[Interview] “Too early to view Hanoi summit as a failure”

Posted on : 2019-03-08 15:50 KST Modified on : 2019-03-08 15:50 KST
Hitoshi Tanaka, chair of the JRI’s Institute for International Strategy, weighs in on the status of N. Korea-US negotiations and Japan’s role
Hitoshi Tanaka
Hitoshi Tanaka

“The second North Korea-US summit was just one part of a long denuclearization process. The important thing is to create a road map for denuclearization.”

Hitoshi Tanaka, chair of the Institute for International Strategy at the Japan Research Institute, is an expert who previously insisted on the need to open up some path for negotiations even when the Japanese government was emphasizing “maximum pressure.” A major behind-the-scenes presence in the North Korea-Japan summit of 2002, he represents the realist perspective among diplomats. Speaking to the Hankyoreh in his Tokyo office on Mar. 5, he stressed that was it “too early to view the [second North Korea-US] summit as a failure.”

Hankyoreh (Hani): How do you assess the second North Korea-US summit?

Tanaka: It is unfortunate that North Korea and the US did not reach an agreement on denuclearization, but I think that’s all right as long as the denuclearization process goes ahead. What’s worrisome is the lack of adequate discussions in the working-level talks. It is not normal for two sides to show such a vast different in opinions at a summit. North Korea made it clear this time that it is willing to denuclearize, but that it wants sanctions relieved. If that’s the case, there are two approaches. The first involves comprehensive nuclear declaration and comprehensive dismantlement, with no lifting of sanctions until that process is complete. Clearly this is not what North Korea wants. The remaining option is to gradually loosen sanctions to match denuclearization steps. Choosing that process means a road map has to be created. There’s no other way but to establish the scope of denuclearization and sanctions relief. I anticipate there will negotiations to that end going ahead.

Hani: Some have voiced the need for multilateral discussions along the lines of the Six-Party Talks.

Tanaka: The Six-Party Talks will be necessary in the future, but what’s needed at the current stage is the US’ strength. Once a denuclearization road map has been developed, there will need to be six-party discussions to monitor it. Viewed from a distance, the six-party discussions are important as a framework for building trust in the region. As a nuclear nonproliferation issue, North Korea’s denuclearization is an issue for the whole world. President Donald Trump is talking about how South Korea and Japan can just pay the costs needed for North Korean denuclearization – which I see as strange. Japan needs to tell the US that North Korea issues can’t simply be approached in terms of the bilateral relationship between North Korea and the US. Seeing the reports in the press, one gets the sense that Japan isn’t playing any role at all regarding North Korea’s denuclearization.

Hani: Do you see there being a role Japan could play in North Korea’s denuclearization?

Tanaka: Japan needs to take part in devising a sequence for denuclearization and framework for paying the costs. It also needs to negotiate directly with North Korea. We can’t just have everything going through the US. It was difficult to operate the official channels for normalization of diplomatic relations between North Korea and Japan back when the North was testing nuclear weapons and missiles. But that isn’t happening now. North Korea and Japan are the only ones who aren’t even trying to establish a relationship of trust.

Hani: Some have characterized the current stagnation in North Korea-US negotiations as being similar to the situation with the 2002 North Korea-Japan summit.

Tanaka: It’s not. In 2002, George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” remarks had North Korea fearful the US might attack. The issue of regime security was also a factor in North Korea’s reasons for bargaining with Japan at the time. Even in 2002, what North Korea wanted was direct negotiation with the US. Now that it is negotiating directly with the US, other countries are secondary. This summit does not mean that North Korea-US negotiations have broken down, or that North Korea-US relations have taken an ugly turn.

By Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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