North Korea Once Again Straddles Diplomacy and Defiance

It’s not been easy to figure out just what is going on between North Korean leadership, the United States president, and the world as a whole. Since the Singapore Summit, there have been conflicting reports that North Korea has not taken its agreement with the U.S. in good faith, and some believe that the nation continues to skirt sanctions while playing both sides of the fence.

Yesterday, a report emerged which virtually everybody, the usual impossible-to-pleasers aside, hailed as a positive development regarding global relations with North Korean leadership.

North Korea will shut down key missile test facilities in the presence of “international experts” and is willing to close its only known nuclear complex if the United States makes reciprocal measures, South Korean president Moon Jae-in has announced in a joint press conference with Kim Jong-un.’ (The Guardian)

The talks between North and South Korean leadership also included a tentative agreement between the countries’ leaders to connect two rail lines in a manner that would penetrate the demilitarized zone which has long-demarcated the many differences between the longtime adversaries. South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for the conversion of the peninsula into a “land of peace without nuclear weapons and nuclear threats”, and Kim reportedly agreed with this sentiment. Just as was the case with the Singapore Summit, Kim’s words were undeniably positive, and directly contrary to the bellicose rhetoric that has come out of the North before, during, and after the Korean War.

“There is not only going to be a smooth road ahead, there will be challenges and trials, but the more we overcome them the stronger we will become,” Kim said. “We are not afraid of future challenges.” (Guardian)

The peace talks even reached beyond the realm of mere politics and into international sport. Though it’s a long ways away, the report that North and South Korea plan to file a joint bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics is nothing short of astounding…if true.

Because, that is the question that always follows any sort of promise issued by North Korea: is this genuine, or is this the same hollow bluster that has shredded the regime’s leadership over the years?

It was not long after the Singapore Summit commenced that reports suggested that North Korea was expanding, not decreasing as promised, its nuclear stores. The reports were virtually un-confirmable, making the claims easy to make, easy to accept, or easy to dismiss depending on one’s degree of optimism or pessimism that this Kim is different than his predecessors.

‘Several reports released in recent days suggest that Kim continued to ramp up his weapons production before his June 12 summit with President Donald Trump, after which the U.S. leader declared North Korea was “no longer a nuclear threat.” The reports published by independent researchers and media organizations detail efforts to increase fuel production, build more missile launchers and expand a key rocket-engine manufacturing facility.’ (Bloomberg)

Those who were quick to accept those reports of North Korean defiance of the Singapore Summit agreement will continue to roll their eyes at anything promised by the Kim regime, and rightfully so. It will take years, and likely decades, for the Kim regime to garner any sort of trust from its former (and potentially current) adversaries. And, if a recently-issued U.N. report that North Korea is actively evading sanctions on its oil and coal trade with assistance from Russia prove true, the development will set back any budding trust in the regime yet again.

But, according to one source, the 148-page U.N. report has not been released because the United States and Russia don’t want it to be. The dynamic, apparently, pits the U.S. and its allies, which in this case seem to include Russia, against the U.N. The issue: whether Russian-made amendments to the report, which is reportedly highly critical of Russian companies allegedly helping to thwart sanctions, are reasonable.

‘The unusually bitter feuding, taking place mostly in confidential meetings at U.N. headquarters, divided the United States and its allies, who believe the Russian amendments were reasonable, and undermined the U.N. Security Council’s ability to enforce the sanctions on North Korea and beyond, according to nearly a dozen diplomatic sources in New York and Washington.’ (Foreign Policy)

Regardless of whether or when the report will be released, or how it will look when it is, the FP article gives us a look into some of the allegations being made against North Korea in the United Nations report. And, they aren’t pretty for either Russia or North Korea.

‘The latest report…details how North Korean financial brokers operate with little or no constraints in five main countries. It cites a group of nearly 300 foreign businesses and individuals, including 215 from China and 39 from Russia, that have allegedly flouted sanctions by forming prohibited joint ventures with North Koreans.’ (FP)

The report also details ways in which North Korean nationals set up joint-venture companies in a Russian-based North Korean embassy as a loophole to sanctions, and how a major construction company is also co-owned by North Korean and Russian nationals, allowing the business to operate in a way that technically did not involve cross-border dealings. The report defines as most damning an incident in which a Russian vessel was allegedly photographed unloading fuel onto a North Korean tanker, a direct violation of sanctions.

It remains to be seen whether this entire report will be released to the public, but those who have seen these excerpts will likely have seen sufficient information to be able to draw their conclusions. For those pessimistic that Russia and North Korea will ever embrace honest diplomacy, it’s case closed – they’re brazenly thwarting sanctions, again. Those who hold out hope to the contrary will require a higher standard of evidence, which hopefully will be provided once the U.N., U.S. and related parties come to an agreement.

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