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At UN Security Council session Rex Tillerson opens door for negotiations with North Korea

In carefully chosen words at UN Security Council session US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson leaves open possibility for direct negotiations between the US and North Korea, culminating in an agreement to normalise relations in return for limits on North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Alexander Mercouris

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Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, acted today to confirm his authority as the head of US diplomacy by using a UN Security Council session to make what amounted to a peace offer to North Korea.

After sidelining Nikki Haley at the UN Security Council session today, Tillerson signalled what could be a significant shift in the US approach to the Korean crisis, appearing to offer direct talks with North Korea’s leadership with a promise of an eventual normalisation of relations between the US and North Korea, and holding out the prospect of the eventual enuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and of sanctions relief.

The peace offer inevitably came wrapped up with more demands for more sanctions (about which however see below), and with talk of military action remaining an option.  However the thrust of Tillerson’s words was clear enough

Our goal is not regime change. Nor do we desire to threaten the North Korean people or destabilize the Asia Pacific region. Over the years, we have withdrawn our own nuclear weapons from South Korea and offered aid to North Korea as proof of our intent to de-escalate the situation and normalize relations. Since 1995, the United States has provided over $1.3 billion dollars in aid to North Korea, and we look forward to resuming our contributions once the D.P.R.K. begins to dismantle its nuclear weapons and missile technology programs.

…….even though the present condition of that country is bleak, the United States believes in a future for North Korea. These first steps toward a more hopeful future will happen most quickly if other stakeholders in this – in the region and the global security join us.

(bold italics added)

As for Tillerson’s demand for further sanctions, on close examination these turn out to be pitched at a level which he appears to think China and Russia might accept

Third, we must increase North Korea’s financial isolation. We must levy new sanctions on D.P.R.K. entities and individuals supporting its weapons and missile programs, and tighten those that are already in place. The United States also would much prefer countries and people in question to own up to their lapses and correct their behavior themselves, but we will not hesitate to sanction third-country entities and individuals supporting the D.P.R.K.’s illegal activities.

We must bring maximum economic pressure by severing trade relationships that directly fund the D.P.R.K.’s nuclear and missile program. I call on the international community to suspend the flow of North Korean guest workers and to impose bans on North Korean imports, especially coal.

(bold italics added)

These demands appear to pitch sanctions at the level of obstructing development of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes rather than intending them to bring about the wholesale collapse  of North Korea’s economy, something which Tillerson probably realises the Chinese will never agree to.

In passing I should say that whilst the Chinese might be willing to forego imports of coal from North Korea at least for a while, I think it is all but inconceivable that either they or the Russians would suspend the flow of North Korean guest workers to their countries.

Despite his call for  total denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula Tillerson probably knows that the degree of suspicion of the US on the part of the North Korean government is so great that it is all but inconceivable that North Korea will ever agree to give up the nuclear weapons it already has.  Indeed in his remarks to the UN Security Council Tillerson made it fairly clear that his real objective is not to get North Korea to part with all its nuclear weapons – an objective he probably realises is unachievable – but rather to prevent North Korea from developing its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technology to the point were it can threaten the US mainland

With each successive detonation and missile test, North Korea pushes Northeast Asia and the world closer to instability and broader conflict.

The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real.

And it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland.

Indeed, the D.P.R.K. has repeatedly claimed it plans to conduct such a strike. Given that rhetoric, the United States cannot idly stand by. Nor can other members of this council who are within striking distance of North Korean missiles.

If so then a deal might be possible.

It is not inconceivable that North Korea might be open to a deal where it obtains the normalisation of its relations with the US and an end or at least an easing of economic sanctions in return for its agreement to forego developing the capability to strike at the US mainland.

Vassily Kashin, a prominent Russian military analyst, recently discussed the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme for Sputnik.  He made the point that despite impressive recent advances North Korea is still many years away from achieving the capability to launch a strike against the US mainland, and he suggested that North Korea’s real purpose may be to trade the prospect of it eventually achieving that capability – which may in reality be decades away – against the normalisation of its relations with the US.

