Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Northern and Western Asia

North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Northern and Western Asia

North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation *

Article excerpt

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

Food Aid Debate Continues

Beginning in early 2011, North Korea issued an appeal for international food aid. A subsequent World Food Program (WFP) assessment reported in March that a quarter of the North Korean population nation is facing severe food shortages due to an unusually cold winter, fertilizer shortages, and rising international food prices. A U.S. delegation, led by Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea Robert King, visited the nation in May to carry out its own assessment. The United States maintains that its food aid policy follows three criteria: demonstrated need, severity of need compared to other countries, and satisfactory monitoring systems to ensure food is reaching the most vulnerable. Obama Administration officials are reportedly divided on whether to authorize new humanitarian assistance for North Korea. Among critics, strong concerns about diversion of such aid to the elite exist, although assistance provided in 2008-2009 had operated under an improved system of monitoring and access negotiated by the Bush Administration. Another complicating factor involves taking a different stance than South Korea, which explicitly links food aid with diplomatic concerns. Several members of Congress have spoken out against the provision of any assistance to Pyongyang because of concerns about supporting the regime.

More Instability in North-South Relations

Relations between Pyongyang and Seoul under the Lee Myung-bak Administration have steadily deteriorated. After the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March 2010 and the artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea in November 2010, North-South relations fell to their worst point in decades. Although relations warmed briefly, tension between the two capitals resumed and intensified through the spring and summer of 2011.

In May, President Lee publicly invited North Korea to attend next year's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul and revelations of secret contacts between the two governments emerged. In response, North Korea's National Defense Commission issued a statement vowing never to deal with the Lee government and pledging to defend itself against its -gang of traitors." Many analysts have concluded that Pyongyang has given up on any form of negotiation with the Lee government and instead hopes to influence South Korea politics before his successor is elected in December 2012.

Six-Party Talks Impasse

Multilateral negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program have not been held since December 2008. Pyongyang's refusal to take responsibility for the Cheonan sinking has leftthe international nuclear negotiations frozen. Seoul has insisted that North Korea must apologize for the incident, as well as show -sincerity" in implementing major denuclearization commitments made in the 2005 landmark accord among the six nations. (See -Six-Party Talks" section below.) China has worked aggressively behind the scenes to restart the negotiations, but the United States has remained steadfast that an improvement in North-South relations is a pre-requisite for forward movement on the talks. Hopes for a resumption of the negotiations have risen periodically, including when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited North Korea in April 2011 along with three other former leaders from the group -The Elders." North Korea claims to be willing to return to the talks -without preconditions," but U.S. and other officials point to Pyongyang's failure to implement previous agreements.

INTRODUCTION

An impoverished nation of about 23 million people, North Korea has been among the most vexing and persistent problems in U.S. foreign policy in the post-cold war period. The United States has never had formal diplomatic relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, the official name for North Korea). Negotiations over North Korea's nuclear weapons program have consumed the past three administrations, even as some analysts anticipated a collapse of the isolated authoritarian regime in Pyongyang. …

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