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Tim Shorrock on North Korea Nuclear Deal: Will the U.S. Drop Sanctions & Economic Embargo?

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has pledged to abandon his nuclear weapons if the United States agrees to formally end the Korean War and promises not to invade his country. The announcement came after a historic meeting Friday between Kim and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in the truce village of Panmunjom. Then, on Sunday, North Korea’s state media said Kim had vowed to immediately suspend nuclear and missile tests, and would dismantle its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site. We discuss the potentially historic developments with Tim Shorrock, correspondent for The Nation and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism in Seoul.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today with news that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has pledged to abandon his nuclear weapons if the United States agrees to formally end the Korean War and promises not to invade his country. This comes after an historic meeting Friday between Kim and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in the truce village of Panmunjom. During the meeting, which was broadcast live on the Korean Peninsula and around the world, the two leaders held hands and pledged to work for peace and replace the 1953 armistice with a formal truce. On Sunday, North Korea’s state media said Kim had vowed to immediately suspend nuclear and missile tests, and would dismantle its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site. Some analysts say the site has been unusable since a massive test last September caused an earthquake so big that satellites captured images of the mountain above the site actually moving. But a South Korean presidential spokesman said that while some facilities are not functioning, others remain in good condition. He also told reporters Kim had called for the United States to meet often with the North.

YOON YOUNG-CHAN: [translated] Leader Kim said that if North Korea meets the United States more often, builds on trust and promises to end war and nonaggression, why should we have nuclear weapons, which make our life difficult?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This comes as President Trump has pressed North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program ahead of a summit with Kim in May or June, and he recently revealed that now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a secret visit to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, over Easter weekend. On Saturday, supporters chanted “Nobel” as Trump spoke at a rally in Michigan.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS: Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel! Nobel!

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That’s very nice. Thank you. That’s very nice. Nobel. I just want to get the job done.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, told Fox News Sunday Trump should be cautious about talks with the North Korean dictator. He was interviewed by host Chris Wallace.

JOHN BOLTON: There’s nobody in the Trump administration starry-eyed about what—what may happen here. But by demonstrating they’ve made a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons, it would be possible to move quickly, as, again, the Libya case demonstrates.

CHRIS WALLACE: The North Koreans are going to give up everything they’ve got, but, in return, the U.S. would agree that we are not going to allow any nuclear-armed airplanes or nuclear-armed ships on the Korean Peninsula. Is that acceptable?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, we certainly haven’t made that commitment. And again, I’m looking at the Panmunjom Declaration, as they call it, in the context of a series of earlier North-South Korean agreements.

CHRIS WALLACE: So, you don’t view this as involving any kind of commitment from the U.S.

JOHN BOLTON: I don’t think it binds the United States, no.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Tim Shorrock, correspondent for The Nation and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism in Seoul. He grew up in Japan and South Korea. His latest piece headlined “South and North Korea Prepare to Discuss an End to the Korean War: But Washington’s pundit class seems united against a peace process.” And he’s in the midst of another piece that will come out this week.

Tim, welcome back to Democracy Now! Start off by talking about the significance of the North Korean leader—for the first time, a North Korean leader stepped foot in South Korea. What took place last week?

TIM SHORROCK: Thank you for having me, Amy. It was an amazing sight to see Kim Jong-un step over that border and shake hands with Moon Jae-in. This is, of course—you know, he’s the highest level—he’s the only leader from North Korea to ever step into South Korea. And that was a symbolic step, him coming to the South.

And their declaration, the Panmunjom Declaration, that was just mentioned, it’s quite an amazing document, and I really urge our listeners to download it and read it very carefully, because, you know, they come out very clearly for a, you know, complete peace process. They talk about the complete denuclearization. They’re committed to denuclearization. They talk about reconnecting the blood relations of the people, determining the destiny of the Korean nation on their own accord. They set out very important steps for reconciliation, such as setting up a joint liaison office, reconnecting railroads and roads that have been cut off in the past, and moving towards, you know, a peace regime that involves the United States and China and settles the Korean War once and for all. And it’s really quite a document. And I think the South Korean people, you know, were very impressed with what Kim Jong-un said and what other members of the North Korean delegation said. And the whole atmosphere of it was very conducive. And I note, you know, that Moon Jae-in, the president, his popularity is up to 85 percent now, precisely because of this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tim, I wanted to ask you specifically about the South Korean president, because all the media attention here seems to focus on what Trump has done or hasn’t done, but, really, Moon was elected in early 2017, and he has—could you talk about his own history and why it’s been so important that he has really boxed in, to a certain extent, President Trump on what he can or can’t do vis-à-vis North Korea?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, we all remember the candlelight revolution, you know, weeks on end, millions of Koreans into the streets to protest the regime of Park Geun-hye a year ago, year and a half ago. And it was that movement that brought Moon Jae-in to power. I mean, his election was a snap election, because the president was impeached. She was very right-wing. She was very oppressive, repressive. And she was very hard-line toward North Korea. People want peace with North Korea.

