korea. And they got Senator Ed Markey to make it a joint bill. And so, we’ll see if Bob Corker signs on. But already, Brian Schatz, here from Hawaii, the Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut and Cory Booker have also endorsed and backed the bill.

So, it’s a very exciting time, I think, for a U.S. peace movement that was very deflated, I think, after the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And, you know, the time is now for us to push back, I think, to be building alliances with the peace movements in South Korea and in Japan—these are historic allies of the U.S.—and together, you know, with a unified voice, say, “We must stop this brinkmanship. We must oppose war. We must stop provocative actions that are done on our countries and our militaries,” with—including the very provocative trilateral and bilateral military exercises, that are conducted twice a year, that simulate an invasion, decapitation of the North Korean regime. I mean, we have to look honestly at what our government and our military is doing to provoke North Korea.

And, you know, the earlier question about “Is North Korea ready for talks?” I mean, so there was a very important meeting that took place last week in Moscow. Suzanne DiMaggio, who’s one of the American civil society negotiators that engages in these Track 1.5 talks with the North Koreans, shared a panel at this conference with Madam Choi Sun-hee, who’s one of the lead foreign ministers from the DPRK who negotiates with the Americans. And, you know, Madam Choi Sun-hee outlined where North Korea is coming from. And they basically are calling for the U.S. to stop its hostile policy, to stop making threatening tweets and other statements, you know, threatening the total annihilation of their country and making such defamatory remarks, calling their leader “Rocket Man.” And, you know, obviously, the latest round of sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, it’s a new breed. You know, it’s not intended to go after the elite or the North Korean nuclear or missile program. These are sanctions that are targeting North Korea’s economy. It’s about textiles, seafood, you know, limiting the ability of North Korean workers to get work overseas.

So, I think that they are feeling very isolated and encircled. And I think that that’s an important note to take note of, because the more that North Korea feels isolated and that they have no channels of expressing their frustration with being isolated and being targeted aggressively militarily, they will feel, you know, more likely to retaliate. And so, I think that that’s why it’s so important for us to call for unconditional peace talks and then, you know, potentially move to seriously consider a proposal about the freeze for freeze that is now backed by both Russia and China, which is freezing North Korea’s nuclear and missile program in exchange for halting the U.S. and South Korean military exercises. I think we really need to be pushing for that, and especially ahead of the war games that will take place in March of next year.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Christine Ahn, Trump is, of course, also—he’s going on this 12-day trip to Asia, and among the countries he’ll visit is Japan. Now, you talked about North Korea feeling encircled, and one of the concerns that’s been raised is that, you know, Japan just elected Shinzo Abe. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a two-thirds majority in this recent election, which now, apparently, will allow him or make it easier for him to change Japan’s pacifist constitution. So could you say a little about that and what the implications of that are?

CHRISTINE AHN: Oh, I mean, it is terrifying, actually. You know, to think—I mean, it’s just an unfortunate situation. I mean, clearly, Abe called the snap election because he used the fear by the Japanese people, obviously, legitimately, as North Korean missiles were being flown over Hokkaido, you know, to basically instill fear and create a rally-around-the-flag situation. I mean, that’s what we’re seeing is, you know, it’s this domino effect among all the countries in the region.

And so, that’s why it’s so urgent to actually have a peaceful resolution to the long-standing U.S.-DPRK conflict, because now every country in the region is considering nuclear weapons and also just further militarizing. We have a very dangerous arms race in Northeast Asia, and it is a tinderbox basically waiting to explode. And, you know, this summer I traveled to China and also to South Korea. You know, as you know, the travel ban that was put on me by the predecessor, Park Geun-hye, was reversed under Moon Jae-in, but, you know, what I did recognize is that there’s still so much trauma.

AMY GOODMAN: Christine Ahn, I want to thank you so much for being with us, founder and executive director of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

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