This is a transcription of Mr. Kazianis' intervention at the webinar on the theme "Prospects for Peace on the Korean Peninsula" on 20 November 2020 by Mrs. Maria Nazarova, President of UPF Russia. 

Dr. Harry J. Kazianis, Senior Director, Center for the National Interest, a Washington, D.C., USAMr. Harry J. Kazianis commenced by describing a problem in USA foreign policy towards North Korea: “The United States approaches North Korea policy as if we are in 1990 instead of 2020.”

Then, Mr. Kazianis said that most likely in the near future, if Biden is elected, he will focus on solving the Covid-19 issue in the USA and will not be able to pay much attention to creating foreign policy about working with Korea. However, when, finally, it comes to the issue of foreign policy towards North Korea, in Mr. Kazianis’ opinion, the USA must see North Korea for what it is: a nuclear weapons state that can hit the U.S. homeland with ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and won’t give those weapons up soon, if ever. All policy must flow from this challenge.

Then, Mr. Kazianis gave some suggestions as to what Mr. Biden should do, knowing that he won’t have much time for working on this issue, because of COVID-19:

  • Reaffirm building on President Trump’s legacy via some sort of statement before his inauguration. Reassure Kim Jung Un that he won’t throw away the progress made—this is the key. It might stop the DPRK from conducting missile tests, which it will be tempted to do.
  • Most importantly, the statement must reaffirm that all agreements signed or agreed to informally by President Trump will be honored.
  • Understand Kim Jung Un’s perilous domestic situation—three typhoon landings, food insecurity, economic sanctions—all amplified thanks to COVID-19.
  • Understand that applying more pressure means that Kim Jung Un will respond in kind.
  • Formulate any policy in a way that does not abandon denuclearization—likely politically impossible—but pushes it to the end of a normalization process. That means to prioritize peace building above all else and before anything else.

Commenting on the results of the poll about the cooperation between the USA and Russia in terms of solving the situation on the Korean Peninsula, Mr. Kazianis said that, unfortunately, many times now it is viewed in the USA that anything that comes from Russia is bad. However, it shouldn’t be like this and, in fact, the USA adopted its Russia-China policy (as if to remember 2017, when North Korea proclaimed its nuclear weapons, then moving to 2018 – the winter Olympics…) which is the "freeze-for-freeze" approach in resolving North Korea's nuclear issue: the USA stopped its massive military exercises with the Republic of Korea and North Korea freezed its nuclear weapons testing. So, basically the USA adopted the Russia-China position. The security of Russia, China, Japan and the USA depends on what is happening on the Korean Peninsula, so, Mr. Kazianis agreed that the position of all of these countries must be considered.

Answering a question from the North-Korean radio in Russia on what the policy of the USA would be if Joe Biden wins, Mr. Kazianis said that, from his point of view, it would depend a lot on what North Korea does first. And the advice of Mr. Kazianis to North Korea is “do not conduct any provocations whatsoever”! And it would be good for North Korea to show their readiness to continue the dialogue with the USA. At the same time, it is difficult to know what Biden would do.

Mr. Kazianis also explained that during his visit to South Korea in 2018, he heard from South Koreans that, in fact, South Korea now is like an Island, an isolated Island: no telecommunications, no ability to move towards the North. Everything that South Korea can do is either through the air or through the ocean. That is a huge problem for the economic development of South Korea and all of Asia: for China, for Russia, for North Korea. If we are talking about really bringing North Korea into the international community, infrastructural projects would be very important. Surely, this would violate the UN sanctions, but perhaps it would be good to examine the possibilities step by step. That is how you build trust.

Mr. Kazianis thinks that the South Korean government under President Moon Jae In is very enthusiastic about the unification of the North and South, because they understand all the economic pluses that would bring. However, Korea in 2020 is very different from Korea 20 or 30 years ago. It has become a global economic giant, but its demographic problem is quite serious and this will influence its economic development. Moreover, their youth are not so sure about their future prospects. So, however difficult unification might be, and if it happens, it will be the most challenging project of the 21st century, but this is what needs to happen. South Koreans see the opportunities there. Just from the practical point of view, North Korea is very rich in minerals, they have hard working industrial population, etc. South Korea understands this; It is just trying to find the way to get there.

Asked about the 6 party talks, Mr. Kazianis said that they are important, and there was an article about steps for restating them in the Wall street Journal just recently, but that can’t be the sole mechanism for dealing with North Korea and, by now, North Koreans understand that they do also need a bilateral relationship with the USA. Perhaps this is because they also understand that the only way to transform the situation on the Korean Peninsula is to have that dialogue and to have a new type of relationship with the United States, and perhaps this is what they want. At the same time, the 6 party talks might be very helpful. But we cannot depend only on one way forward.

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