I was in Korea, South Korea, a year ago, and I got to see Moon Jae-in three times in campaign appearances in Gwangju. And I also interviewed him for The Nation magazine. And his dream, at the time, was, you know, to defuse the tension between North and South, but to really move towards peace between North Korea and the United States and settle this nuclear crisis, which was really heightening at the time. And, you know, he was being accused at the time of being—one, being anti-American, which is ridiculous, and he was accused of trying to undermine the U.S.-South Korean alliance. And what he told me was that, you know, if he moved toward peace between the U.S. and North Korea and helped do that, that this would be good for the United States and good for Trump. And that’s the gamble that he took. And I think he’s won that gamble.

And it was his diplomacy, you know, that got the North Koreans into the South during the Olympic Games. They had very high-level talks then and afterwards. And I think, you know, as a result of those meetings, Kim Jong-un invited to meet—Trump to meet with him. And that’s what set the stage for all of this. So, I think, you know, a huge amount of credit should go to President Moon, his government and the people of South Korea, who have backed this very, very strongly.

AMY GOODMAN: And I believe President Moon said that President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize for this. And we heard on Saturday night, when Trump, again, saying no to attending the White House Correspondents’ dinner, went to another Washington—Washington, Michigan—and people in the audience chanted “Nobel! Nobel!” Tim Shorrock?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, we shall see. I think that the person who might deserve it most would be Moon. But, you know, if Trump can get a peace agreement with Kim Jong-un and there actually is a permanent peace that’s verifiable on both sides, then perhaps he might—perhaps he might deserve such an award. But I think that, you know, there’s a lot of negotiations to be done. And while I think that the—you know, clearly, there’s questions about how denuclearization might take place and the whole system of making sure that does happen, verification and so on, you know, the North Koreans, as they said, as you mentioned at the top of the news, they have said they will—there’s is no reason to have nuclear weapons if the United States vows not to attack them and the United States signs a peace agreement. So, the real issue also is whether or not the U.S. can drop its decades-long hostile policy toward North Korea, which includes nuclear arms pointed at North Korea, which includes sanctions and economic embargo, and which includes attempts to overthrow and have regime change in North Korea. That’s a real issue, I think.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tim, what about the role of Kim Jong-un? Here’s a man who was ridiculed in the American press, mocked. Trump called him “Little Rocket Man.” And yet he has managed to maneuver very skillfully through all of the shoals that his country has faced, and now is apparently on the cusp of a major diplomatic achievement here.

TIM SHORROCK: Well, you know, back in the beginning of 2017, he gave a New Year’s speech where he said, “This year we’re going to complete our nuclear force.” And, you know, they went forward and began testing all these missiles. And they had one nuclear test last year. And at the end of the year, he said, “We have completed our nuclear force, and we will stop testing.” And that’s when he made the offer, you know, on January 1st, to meet with Moon Jae-in and to send a delegation to the South. So, you know, he has played this very craftily. And he decided that he wanted to speak to the United States, negotiate with the United States, from a position of strength. And, you know, he does have the weapons, though interesting thing about his program last year was that they stopped short of actually getting a weapon onto a missile that can enter the atmosphere and hit a target. So, they do not have a nuclear-armed ICBM that can hit the United States at this time. They may be two or three years away from that. So, he stopped testing, and that word got to the White House through South Korea and through Americans who meet from time to time with North Korean officials. And it was clear that he wanted to talk. And I think that his party has made some kind of fundamental decision to kind of shift their focus now to building their economy and opening up to the world. And I think that’s what we’re seeing.

