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What will bring N. Korea to negotiating table?

By Kim Jae-kyoung

James D. Bindenagel
President Moon Jae-in should discern what North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wants in order to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table, according to James D. Bindenagel, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany.

"If Moon wants to negotiate with Kim, he needs to know what Kim wants," Bindenagel, the Henry Kissinger Professor for Governance and International Security at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University in Bonn, Germany, said in an interview.

He pointed out that Moon should first figure out what objectives Kim has beyond staying in power, such as economic development, the permanent division of the peninsular and a U.S. guarantee of Kim's longevity with nuclear weapons.

His advice came after Moon reiterated at the G20 summit in Germany over the weekend that he was willing to meet Kim and put all issues on the table, including the signing of a peace treaty.

"President Moon is best able to make the case for dealing with Kim if he can identify Kim's interests, beyond avoiding regime change," he said.

Bindenagel, who followed President Moon's talk at the G20 summit, stressed that it was important to offer a proposal that can interest Kim, given that previous talks "resulted in limited economic benefits and that the deals fell apart."

In other words, to make Kim respond to his proposals, Moon should convince him that a peace treaty can offer long-term stability for his regime and negotiations on family reunions would strengthen Kim's domestic support from his own citizens.

On top of a peace treaty proposal, Moon also called for the two Koreas to resume reunions of families separated by the Korean War during his speech in Germany.

"Moon should take the G20 discussion of the North Korean threat as an invitation to win support from all those countries to support his diplomatic negotiations," he said.

Regarding concerns that his conciliatory approach could drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, he said that Moon should coordinate with President Donald Trump to avoid possible conflict.

"Dissonance is inherent in shaping policy. Competing suggestions bring new ideas. Moon must agree with Trump that the U.S. and South Korea together can offer Kim options," he said.

"A conciliatory approach may not be allowed to become appeasement," he added. "Trump needs to endorse the carrots of diplomatic outreach with the sticks of increased sanctions. They go hand-in-hand."

For successful talks, the career U.S. diplomat, who served in South Korea from 1975 to 1977, suggested that Moon not scale down joint military exercises with the U.S.

"Any successful negotiation requires South Korea to be strong militarily, especially in keeping the U.S.-South Korea alliance strong and present in military operations," he said.

Bindenagel called on Moon to remember a famous saying by U.S. diplomat and historian George Kennan: " have no idea how much it contributes to the general politeness and pleasantness of diplomacy when you have a little quiet force in the background."

The Germany-based international security expert expects that Kim will not easily give up the development of nuclear weapons because they are his only guarantee that he will remain in power.

In that regard, any kind of sanctions, in his view, will not be able to force the young leader to stop provocative actions.

"Certainly the Qaddafi of Libya lesson sustains Kim's position as a totalitarian. To give up a nuclear program exposes him to greater risk to be deposed," he said.

"Increased sanctions, Chinese pressure, a greater American naval presence, accelerated cyber programs to sabotage missile launches are also of limited effectiveness."

Kim Jae-kyoung

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