Vassily Kashin’s comments are so interesting – especially so coming from an expert – that they deserve to be set out at length

At the moment, successful testing of these missiles (the sea-based KN-11 Pukkuksong-1, and its ground-based cousin, the KN-15 Pukkuksong-2 – AM) is being carried out,” the expert explained. “Factually, the North Koreans have reached the same level that China was at in the early 1980s, when Beijing was carrying out flight testing of its JL-1,” China’s first submarine-launched missile, “created on the basis of the ground-based DF-21” (a Chinese mobile medium-range ballistic missile).

Kashin recalled that it took China 5-6 years to complete flight testing on the JL-1. “The North Koreans began flight testing on the Pukkuksong-1 in 2014, and it’s possible that they will be ready to deploy them closer to the end of the decade. These missiles have an estimated range of up to 2,000 km, which is comparable to the JL-1 and the DF-21A.”

According to the analyst, a successful deployment of these missiles could be seen as a real achievement for the North Koreans. “Pyongyang will attain the guaranteed ability to strike at targets anywhere in South Korea and Japan, but still would not be able to reach the United States.”

North Korean engineers are believed to have made about a dozen tests of the Pukkuksong-1 and its ground-based variant since October 2014; the latest test is thought to have taken place in February. In August 2016, Pyongyang carried out a successful submarine-launch of the Pukkuksong-1.

According to Kashin, these successes are creating the basis for further progress. However, “the transition to the creation of an intercontinental ballistic missile in general and a solid-fueled-based ICBM in particular will require a qualitative leap in the development of North Korea’s production base and test infrastructure,” he emphasized.

North Korea has been engaged in the development of the KN-08, also known as the Rodong-C or Hwasong-13, a road-mobile ICBM is believed to have been under development since the early 2010s. Pyongyang has showed off the missile at parades on several occasions, including the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung in April 2012. However, two suspected tests, which US intelligence said had been carried out in October 2016, were believed to have ended in failure.

Kashin stressed that in order to actually produce such advanced weapons, the North Koreans “will have to learn how to produce solid fuel rocket engines with a large diameter. They will have to experiment with new fuels and new missile casing. An important limitation here will be based on their ability or lack thereof to purchase the necessary equipment abroad or create their own (but apparently, also using foreign components).”

Furthermore, the analyst noted, “in order to be tested, the ICBMs will have to be launched over Japanese territory in the direction of the southern Pacific Ocean. As the Chinese experience in testing its DF-5 ICBMs in the early 1980s shows, testing will require the creation of a whole fleet of specialized vessels equipped with complex measuring equipment and, probably, new warships for their protection and escort.”

“Attempts to conduct such tests will be likely to face a backlash from the US and its allies, including attempts to shoot the missiles down during the first stage of their flight (if the US and Japanese missile defense systems in Japan are ready to do so) or attempts to block the measuring equipment onboard the North Korean vessels.”

According to Kashin, the ICBMs’ testing will also take about 5-6 years. China “deployed its DF-31 ICBMs 15-20 years after deploying the Jl-2 and the DF-21.” In other words, according to the analyst, it will be decades before Pyongyang is actually able to successfully field a true intercontinental ballistic missile.

Faced with these limitations, which Pyongyang must surely be aware of, the analyst noted that there are several possible reasons for them to have rolled out their experimental ICBMs at Saturday’s parade.

“Why did the North Koreans feel the need to draw attention to weapons systems which, even under the most optimistic scenario, cannot be deployed until the second half of the 2030s? It’s possible that from Pyongyang’s point of view, this is a demonstration of its determination and, at the same time, an invitation to talks, which North Korea, despite its isolation, intends to conduct from a perceived position of strength.”

It’s possible, Kashin added, “that these potential missile systems are what North Korea is ready to sacrifice in exchange for a reduction in sanctions pressure. The country’s security is guaranteed by its ability to inflict unacceptable damage to key US allies South Korea and Japan in the event of war.”

Ultimately, in Kashin’s view, Pyongyang “will not abandon their nuclear weapons and medium-range missiles, but could agree not to conduct new tests or develop intercontinental missiles (ranged 5,500 km and up) in exchange for economic and political concessions. This, it’s possible, may very well be Pyongyang’s ideal exchange scenario.”

(bold italics added)

If Vassily Kashin’s analysis is right, then taken together with Tillerson’s comments to the UN Security Council today there may be a basis for a settlement.

