Late on the night of Monday, February 11th, seismic detectors picked up signals of seismic activity in North Korea, measuring a 4.9 on the Richter scale. As Reuters pointed out, “North Korea is not prone to seismic activity.” Indeed, the tremors were an indication that North Korea had conducted the nuclear test it had been threatening for some time, in retaliation for sanctions placed against it after last December’s rocket launch.
President Barack Obama’s first-ever trip to Myanmar (Burma) shows he is still taking a two pronged approach on North Korea by sending two explicit messages: 1. the door is still open for cooperation if North Korea is serious about surrendering its nuclear ambitions, and 2. sanctions against the North will continue in the meantime to cut off the cash flow to its military.
Many of you know there is a slew of bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreements (“123”) that need to be renewed, and among them is one with South Korea. I recently wrote an op-ed in The Hill arguing that the North Korean nuclear issue is irrelevant to 123 discussions and point out the real dilemmas US policymakers are faced with when negotiating all civil nuclear cooperation agreements hereafter.
Ah, here we go again. The North Korean couple has returned to the public eye — Kim Jong-un after a 15-day absence and his wife Ri Sol-ju after over 50 days of silence. And with it comes a host of speculation: the general view seems to be that Kim Jong-un needs to show the public that his regime is stable.
North Korea has experienced extreme isolation from the world since Kim Il-Sung proclaimed himself as the Prime Minister in 1948, the same year South Korea declared statehood. Labeled by the international community as a totalitarian regime that oppresses its citizens, North Korea has long flouted international rules and norms, including human rights and nonproliferation under the Kim Jong-Il regime, the son of Kim Il-sung. But when Kim Jong-Il died in December 2011, his twenty-something son, Kim Jong-Un, took the reins. Since then, North Korea watchers have pointed to interesting changes in the country, though the significance and implications of these changes are difficult to discern.