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NORTH KOREA: A threat and an olive branch to the US

On the day after South Korean President Moon Jae-in made a strong statement indicating his wish to see “no more war” on the Korean peninsula, North Korean media outlet KCNA released a lengthy statement regarding the stand-off with the US. The tone of the statement is confident and patriotic, but crucially it is one which offers the US a would-be ‘escape clause’ from any actual confrontation. In many ways it is as if North Korea is claiming victory in what thus far as been limited to a highly tense war of words.

The entire statement is reproduced below with the section where Pyongyang offers the United States the ‘escape clause’ highlighted in bold.

“Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un inspected the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) on Aug. 14.

He waved back to enthusiastically cheering service members and posed for a picture with them.

He went round historical mementoes and data displayed at the Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism Study Hall.

Going round them, he looked back with deep emotion on the great leadership feats of the brilliant commanders of Mt. Paektu, recorded on every page of the history of the KPA Strategic Force displaying its might with the strength unprecedented in the world as a powerful strike service, symbolic of the dignity and power of Korea.

Then he listened to General Kim Rak Gyom’s decision on the Strategic Force’s plan for an enveloping fire at Guam at the command post.

He examined the plan for a long time and discussed it with the commanding officers in real earnest.

He praised the KPA Strategic Force for drawing up a close and careful plan as planned and intended by the Party and examined the firing preparations for power demonstration.

After listening to the commander of the Strategic Force that it is waiting for the order of the Party Central Committee after rounding off the preparations for the enveloping fire at Guam, he said with great satisfaction that the spirit of Hwasong artillerymen is very high and he was freshly determined, seeing by himself the combat preparedness and the sky-high spirit of the Hwasong artillerymen of the large combined unit.

He said that the U.S. imperialists caught the noose around their necks due to their reckless military confrontation racket, adding that he would watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees spending a hard time of every minute of their miserable lot.

He said that he wants to advise the U.S., which is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula into the touch-and-go situation, running helter-skelter, to take into full account gains and losses with clear head whether the prevailing situation is more unfavorable for any party.

In order to defuse the tensions and prevent the dangerous military conflict on the Korean peninsula, it is necessary for the U.S. to make a proper option first and show it through action, as it committed provocations after introducing huge nuclear strategic equipment into the vicinity of the peninsula, he said, adding that the U.S. should stop at once arrogant provocations against the DPRK and unilateral demands and not provoke it any longer.

He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an important decision as it already declared, warning the U.S. that it should think reasonably and judge properly not to suffer shame that it is hit by the DPRK again.

He said that if the planned fire of power demonstration is carried out as the U.S. is going more reckless, it will be the most delightful historic moment when the Hwasong artillerymen will wring the windpipes of the Yankees and point daggers at their necks, underlining the need to be always ready for launching to go into action anytime once our Party decides.

Looking round a military training school and gymnasium, he called for firmly establishing Juche in education and steadily improving the quality of military training and thus preparing all the artillerymen of the large combined units to be fighters capable of waging campaign of brains, who perfectly mastered the modern military science and technology, the enemy’s changed war methods and Korean-style war methods against them.

He underscored the need to certainly establish the system of reeducating commanding officers and technicians of the Strategic Force in line with the modernization and upgrading of ballistic rockets.

Going round the supply service facilities of the large combined unit including the dining hall of sub-unit, he took warm care of the solders’ life as their real father would do.

He enjoyed a performance given by the art squad of the large combined unit at the solders hall.

He expressed satisfaction over the good performance given by members of the art squad through numbers vividly representing the operational mission and features of the Strategic Force and desire, thoughts and feelings of the Hwasong artillerymen, and gave precious teachings for performance.

The Strategic Force has a very important position and duty in carrying out the strategic plans of the Workers’ Party of Korea, he said, stressing the need for the Strategic Force to firmly establish the monolithic leadership system, command and management system of the Supreme Commander over the nuclear force and further complete the Juche-oriented rocket strike methods.

Giving teachings of great trust that he remains confident thanks to the KPA Strategic Force, reliable treasured sword guaranteeing the everlasting future of the country and nation, he expressed expectation and belief that all the officers and men of the Strategic Force would bring about a fresh turn in rounding off combat preparations, bearing in mind the important mission they have assumed before the Party, the country and the people.

The officers and men of the KPA Strategic Force, who received great trust from him, were firmly determined to score the final victory in the standoff with the U.S. by scorching with super strong strike the targets in south Korea, Japan, operational area in the Pacific and the U.S. mainland, flying the sacred red flags of the Party and flags of the supreme commander at every matchless launching pad once he gives an order.

Accompanying him were KPA Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong So, director of the KPA General Political Bureau, and Kim Jong Sik, vice department director of the C.C., the Workers’ Party of Korea”.

At first glace, the statement would appear to be a further threat to the United States as it confirms that North Korea is ready and able to strike at the US territory of Guam. However, on closer inspection, the statement, in spite of its dramatic language, actually presents the United States with an opportunity to withdraw from its own military plans to strike North Korea, plans which the US has stated in terms as explicit as North Korea and return to a dialogue based peace process which is advocated by China, Russia, South Korea and also Philippines.

The United States, particularly under Donald Trump, will almost certainly be unwilling to de-escalate the crisis without its own face-saving dramatic rhetoric on the subject.  However, events from June and July of 2017 do attest to the fact that under certain conditions, the Trump administration is able to engage in a geo-political climb-down while still affording Trump the much coveted ‘victory lap’ designed for domestic consumption.

Just over a week prior to Donald Trump’s scheduled meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, the United States through Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley threatened Syria with preemptive military action for a chemical weapons attack that never happened and objectively never could happen.

The entire story vanished once Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin agreed to jointly enforce a ceasefire in a new de-escalation zone in south western Syria, along with Jordan.

Thus the Trump administration went from a position of seemingly inevitable strikes against Syrian Arab Republic targets to a position in where the US became integrated into a largely Russian authored Syrian peace process.

There exists the possibility that the Trump administration could now do something similar in respect of North Korea. After weeks of dramatic threats, could it now be possible for the US to agree on the commencing of  multi-party talks between Pyongyang, Seoul, Beijing and Moscow?

It is entirely possible, but there remains a possibility that if the seemingly inexperienced Trump administration misreads the North Korean statement as a fully-fledged new threat, things could continue to de-escalate.

It all depends on how much America is willing to read between the lines of Pyongyang’s statement and how much America is wiling to do in East Asia what it did in southern Syria, namely, surrender the initiative to parties whose knowledge, experience and vested interests in the conflict is more relevant and more informed than that of the United States.

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