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U.S. Eases Sanctions

June 19, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The announcement on easing economic sanctions against North Korea came from the State Department this afternoon.

RICHARD BOUCHER, State Dept. Spokesman: The sanctions that we’re easing will allow most imports and exports of non-sensitive consumer goods. Also permitted in the easing are direct financial transfers from one person to another, such as from a family in the United States to family members in North Korea, or for legitimate commercial purposes.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Importing raw materials from North Korea will now be allowed, and air and shipping routes between the two countries will be opened. U.S. companies will be permitted to invest in agriculture, mining, ports, transportation, and tourism in the North. But the ban on sales of American high tech and military items will continue as long as North Korea is classified as a terrorist state by the U.S. State Department.

The sanctions have been in effect since the North invaded the South and launched the Korean War 50 years ago, an anniversary the U.S. government is observing Sunday. More than 30,000 American soldiers and more than one million Korean military and civilians died in that conflict.

The easing of sanctions follows the dramatic summit last week between the leaders of North and South Korea. The summit declaration, accompanied by toasts, referred to the goal of reunification of the two countries, which have remained technically at war since the cease-fire that ending the Korean conflict in 1953.

Though the meetings in North Korea’s capital provided a dramatic turning point, the U.S. and the two Koreas have been involved in quiet diplomacy since 1994 to ease tensions brought on by North Korea’s presumed development of a nuclear weapons capability. That diplomacy intensified in the last two years, as relations took another turn for the worse after a North Korean missile test. The Clinton administration appointed former Defense Secretary William Perry as special envoy to North Korea, and last year, Perry visited Pyongyang, the highest-ranking U.S. official to go there since the Korean War. On the NewsHour, Perry outlined his policy recommendations, which included the U.S. dropping most sanctions.

WILLIAM PERRY: I’m talking about only a small step at this time. But this small step — what our action is — our easing sanctions is simply allowing trade and consumer goods between our two countries, which is just a normal relation between two countries.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The State Department said today’s decision on sanctions followed the Perry recommendations.

For more, we get three perspectives. Chuck Downs is a former Pentagon official and foreign policy advisor to the House Republican Policy Committee. He is the author of “Over the Line: North Korea’s negotiating strategy.” Han Park is director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia. He has been an unofficial advisor to the North and South Korean governments over the past several years. He returned from Seoul this morning. Tony Namkung is president of Namkung Associates, a consulting company. He has been an unofficial liaison between North Korea and the U.S. Government (No audio).

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What is the significance of the easing of the sanction, and would you place it in the context of last week’s summit, please.

HAN PARK: Yes. The summit was designed to comfort the United States and Japan and other European countries to reevaluate their postures toward North Korea. I think in that sense, the summit meeting achieved what it intended to achieve. I expect to see some more active transactions between these countries involving North Korea, and that’s exactly what North Korea wanted and North Korea got it.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So the sanctions followed that because the U.S. was comforted by it, is that what you’re saying?

HAN PARK: That’s what I think. I think. It may be coincidental, but I think it has a lot to do with the summit itself.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Chuck Downs… I’m sorry, did you say not to do with the summit, or a lot to do –

HAN PARK: A lot to do.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Oh, good. That’s what I thought; I wasn’t sure. Chuck Downs, how do you see the easing of sanctions?

CHUCK DOWNS, Former Pentagon Official: Thank you, Elizabeth. I think that we have two very different sets of intentions that we need to keep in mind here. On the part of South Korea and President Kim Dae Jung, we have a very well-respected, internationally known humanitarian who is going to the North to pursue very solid relations. It would be in the interest of the people of North Korea. On the part of Kim Jong Il, we had a petty tyrant who is interested in internal control and external manipulation.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And so how do you see the sanctions in relation to this?

CHUCK DOWNS: Well, I think Clinton administration is giving up some of our negotiating leverages and it is doing it too quickly. As the State Department spokesman said on the tape that you ran, this will allow remittances from U.S. citizens to friends, relatives, maybe church groups can give money to North Koreans on a humanitarian level. This could end up being a substantial amount of money that flows to North Korea that will be subjected to the control of this regime and will support the regime’s survival, and its control of its own people. It’s not a good step. This is a dark day for human rights in North Korea.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tony Namkung, a dark day for human rights in North Korea?

TONY NAMKUNG, Consultant: I would say this is a very bright day for the future of Korea, both North and South, and for the role of the U.S. in the next phase, acting as a harmonizing, stabilizing force that will bring the two Koreas together in a permanent peace.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Go ahead. Sorry.

TONY NAMKUNG: The easing of sanctions today represents a belated effort… Response on if part of the U.S. Government to an agreement that was made in 1994 between the U.S. And North Korea called the Agreed Framework. The summit meeting was not an effort so much to give comfort to the United States, to allow it to move ahead, as it was an effort on the part of North Korea to lay the stage for the second half of what… of the drama that’s to unfold here. We’ve seen only the first half, and it’s puzzling because we see only one half of the picture, only one hand clapping. The other half is, of course, the three-way talks that will now begin between the U.S., North and South Korea that will try to unwind the military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula. This is a critical juncture in the history of the Korean issue, and I think that we should give it the importance that it deserves.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Han Park, do you think it’s a critical juncture that is very, very important? How do you see it? Is this an unstoppable process that will just move forward?