The North Koreans might be prepared to give up a planned capability to launch a strike against the US mainland – which may in reality be beyond their reach before 2040 – in return for a normalisation of relations with the US and an easing of sanctions now.  If so then that appears sufficiently close to what Tillerson appeared to say today the US wanted to make a deal possible.  In that case with hard work and tough bargaining an agreement might be achieved.

The big question is whether these two countries – the US and North Korea – are capable of negotiating with each other in such a way, and have the political will to stay the course during the long years such a negotiation would require.

We are so poorly informed about the political system in North Korea that it is difficult to say with any confidence what are the exact intentions of its government.  However if Vassily Kashin is right, it would appear that it is willing to talk.  Besides, if there were a desire to talk on the part of the US, the Chinese and Russians would surely put pressure on North Korea to get it to talk.  That after all is what the Chinese have been saying they want – direct talks between North Korea and the US – for some time now.

The bigger uncertainty has to be with the US.

It is difficult enough to predict with any confidence what the policy of the Trump administration will be from one day to another, let alone to have any confidence that it can stay the course over the years of tough bargaining that achieving a settlement with North Korea would require.  Unfortunately there are always hardliners in Washington who can be relied upon to work to undermine any prospect of an agreement, and it is a certainty that if negotiations between the US and North Korea were ever to get underway they will immediately set to work to undermine them.

Tillerson’s grip on the US foreign policy establishment looks shaky enough as it is.  What confidence can there be that either he or someone who thinks like him would be around for long enough to bring negotiations with North Korea to a successful conclusion and to get that settlement accepted in the US, even if that is indeed Tillerson’s objective?  What confidence would there be if such a settlement were ever reached that a succeeding administration would abide by it?

The short answer unfortunately is that there can be no confidence about any of these things.

However on the strength of what Rex Tillerson said to the UN Security Council today, and what Vassily Kashin thinks North Korea’s intentions might be, the possibility of a diplomatic settlement might be there.

The job of diplomats is to explore this possibility.  It is to be hoped that they are given the opportunity to do so.  Past experience unfortunately leaves plenty of room for doubt.

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US Sanctions Foster Emergence of Multipolar World

US sanctions negatively affect the economies of the targeted countries, but they also push the nations hit by them to move closer to each other.

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Authored by Arkady Savitsky via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Russia, Iran, China, and now Turkey are in the same boat, as all have become the target of US sanctions. But none of those nations has bowed under the pressure. Russia had foreseen the developments in advance and took timely measures to protect itself. The Turkish national currency, the lira, is plummeting now that Washington has introduced sanctions as well as tariffs on steel and aluminum, in an attempt to compel Ankara to turn over a detained American pastor. Turkish President Erdogan said it was time for Turkey to seek “new friends,” and Turkey is planning to issue yuan-denominated bonds to diversify its foreign borrowing instruments. On Aug. 11, President Erdogan said Turkey was ready to begin using local currencies in its trade with Russia, China, Iran, Ukraine, and the EU nations of the eurozone.

The recent BRICS summit reaffirmed Ankara’s commitment to the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) that is geared toward de-dollarizing its member states’ economies, and the agreement to quickly launch a Local Currency Bond Fund gives that policy teeth. Turkey has also expressed its desire to join BRICS.

Ankara is gradually moving toward membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It has been accepted as a dialog partner of that organization. Last year Turkey became a dialog partner with ASEAN. On Aug. 1, the first ASEAN-Turkey Trilateral Ministerial Meeting was held in Singapore, bringing together Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt ÇavuşoğluASEAN Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi, and Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who is serving as the 2018 ASEAN term chairman. The event took place under the auspices of the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting that attracted foreign ministers and top diplomats from 30 countries.

Ankara is mulling over a free-trade area (FTA) agreement with the Eurasian Union. This cooperation between Ankara and the EAEU has a promising future.

Meanwhile, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has provided a $3.6-billion loan package for the Turkish energy and transportation sector. Turkey and China have recently announced an expansion of their military ties. As one can see, Turkey is inexorably pivoting from the West to the East.

Russia has a special role to play in this process. The US Congress has prohibited the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey because of the risk associated with Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 air-defense system. In response, Turkey is contemplating a purchase of Russian warplanes. Ankara prefers Russian weapons over the ones offered by NATO states. As President Erdogan put it, “Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives.”

