US: North Korea Must Stop Missile Launches if it Wants Talks. But Joint Drills With South Korea ‘Will Continue’

By Patrick Goodenough | August 7, 2017 | 9:33 PM EDT

Kim Jong-un is featured in a January 2017 photo. posted on an official regime propaganda website. (Photo: Uriminzokkiri)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday laid out what the U.S. expects from North Korea ahead of any talks between the two sides: A halt to the increasingly frequent ballistic missile launches that have ratcheted up tensions over recent months.

Speaking in the Philippines two days after the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a new North Korea sanctions resolution, he told reporters that “the first and strongest signal they could send us is just stop – stop these missile launches.”

Asked for how long launches would need to be suspended for talks to take place, Tillerson declined to specify a timeframe.

“We’re not going to give someone a specific number of days or weeks. This is really about the spirit of these talks, and they can demonstrate they’re ready to sit with a spirit of finding a way forward in these talks by no longer conducting these missile tests,” he said.

“So this is not a ‘give me 30 days and we’re ready to talk.’ It’s not quite that simple. So it is all about how we see their attitude towards approaching a dialogue with us.”

A North Korean “moratorium” on missile launches is one element of a Chinese-Russian proposal for a “double freeze” to pave the way for a resumption of talks on the denuclearization of the peninsula. In return for a missile moratorium, Beijing and Moscow say the U.S. should undertake to end “large-scale” military exercises with South Korea.

The Trump administration has made clear it does not favor the China-Russia plan, however.

Speaking in New York after the Security Council adopted the new resolution Saturday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley stressed that the joint drills would not stop.

“The United States is taking – and will continue to take – prudent defensive measures to protect ourselves and our allies,” she told the council. “Our annual joint military exercises, for instance, are transparent, and defense-oriented. They have been carried out regularly and openly for nearly 40 years. They will continue.”

Tillerson was in Manila for an annual meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a 27-country, security-focused grouping that includes North Korea.

Also attending the forum, the regime’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, said North Korea would “under no circumstances” negotiate away its nuclear weapons capability and ballistic missiles. Repeating a threat made a number of times since the recent intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) tests, Ri said that all of the U.S. was now within striking range of Pyongyang’s missiles.

Pyongyang has fired, or attempted to fire, at least a dozen ballistic missiles of various types and ranges since President Trump took office, compared to three (two of which failed) in 2016, one in 2015 and two in 2014.

The 2017 launches have included the first two ever by the nuclear-capable Stalinist regime involving ICBMs, on July 4 and July 28.

The new Security Council resolution, UNSCR 2371, tightens existing sanctions by imposing a full ban North Korea’s export of coal, iron, seafood and other items to other countries; expands the list of individuals and entities subject to an asset freeze; and prohibits countries from increasing the number of North Korean laborers they employ – laborers whose earnings, the U.S. says, boost revenues for the regime’s illicit activities.

The administration says the resolution could cost the regime $1 billion a year, although sanctions experts say that depends largely on how well they are implemented – especially by China, whose track record on enforcing punitive measures on North Korea is poor.

The resolution is the sixth on North Korean to be adopted by the Security Council since 2006 (the previous ones are resolutions 1718, 1874, 2087, 2094 and 2270), and despite China having voted in favor of each one, there is scant evidence that it has implemented them robustly.

South Korea’s central bank reported last month that the North Korean economy grew by 3.9 percent in 2016, the healthiest growth in a decade-and-a-half. China accounts for almost 90 percent of the North’s foreign trade.

“It is very difficult to imagine that China would have voted in favor of a resolution that would hit North Korea’s economy so badly if Beijing really believed that such a resolution would be fully implemented,” North Korean Economy Watch co-editor Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein wrote in a posting on the blog after Saturday’s vote.

“The basic political dynamics remain: China does not want North Korea to crumble, and China craves geopolitical stability above everything else,” he said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow