A nuclear North Korea presents an opportunity for global leadership in a complex world

OPINION / VIEW OF AN EXPERT — This is the twentieth anniversary of the Six-Party Talks, which were established in 2003 to resolve the nuclear issue with North Korea. It is an opportune time for China, the host of the talks, to set aside tensions with the US and encourage North Korea to return to talks. Ideally, the topic of North Korea will be discussed when President Joe Biden meets President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco later this month.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 – and the ongoing bloody war there – and Hamas' terrorist attack on Israel on October 7 – and the ongoing war in Gaza – have diverted attention from North Korea, although North Korea reportedly provides Russia with artillery shells and missiles for its war on Ukraine and Hamas are allegedly using North Korean F-7 rocket-propelled grenades in the war with Israel.

Hamas, Iran's proxy, receives training, funding and support from Iran for its terrorist activities. And North Korea continues to have close relations with Iran, having provided Tehran with rockets, missiles and weapons over the years in exchange for the cash it needs for its nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un has been transparent in his relatively recent embrace of Russia, with his public visit to Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's recent visit to Pyongyang to meet with Kim.

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The warming of Russian-North Korean relations comes as North Korea has already launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in 2023, most recently in July – a solid-fuel missile with a range of 15,000 kilometers capable of targeting the U.S. It followed that Kim Jong-un docked nuclear weapons in North Korea's constitution and last year declared a “first use” policy for nuclear weapons if there is or appears to be an imminent threat to North Korea's leadership or its command and control. infrastructure.

Since the failed Hanoi summit in 2019, North Korea has avoided any talks with the US or South Korea, while developing more nuclear weapons and launching more sophisticated ballistic missiles, including hypersonic and cruise missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik recently publicly expressed concern that North Korea could launch a surprise attack on South Korea, like Hamas's surprise attack on Israel. Shin said South Korea would need to strengthen its surveillance of North Korea and suspend the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement — with buffer zones along sea and land borders and no-fly zones — to restore surveillance over the unpredictable North.

Any intentional or accidental flare-up on the Korean Peninsula could quickly escalate with the potential to destabilize all of Northeast Asia. And given North Korea's current association with revanchist Russia and state-sponsoring Iran, it is likely that North Korea may now feel emboldened to challenge South Korea and, as it did in March 2010, sink South Korea. The Korean Navy ship Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors, may commit another act of aggression against the South.

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In early 2003, when North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and began producing plutonium for nuclear weapons at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, former Secretary of State Colin Powell reached out to his Chinese counterpart and convinced him. China to persuade North Korea to join the six-party talks hosted by China and including the US, South Korea, Japan and Russia. China's current foreign minister and Politburo member, Wang Yi, hosted the talks, and on September 19, 2005, North Korea agreed to dismantle all nuclear weapons and facilities in exchange for security guarantees, economic development assistance, and a path to normal relations with the US, South Korea, and Japan .

Next week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco from November 11-17, during which President Joe Biden will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, will be a good opportunity for the two leaders to show the world that the US and China can work together again on such important issues as North Korea. Both want North Korea to completely and verifiably denuclearize in exchange for security guarantees and other outcomes. Making progress with China on North Korea on the 20th anniversary of the six-party talks should be high on President Joe Biden's list of priorities.

This column by Cipher Brief Expert Ambassador Joe Detrani first appeared in Washington Times

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