On Aug. 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan discussed the prospects for boosting economic cooperation. Both nations are parties to the ambitious Turkish Stream natural-gas pipeline project. Ideas for ways to join forces in response to the US offensive were also on the agenda during the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Turkey, Aug. 13-14, although Syria was in the spotlight of the talks. One mustn’t forget that Russia was the first country to be visited by the Turkish president after the failed 2016 coup.

As a result of some tough times resulting from US sanctions, Iran is redoubling its efforts at building foreign relationships. Under US pressure, European companies are leaving Iran, with China gradually filling the void. Now that US and European airspace companies are moving their business ventures out of Iran, this presents a good opportunity for Russian aircraft, such as the MS-21 or IL-96-400M. The Russian automaker GAZ Group is ready to supply Iran with commercial vehicles and light trucks powered by 5th generation engines.

Tehran is an observer state in the SCO, and it is to become an essential hub for the Chinese Belt Road Initiative (BRI). On June 25, a freight train arrived in the Iranian city of Bandar-e Anzali, a port on the Caspian Sea, having passed through the China-Kazakhstan-Iran transportation corridor and entering the Anzali Free Zone that connects China to both the Kazakh port of Aktau and to Iran, thus creating a new trade link to the outside world. This gives a boost to the BRI. On Aug. 12, the five littoral states (the Caspian Five) signed the Caspian Sea Convention — the fruit of 22 years of difficult negotiations. This opens up new opportunities for Iran and other countries of the region as well as the BRI. The idea to form a new economic forum was floated at the Caspian Five summit.

China and Russia back the idea of Iran’s full-fledged SCO membership. In May Tehran signed an interim FTA agreement with the EAEU. Greater EAEU-BRI integration under the stewardship of the SCO is also on the horizon.

According to the Daily Express, Iran could band together with Russia and China in an anti-US alliance. Iran may also get an observer status in the CSTO. Iran-Turkey trade has recently revived, and that bilateral relationship includes burgeoning military cooperation.

Nothing can be viewed in just black and white, and every coin has two sides. The US sanctions do negatively affect the economies and finances of the targeted countries, but in the long run, they will also push the nations hit by them to move closer to each other, thus encouraging the emergence of the multipolar world the US is trying so hard to resist.

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It’s Official: ‘Britain’s Democracy Now At Risk’

It’s not just campaigners saying it any more: democracy is officially at risk, according to parliament’s own digital, culture, media and sport committee.

The Duran

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Via True Publica, authored by Jessica Garland – Electoral Reform Society:


Britain’s main campaign rules were drawn up in the late 1990s, before social media and online campaigning really existed. This has left the door wide open to disinformation, dodgy donations and foreign interference in elections.

There is a real need to close the loopholes when it comes to the online Wild West.

Yet in this year’s elections, it was legitimate voters who were asked to identify themselves, not those funnelling millions into political campaigns through trusts, or those spreading fake news.

The government trialled mandatory voter ID in five council areas in May. In these five pilot areas alone about 350 people were turned away from polling stations for not having their papers with them — and they didn’t return. In other words, they were denied their vote.

Yet last year, out of more than 45 million votes cast across the country, there were just 28 allegations of personation (pretending to be someone else at the polling station), the type of fraud voter ID is meant to tackle.

Despite the loss of 350 votes, the pilots were branded a success by the government. Yet the 28 allegations of fraud (and just one conviction) are considered such a dire threat that the government is willing to risk disenfranchising many more legitimate voters to try to address it. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Indeed, the fact-checking website FullFact noted that in the Gosport pilot, 0.4 per cent of voters did not vote because of ID issues. That’s a greater percentage than the winning margin in at least 14 constituencies in the last election. Putting up barriers to democratic engagement can have a big impact. In fact, it can swing an election.

In the run-up to the pilots, the Electoral Reform Society and other campaigners warned that the policy risked disenfranchising the most marginalised groups in society.

The Windrush scandal highlights exactly the sort of problems that introducing stricter forms of identity could cause: millions of people lack the required documentation. It’s one of the reasons why organisations such as the Runnymede Trust are concerned about these plans.

The Electoral Commission has now published a report on the ID trials, which concludes that “there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns” on this front.

The small number of pilots, and a lack of diversity, meant that sample sizes were too small to conclude anything about how the scheme would affect various demographic groups. Nor can the pilots tell us about the likely impact of voter ID in a general election, where the strain on polling staff would be far greater and a much broader cross-section of electors turns out to vote.

