Women Activists Call on Trump to Initiate Regional Peace Talks with North Korea

Posted May 3, 2017

MP3 Interview with Christine Ahn, founder and international coordinator of the group Women Cross DMZ, conducted by Scott Harris

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President Trump once again heightened tensions in the Korean peninsula during an interview on April 27 where he stated "there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” over its nuclear weapons and missile program. But the billionaire reality TV star also said he wanted to peacefully resolve the crisis, while not taking any military option off the table. Just a few days later, however, on May 1, in his now familiar erratic style, the president said he would meet with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, provided the circumstances were right.

Trump’s conditional offer to meet North Korea’s leader came shortly after his nation experienced another failure in the test firing of a missile on April 29, the second such failure since Pyongyang celebrated the 105th birthday of its founder, Kim Il Sung on April 15. Meanwhile, the U.S. has deployed a missile defense system in South Korea, known as THAAD, or Thermal High Altitude Area Defense, designed to shoot down short and medium range missiles launched from North Korea. But both China and the leading presidential candidate running in South Korea’s May 9 election have expressed opposition to the missile system.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Christine Ahn, founder and international coordinator of the group Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War. Here, she discusses her group's letter calling on President Trump to initiate a regional peace process with North Korea, South Korea and China. [Rush transcript]

CHRISTINE AHN: I think that the dangerous brinkmanship between the U.S. and North Korea has existed for some time. And so, I think the question has to be asked, "Why now? What is different? Because North Korea as we know, conducted two nuclear weapons test just last year alone, and they haven't done so yet this year. So what makes this situation different? And obviously, we have a new U.S. president. He unfortunately inherited from the Obama administration, as really bad policy, which is what they call "the strategic patience," which included economic sanctions and the military exercises, the aggressive posturing, and as we later learned, the cyber warfare program against the (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) DPRK. But I think that certainly one of the reasons, because North Korea – for each missile test, or each nuclear weapons test, they're obviously perfecting their ability to put a nuclear warhead that could potentially reach the West Coast of the United States. Now they haven't quite reached that capacity and so I think there is an urgency coming from the Trump administration.

But I think that there's another factor that's at play and that is South Korea. There is going to be a snap election on May 9 next week in South Korea, and the leading candidate is a liberal candidate. He used to be the chief of staff under the last liberal administration in the mid-2000s. And he said that we need to engage with North Korea, that that is the best security to defend against North Korea – that actual diplomacy and talk – and that he would Pyongyang before he visits Washington, D.C. And so I think that part of that brinkmanship on the U.S. side - it can actually influence the elections in South Korea. And so, (unintelligible) the more conservative candidate, Ahn Cheol-soo, was leading in the polls against Moon Jae-in, because so much of South Korean politics is dictated by this unresolved conflict.

BETWEEN THE LINES: The United States, as I understand it, has made a precondition for talks with North Korea, that they must get rid of their nuclear weapons stockpile before talks can begin. For North Korea, as they view it, that's a nonstarter. What can be done at this point to try and break the logjam here, to have some kind of breakthrough for meaningful negotiations that could result in ending the official state of war between North and South Korea, and de-escalate this ratcheting up of tensions?

CHRISTINE AHN: I know, I agree with you. It's a nonstarter. And basically that was the Obama administration's "strategic patience." They said, "No talks unless there is clear intent to de-nuclearization. In fact they set a very high standard, you know, the verifiable de-nuclearization. And, you know, my hope is that the Trump administration seriously consider the proposal that we included in our letter to the Trump administration, which is, right now, when there is this very tense state of brinkmanship, that the cost of miscalculations are quite high. And so, if we could actually agree from both sides to – the way that the Chinese try and term it, "suspension for suspension" where North Korea agrees to stop its nuclear weapon and its long-range missiles and the U.S. either agrees to reduce its military exercises or completely cancel them for a period of time. But that would basically lower down the tension so that they could actually begin to talk.

I think when we look at the voices, you know, who are putting proposals on the table, I think Bill Perry, who is the former secretary of defense under the Clinton administration, who negotiated successfully the freeze of North Korea's nuclear weapons program – his point is we need to deal with North Korea not as we wish them to be, but as they are. And right now, we keep saying we're not going to recognize that they a nuclear power. But the reality is, they are. They already have up to enough nuclear material for 20 atomic bombs. And so I think our goal is to try to stop them from advancing their long-range missile capacity that could strike the United States and to freeze their nuclear weapons program. I do think that that's a possibility. North Korea has indicated that they would. But I do think that it's a theory of consideration, to do the "suspension for suspension" and begin some kind of bilateral talk.

For more information, visit Women Cross DMZ at womencrossdmz.org.

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