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“Talks Can Work”: As Tensions Rise on Korean Peninsula, Advocates Call for Demilitarization

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South Korea says it expects North Korea to test-launch another intercontinental ballistic missile on Saturday. The expected test comes after North Korea carried out its strongest-ever nuclear test Sunday. The underground nuclear blast was many times more powerful than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, which killed 75,000 people. The North’s nuclear test came as U.S. and South Korea wrapped up their massive joint military drills on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has long objected to the annual drills, which include tens of thousands of troops. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters clashed with police in South Korea’s Seongju County on Wednesday over the deployment of more THAAD missile launchers. Dozens of protesters were injured at the overnight standoff when police attempted to disassemble protesters’ campsites and forcibly remove road blockades. For more on the escalating tensions and the resistance to militarization, we speak with Wol-san Liem, who has just returned from protesting the THAAD deployment site in Seongju, South Korea. And we speak with Tim Shorrock, an investigative journalist and the author of “Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Outsourced Intelligence.” His new piece for The Nation is titled “Diplomacy with North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again.”

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and between the U.S. and North Korea. On Wednesday, South Korea said it expects North Korea to test-launch another intercontinental ballistic missile on Saturday. The expected test comes after North Korea carried out its strongest-ever nuclear test on Sunday. The underground nuclear blast was many times more powerful than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, which killed 75,000 people.

AMY GOODMAN: The North’s nuclear test came as U.S. and South Korea wrapped up their massive joint military drills on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has long objected to the annual drills, which include tens of thousands of troops. On Wednesday, a reporter asked President Trump if military action against North Korea is on the table.

REPORTER: Mr. President, are you considering military action on North Korea?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to see what happens. We’ll see what happens. Certainly, that’s not our first choice, but we will see what happens. Thank you very much.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Trump has also threatened to cut off trade with any countries that do business with North Korea. Experts say this proposal is next to impossible, since ceasing trade with China, Brazil, Germany, Mexico and other countries would be an economic catastrophe for the U.S. Trump has also escalated tensions with the U.S.’s longtime ally South Korea for being open to initiating peace talks with the North. Trump has threatened to cancel a trade agreement between the two countries.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s between the United States and South Korea.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters clashed with police in South Korea’s Seongju County Wednesday over the deployment of more THAAD missile launchers. Dozens of protesters were injured at the overnight standoff when police attempted to disassemble protesters’ campsites and forcibly remove road blocks.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Wol-san Liem joins us from Democracy Now! video stream, director of international and Korean Peninsula affairs, KCTU-Korean Public Service and Transport Workers Union. Liem just came from protesting at the THAAD deployment site in South Korea. And in Washington, D.C., we’re joined by Tim Shorrock, investigative journalist, author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Outsourced Intelligence. He grew up in Tokyo and Seoul, has been writing about the U.S. role in Korea since the late ’70s, correspondent for The Nation and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism in Seoul. His new piece for The Nation, “Diplomacy with North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again.”

Tim Shorrock, let’s begin with you. Talk about the latest deployment. Not clear if North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb—they say they did, a number of experts say that it couldn’t be—and then are going to once again test an ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile, this weekend. Is the U.S. and Korea, North Korea, on a collision course? And what do you think needs to happen?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, they’re definitely on a collision course, yes. And this has been—this has been going on for quite some time now. You know, at the beginning of this year, 2017, Kim Jong-un declared in his January 1 speech that he wanted the country to be ready with a nuclear weapon that could be put on an ICBM by the end of the year. So these tests and this latest nuclear test do not come as much of a surprise, really. But what’s been really dangerous has been this escalation of this war of words between the U.S. and North Korea and these threats, especially by Trump and Secretary of Defense Mattis, you know, to destroy North Korea, to annihilate North Korea. These are very dangerous kinds of words to be using, and I think it’s really raised the tensions to a point where we’ve—you know, there’s got to be some kind of intervention, hopefully by some other country that can get these—this situation off of this, you know, moving toward war, and moving toward some kind of peace talks and negotiations.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, you said, Tim Shorrock, that a third country should intervene. Now, what country would have the trust of both the U.S. and North Korea?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, you know, Trump’s been trying to rely on the Chinese to pressure North Korea. And I think there may be a possibility, when the new U.S. sanctions come up in the U.N. Security Council, where China and Russia both, of course, have veto power, you know, for the Chinese or the Russians to come in and say we may—they may support additional sanctions, but they will also push for some kind of peace negotiation, some kind of talk between the U.S. and North Korea—a diplomatic solution rather than war. That’s what I mean.