I mean, this is a very young guy. He’s 34 years old. He was not responsible for the past agreements and what happened in the past with the United States and North Korea. He’s only been in power a few years. But he’s clearly made a shift away from some of the very, very hard-line rhetoric and statements that were made. So, that’s—I think it’s a very interesting time. And clearly, you know, some of his language has changed, the way he talks about the U.S. and South Korea. When he was in South Korea, you know, he spoke to the South Korean people on television. And, you know, people were impressed. And he actually joked about certain things, like how bad the roads are in North Korea. And he actually acknowledged the fact that there are defectors, there are people leaving North Korea. So he’s somebody who seems to be able to deal with the reality of the situation, and can talk plainly about what needs to be done to move forward to a peace process. And I think that he really does want to fix and improve the North Korean economy. And this is the way to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the issue of media coverage of the possible rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula. In a recent article in The New York Times headlined “As Two Koreas Talk Peace, Trump’s Bargaining Chips Slip Away,” Mark Landler expressed skepticism that the meeting between the South and North Korean leaders could be beneficial to the U.S., concluding, quote, “The talk of peace is likely to weaken the two levers that Mr. Trump used to pressure Mr. Kim to come to the bargaining table. A resumption of regular diplomatic exchanges between the two Koreas, analysts said, will inevitably erode the crippling economic sanctions against the North, while Mr. Trump will find it hard to threaten military action against a country that is extending an olive branch,” unquote. Meanwhile, Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon had this to say on Friday.

MICHAEL O’HANLON: President Trump’s going to have to rein in his more ambitious goals and yet still drive a relatively hard line and not give away too much for an interim or partial agreement. … The denuclearization idea, however, is a long ways from even getting seriously started, because we’ve heard this kind of talk before. We know that North Korea means something else by the concept of denuclearization than we think we hear with our Western ears. And I haven’t seen even any realistic discussion of what would be the first steps or any kind of an interim deal along the way.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Shorrock, your response to all of these comments?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, Michael O’Hanlon has been so wrong on so many things, like Iraq and Afghanistan, for so long, I don’t know why anybody is listening to him. But he’s completely wrong. He apparently has not read this Panmunjom Declaration, for one thing.

But let me get back to that Times piece. I mean, you know, I quoted from that—I quote from that in my next article and my last one in The Nation. I also talked about his reporting. I mean, that statement, that somehow it comes out that, you know, a peace agreement is bad for the U.S. national security because it will prevent Trump from taking military action, what kind of talk is that for a reporter? He depends on all the establishment, you know, pundits and experts in town, rounds them all up to make this analysis.

It’s just amazing to me to see the Washington consensus. I mean, people here in Washington, in the press and in the pundit class, they make fun of North Korea for being this totalitarian state where everyone thinks the same and has to do what the leader says. Well, the lockstep groupthink here in Washington is very similar. It’s just they all say the same thing. You can read the same analysis that you just heard from Brookings, that you just saw in The New York Times, you can see that, you know, in Post, in all these hot takes that appear in the Post, The Atlantic, The New Yorker. Everybody thinks the same way in this pundit class here in Washington.

Nobody takes Korea, South Korea, seriously, nobody takes North Korea seriously, that South Korea and North Korea mapped out a procedure, a plan, to denuclearize and to decompress and to move toward a peace regime and decrease the tensions. And South Korea took steps today, for example, that they said they were going to end all hostile acts. One of those hostile acts is these huge speakers they have set up in the DMZ to broadcast propaganda and broadcast K-pop into North Korea. They’re taking them down today. They’re taking these steps, one by one, to move toward this peace that’s been denied to Korea for so long.

And I think American pundits should be—you know, applaud South Korea for taking these steps, and applaud North Korea. You see these—you see these stories like, you know, eight months ago, North Korea must denuclearize, must say they’re going to denuclearize. You see this all over. And then, all of a sudden, they say they’re going to denuclearize, and then the headline is “U.S. Wary of North Korea Saying They’re Going to Denuclearize.” I mean, you know, give it a break. You know, open your eyes. Try to understand what’s actually happening in North Korea and South Korea. And the fact is, the United States cannot control Korea anymore. The United States has been in Korea militarily since 1945. And it’s time to end this colonial-like relationship the U.S. has with South Korea.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tim Shorrock, I want to thank you for being with us, correspondent for The Nation and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism in Seoul.

When we come back, we look at the life and the legacy of Dr. James Cone, who died this weekend, the father of black liberation theology in the United States.


AMY GOODMAN: “Feels Like Rain” by the great jazz musician, 81-year-old Buddy Guy. He performed last night, along with Bobby Rush, about to turn 85, for the last night of B.B. King’s in New York. The legendary jazz venue is closing down.

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Champion for Black Power & All the Oppressed: Dr. Cone, Founder of Black Liberation Theology, Dies

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