The Electoral Reform Society, alongside 22 organisations, campaigners and academics, has now called on the constitution minister to halt moves to impose this policy. The signatories span a huge cross-section of society, including representatives of groups that could be disproportionately impacted by voter ID, from Age UK to Liberty and from the British Youth Council to the Salvation Army and the LGBT Foundation.

Voters know what our democratic priorities should be: ensuring that elections are free from the influence of big donors. Having a secure electoral register. Providing balanced media coverage. Transparency online.

We may be little wiser as a result of the government’s voter ID trials. Yet we do know where the real dangers lie in our politics.

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Corrupt Robert Mueller’s despicable Paul Manafort trial nears end (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 79.

Alex Christoforou

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Paul Manafort’s legal team rested its case on Tuesday without calling a single witness. This sets the stage for closing arguments before the judge hands the case to jurors for a verdict.

Manafort’s defense opted to call no witnesses, choosing instead to rely on the team’s cross-examination of government witnesses including a very devious Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime deputy, and several accountants, bookkeepers and bankers who had financial dealings with Manafort.

Closing arguments are expected on Wednesday. Jurors may begin deliberating shortly after receiving their final instructions from judge Ellis.

Manafort case has nothing to do with Mueller’s ‘Trump-Russia collusion witch-hunt’ as the former DC lobbyist is accused of defrauding banks to secure loans and hiding overseas bank accounts and income from U.S. tax authorities.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III denied a defense motion to acquit Manafort on the charges because prosecutors hadn’t proved their case.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the circus trial of Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, and how crooked cop Robert Mueller is using all his power to lean on Manafort, so as to conjure up something illegal against US President Donald Trump.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via Zerohedge

Prosecutors allege he dodged taxes on millions of dollars made from his work for a Ukrainian political party, then lied to obtain bank loans when cash stopped flowing from the project.

The courtroom was sealed for around two hours Tuesday morning for an unknown reason, reopening around 11:30 a.m. with Manafort arriving around 10 minutes later.

The decision to rest their case without calling any witnesses follows a denial by Judge T.S. Ellis III to acquit Manafort after his lawyers tried to argue that the special counsel had failed to prove its case at the federal trial.

The court session began at approximately 11:45 a.m.:

“Good afternoon,” began defense attorney Richard Westling, who corrected himself and said, “Good morning.”

“I’m as surprised as you are,” Judge Ellis responded.

Ellis then heard brief argument from both sides on the defense’s motion for acquittal, focusing primarily on four counts related to Federal Savings Bank.

Federal Savings Bank was aware of the status of Paul Manafort’s finances,” Westling argued. “They came to the loans with an intent of doing business with Mr. Manafort.”

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye fired back, saying that that even if bank chairman Steve Calk overlooked Manafort’s financial woes, it would still be a crime to submit fraudulent documents to obtain the loans.

“Steve Calk is not the bank,” Asonye argued, adding that while Caulk may have “had a different motive” — a job with the Trump administration — “I’m not really sure there’s evidence he knew the documents were false.”

Ellis sided with prosecutors.

The defense makes a significant argument about materiality, but in the end, I think materiality is an issue for the jury,” he said, adding. “That is true for all the other counts… those are all jury issues.”

Once that exchange was over, Manafort’s team was afforded the opportunity to present their case, to which lead attorney Kevin Downing replied “The defense rests.

Ellis then began to question Manafort to ensure he was aware of the ramifications of that decision, to which the former Trump aide confirmed that he did not wish to take the witness stand.

Manafort, in a dark suit and white shirt, stood at the lectern from which his attorneys have questioned witnesses, staring up at the judge. Ellis told Manafort he had a right to testify, though if he chose not to, the judge would tell jurors to draw no inference from that. – WaPo

Ellis asked Manafort four questions – his amplified voice booming through the courtroom:

Had Manafort discussed the decision with his attorney?

“I have, your honor,” Manafort responded, his voice clear.

Was he satisfied with their advice?

“I am, your honor,” Manafort replied.

Had he decided whether he would testify?

“I have decided,” Manafort said.

“Do you wish to testify?” Ellis finally asked.

“No, sir,” Manafort responded.

And with that, Manafort returned to his seat.

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