But I also think that the South Korean government of Moon Jae-in, you know, has said from the beginning, since his election, that South Korea should be taking the lead in this. And they’ve been really eclipsed, partly by the fault of U.S. policy, but I think Moon Jae-in has allowed that to happen, as well. And they—of course, it’s their country. They have the right to negotiate with North Korea, despite the fact that, you know, Trump called Moon Jae-in’s appeal to diplomacy “appeasement.” So, I think, you know, that this intervention could come from China or Russia, but I think South Korea has a very, very important role to play, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Tim Shorrock, about what you believe the North Korean president wants? What is he attempting to accomplish?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, I think, at the least, he wants to signal the United States that he has the military power to strike back at not only, you know, the U.S. in South Korea, but U.S. assets and bases in Japan, Okinawa and Guam. The last threat he made, you know, the last specific threat he made, of course, was a few weeks ago, when he said they would send some missiles toward Guam. Now, why Guam? Well, because Guam is the base for B-1B bombers that the U.S. would use to attack North Korea in case of war. And there’s been exercises even in the past few days where they’ve flown these B-1s from Guam into Korean skies. So, I think, at the least, he’s trying to show the United States that he has the military capability to fight a war, as he says, you know, in the Pacific region. And he’s trying to get some kind of military position, positioning himself possibly for future negotiations.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, meanwhile, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has said that North Korea is “begging for war.” And as we said earlier, the test that North Korea carried out was the strongest it ever has. Now, barring the intervention of a third country, Tim Shorrock, where do you see this going?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, you know, I think the people that are begging for war is CNN and Fox News, and MSNBC, for that matter. I see the networks pushing for war. That would—that’s what they’re dreaming of, I think. And you see a lot of pro-war sentiment in the U.S. media, as well, sentiment for, you know, regime change and this kind of thing. So, you know, I think it’s a very dangerous situation. It’s being heated up by a press that reports nonsense about North Korea, and South Korea, for that matter. And, you know, Trump can take advantage of this.

There’s very little investigative reporting. You know, for example, there’s so much reporting about how large their missiles are and how far they can go, but very little attention on the mechanics of how a peace might work, how peace talks might proceed, what North Korea wants, what the U.S. wants, how that might work. That’s what I tried to do in this article in The Nation, was to show the history of the U.S.-North Korea negotiations and show that the agreement made in the 1990s by President Clinton and Kim Jong-il, the father of Kim Jong-un, froze North Korea’s nuclear program—they didn’t have a bomb then, but they had a nuclear program—froze it for 12 years. And they agreed both to move toward diplomatic and economic—full diplomatic economic relations. And that agreement was broken in the—during the Bush administration by the United States. And North Korea cheated on it, as well, but both sides broke it. So, in the mass media in the United States, it’s always that this agreement went through and then North Korea broke it the next day. That is not true. The agreement lasted for many years, and it finally ended when the Bush administration falsely accused the North Koreans of having a uranium program to the bomb, and just tore up the agreement. And it was after that that they proceeded, very rapidly, to build their nuclear bomb. And they exploded their first nuclear bomb in 2006, under Bush.

So, you know, I think that talks can work. We’re not—it’s not exactly clear how Kim Jong-un would react, because he’s very young. He has not had any negotiations. But he is certainly surrounded by people. His foreign minister has negotiated with the United States for many years, as has deputy foreign minister, and there’s people in his government who have—who have, you know, decades of experience in diplomacy and have talked to the United States. So, I think, you know, diplomacy really is the only way. You can’t have sanctions and tough policies without negotiations. That makes the—that makes the situation worse.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to bring in Wol-san Liem into this conversation, just came from protesting at the THAAD deployment site in South Korea, protesting militarization of the peninsula. Wol-san Liem, explain where you are right now in South Korea, what the THAAD is and what you’re calling for. So many in South Korea feel like they’re at ground zero.

