By Kang Ji Hyun
Diplomacy is the only way to achieve a peaceful resolution of the North Korea nuclear crisis, according to Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.
She said that in order to bring North Korea back to negotiations, U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration should send a sincere, consistent message that the offer of engagement is real.
“Diplomacy is the only path forward to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis,” Davenport said in a recent interview.
“The Trump administration purports to advance a strategy of maximum pressure and engagement but U.S. actions and rhetoric expose a serious diplomacy deficit,” she added.
She pointed out that mixed messages from Trump and top administration officials about U.S. intentions to engage in talks further complicate the environment.
“The Trump administration can and must signal to North Korea that it is willing to engage in talks without preconditions,” she said.
“Direct talks would give the U.S. an opportunity to discuss a path forward with North Korea to reduce tension.”
Davenport stressed that the U.S. Congress should also refrain from activities that heighten tension and muddy the waters regarding the prospects of diplomacy.
“That may require putting denuclearization on the back burner, voicing support for shorter-term, more manageable goals, and giving existing sanctions time to work before pushing new measures,” she said.
She believes that given the tension between North Korea and the U.S. , a high-level figure could engage both parties to try to reduce this and convey to Pyongyang Washington’s interest in negotiations.
“That will require identifying an individual the Trump administration trusts and is willing to refrain from openly criticizing,” she said.
“Ultimately North Korea wants to negotiate with the U.S. , but other states can and must play a role in facilitating a peaceful resolution to the crisis.”
The Washington-based North Korea expert said that while South Korea faces serious security challenges, it is incumbent upon Seoul to refrain from actions that would prompt an arms race, further destabilizing the region.
Davenport thinks that tougher sanctions and military signaling without a plan for diplomacy will only complicate the situations.
“Given the current escalated risk of miscalculation, South Korea and the U.S. need to walk a fine line between sustaining security alliances and provoking a North Korean response,” she said.
She warned that Trump’s vague threats, paired with military signaling, could inadvertently spark a crisis.
“The U.S. and South Korea could scale back some military activities without negatively impacting readiness,” she noted.
“Putting that on the table might be attractive to Pyongyang as part of an interim negotiated freeze.”
Lesson from Iran deal
Davenport, who provides research and analysis on nuclear and missile programs in North Korea and Iran, said that lessons should be learned from the process of the P5+1 talks for the Iranian nuclear weapons agreement.
The P5+1 refers to the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. — plus Germany.
One lesson to take from the nuclear deal with Iran in her view is the critical need for coordination in any multilateral approach.
“The six countries negotiating with Iran were in lock step on the strategy and goals of the process,” she said.
“Multilateral talks with North Korea will require the same close coordination on goals and processes.”
Another important lesson relevant for multilateral talks with North Korea is that the negotiations with Iran demonstrated that an interim agreement can be a positive way to prevent tension from escalating and demonstrate all sides are willing to implement a deal in good faith.
“In negotiations with North Korea, an interim deal designed to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile progress in exchange for concessions from the other side, such as a pledge not to impose any additional sanctions or a roll back of some elements of the U.S. -South Korea joint military exercises, might be helpful in demonstrating that both sides are willing to follow through on an agreement,” she added.