HAN PARK: Right. I think it is certainly a critical juncture in the sense that both South and North Korea have begun to change their perceptions of each other, and the perceptional differences have been the underlying obstacle between the countries as well as North Korea and other countries. South Korea now is in the mood of festivity, and I think they will be forced to restructure some arrangements and systems that are designed to oppose North Korea. And I think newspaper, media, all these — media hype is indicating that South Korea is forced to change their perceptions toward the North. And North Korea, as well. Kim Jong IL has been unknown, not only to outside the world, but to North Koreans themselves. Now he’s demonstrated that he is willing to work with arch rival South Korea and outside world. And it seems to me that the North Korean leadership as a whole and public, as well, are in a state of confusion and trying to sort out what the real intentions of the great leader are.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Chuck Downs, are there dangers in that state of confusion?

CHUCK DOWNS: There are indeed dangers. What Professor Park said about the spirit of encouragement and enthusiasm and even jubilation in Seoul is in fact correct. And what we have seen in the past, and there have been other times when there has been this kind of jubilation in South Korea that was created by a very easy gesture for North Korea to make in 1972 and in 1985, I would argue, and in 1991, and 1992, the North did similar gestures toward the South. They created a great deal of enthusiasm. The North knows that what it is likely to get is a split view in the South. They know that they are likely to have students in Korean universities flying the flag of the DPRK and burning the flag of the United States. They know they will create a debate over the U.S. presence. And as Tony Namkung said, and it’s interesting to hear his words on this, because what he is describing is an unfolding of a process. The North knows that the debate will move on to involve the United States. What they have done is they’ve generated enthusiasm in the relationship to the South, and it will soon be at odds with what they try to do in their relationship with the United States. If they pick specifically American interests, they will have achieved accomplishing the South as a hedge against U.S. reactions to provocations that they might pursue against the United States. We have to be very careful about this in the months ahead.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tony Namkung, do you agree that that could happen, given what you see ahead, which is discussions at the military and security issues, which are so thorny?

TONY NAMKUNG: Well, quite obviously it is to North Korea’s negotiating advantage to make peace with the South before there are three-way talks to talk about the real issues that divide the parties and that pit one party against another in a hostile fashion on the peninsula. North Korea’s, as I tried suggest earlier, its main purpose in holding the summit is to set the stage for the real discussions that are to follow. I might just take issue with Mr. Downs with respect to his equating this recent summit with past North-South interactions. There’s no comparison whatsoever. I think, I don’t really need to belabor that point. Just by looking at the media footage, we can tell that the qualitative change has occurred in North-South relations.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Chuck Downs?

CHUCK DOWNS: Well, I hope that a qualitative change will occur in North-South relations. Right now all we have had is a qualitative gesture, one that is hopeful, but is not particularly promising, given the past relationship between North and South. But the attack on the United States has already begun. And over the weekend in the Korean Central News agency from Pyongyang, it said the United States’s loudmouthed peace – in fact — is a ballad of war and its talk about disarmament and détente respectively mean arms buildup intentions. The U.S. imperialists pretend to be interested in peace and détente, however, all their acts only result in increasing the danger of war and escalating the tensions on the Korean Peninsula. We are seeing a heightening of its approach, its verbal attacks on the United States, because they are trying to use the spirit of euphoria that they have generated in the South now to split the alliance between the United States and South Korea.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Han Park, you’ve been involved in this for a long time behind the scenes. What dangers do you see?

HAN PARK: I really… I have been in support of the engagement policy of the United States, and I think it is going to work. This is a tangible sign that it might work. The ultimate purpose of the engagement policy has always been to induce North Korea into the international forum, international market and opening up. I think North Korea is now on the verge of opening up. It is inevitable that North Korea will be opening its doors to foreign investment, especially from the South. And South Korea is preparing very actively. What is important at this time is the involvement by the dear leader himself, given the nature of this system –

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The dear leader being?

HAN PARK: Kim Jong IL of North Korea. So now he is setting the stage. He set the stage. So it’s going to be very difficult for the rest of the country to go counter — countering his orientations. So it will take some effort for Kim Jong IL to undo what he has done. So it seems to me the opening up of society and gradual easing of tension is going to be inevitable.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let’s talk about Kim Jong IL for a minute. Chuck Downs, you said something about him. But expand on that just a little bit. Has what happened last week changed your view of him at all?

CHUCK DOWNS: I think we have some interesting developments in the last week that have not been fully explained. Over the weekend, in fact, one of Kim Jong Il’s major lieutenants in his army structure, in the defense commission, a man named Kim, went to Beijing and had discussions with the defense minister of the People’s Republic of China. We don’t know at this point whether the People’s Republic of China was offering additional assistance or urging some kind of restraint on the part of the DPRK’s army. But we know that Kim Jong IL is very much in control of that society. And if there’s anything that came out of this last week it is that he can, on his on own whim, decide to make any kind of gesture of pleasantries and courtesy based on Confucian precedents breaking with Marxist tradition. He can do as he wishes to control how that society moves. If he wants it to truly reform, believe me, he has the power to unleash that reform at a moment’s notice. In the past, some of his key officials have said that they will open the door. And those officials have ended up being executed. So we need to restrain ourselves from our sense of euphoria and watch very closely to hope that this actually produces some good results.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all very much.