WOL-SAN LIEM: Thank you for having me on the show, and it’s good to be here with Tim Shorrock, as well.

The situation in Korea is that, since last year, the United States and the South Korean government authorities and military authorities have been moving to deploy, and have gone through with the deployment, of this THAAD missile defense system, which is a missile defense system that is supposed to be designed to shoot down missiles, including nuclear warheads, in the terminal phase, and so as they enter. And the argument behind that from the United States and the South Korean government is that this is being used as a deterrent or as protection against North Korean—the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons. But there’s a lot of evidence out there that shows that these missile defenses actually, and particularly THAAD, is actually not effective against most missiles, and particularly not from North Korean missiles that would be targeted at South Korea at such a short range. And the—one of the main issues here is that this system, this missile—this is actually—it’s a weapons system, really, because it’s part of a larger strategy for U.S. military buildup in the region.

It’s being deployed in a small village in the Seongju County, which is about three hours outside of Seoul, south of Seoul. And it is—it’s an area where there’s a farming village. There’s a lot of elderly people who live there. And they’re very concerned about the impact of the radar on their farming and on their environment, on their health. But they also have recognized that this weapons system is actually exacerbating tensions with South—between South Korea and North Korea, and then also with China, who feels very threatened by the fact that you can use this system—in fact, the radar that is part of the system—to monitor the entire Chinese airspace, as well as North Korea. And so there’s been quite a strong protest from the residents in that area, supported by peace activists from around the country, to stop the deployment. Unfortunately, the U.S. military and Korean government just moved through with deploying four more launchers to complete a THAAD unit there, so there’s six launchers that are now stationed. And so, it was a really passionate struggle, but one that we weren’t able, in fact, to block the equipment from being brought into the deployment site.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Wol-san Liem, can you comment on the way that President Trump has been responding to this crisis with North Korea?

WOL-SAN LIEM: I mean, I definitely echo what Tim just said. I think it’s incredibly dangerous, the war of words, the threat of preemptive strike, which Trump has—preemptive nuclear strike, which Trump has referenced several times, or other, you know, raining fire and fury down on North Korea, as it clearly exacerbates the situation. And I think that because Trump is really unpredictable and does things that are not so calculated, sometimes it makes the situation even more dangerous.

I wanted to mention that this is really—and I think that Tim also alluded to it, but this is really—the crisis that we’re experiencing now, while it’s exacerbated by the Trump administration incredibly, it’s also part of the product of a long-term history of the United States’ hostile policies towards North Korea, stemming back from the Cold War. And so, North Korea’s nuclear development, while I definitely don’t want to justify it, it is—it is the result of a sense of a threat that the United States will at some point use nuclear weapons or conventional weapons against it to try to achieve regime change. This is because the United States maintains a policy of preemptive strike against North Korea and because of the war exercises, that you mentioned, conducted with South Korea every year, that particularly target—I mean, the target of the exercises is an attack on the North Korean leadership. And so, because of that, this sense of—this understandable sense, if you listen—if you think about it, this understandable sense of threat, North Korea has felt that unless it wants to be another Iraq, it has to develop nuclear weapons in order to have some kind of defense against a much greater power, that is the United States.

And what North Korea ultimately wants is normalization of relations and a peace treaty to end the conflict on the Korean Peninsula. There was—at the end of the Korean War in 1952, there was an armistice signed, not a peace treaty. And so, in fact, there’s still a state of war going on, and North Korea has been explicit that it wants a peace treaty and normalization of relations.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Wol-san Liem, we want to thank you for being with us, just back from protesting at the THAAD deployment site in South Korea, speaking to us from Seoul, and Tim Shorrock, joining us from Washington, D.C., investigative journalist.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to look at what’s happening in Burma. Why are more than 150,000 Rohingya, of Muslim minority, fleeing Burma into Bangladesh? Is there a genocide happening? Stay with us.

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