October 2, 2008

Philippines Paper Suggests Removing North Korea From US Terror List

Text of report in English by Philippine newspaper The Manila Times website on 30 September

Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator in the six- nation talks on the North Korean nuclear programme, will most likely be in Pyongyang today, after meeting with his counterpart in Seoul on Monday.

Hill's mission should concern us Filipinos much more deeply than many of us realize.

The mission is to salvage the now seemingly comatose international effort these past two years to persuade North Korea to stop trying to be a nuclear power and to give up whatever nuclear weapons or parts of nuclear weapons it already has.

To the world's distress, North Korea exploded a nuclear device in 2006.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Saturday, North Korea's foreign minister Pak Ui Chun explained why his country had thrown out the UN nuclear monitors last week and announced that it had stopped dismantling its nuclear weapons programme. He attacked the United States for being "unjust" and "double faced." He said the US continued to be hostile to Pyongyang despite the agreement North Korea had reached last year with the US and the other four countries - China, Japan, Russia, South Korea - for the North to start disabling its nuclear system in exchange for energy aid and other concessions.

Pak warned that "If the six parties are not true to their words in implementing respective obligations in the light of a great lack of trust with each other, no progress will be made at all."

Yongbyon nuclear plant

Last June, Pyongyang closed down its Yongbyon nuclear plant. It blew up - for all the world to see on live TV - the plant's cooling tower. That dramatic act punctuated a series of earlier cooperative moves - like handing over to the Americans a supposedly complete inventory of the materials in Yongbyon and the submission of a long- awaited catalogue of NK's nuclear activities. These moves made many believe that that the North had at last decided to forgo its nuclear- weapons programme.

Experts, however, were quick to declare that a nuclear plant's cooling tower is one of the most easily replaceable. They also warned that perhaps NK had other and more sophisticated plants than Yongbyon.

But in August, North Korea suddenly stopped disassembling Yongbyon. It said it was doing so to protest the United States' continuing refusal to take it off "the list of terrorist nations." This, NK claims, is one of the Americans' supposed obligations under the six-nation concord reached last year.

Complete diplomatic rehabilitation

Removal from the USA's list of state sponsors of terrorism is an important step towards Pyongyang's complete rehabilitation as a normal state in the eyes of the world.

But the United States claims Pyongyang also had unfulfilled obligations under last year's concord. North Korea's delisting as a terrorist country depends on it agreeing to carry out a plan for the verification of its inventories and its claims about the extent of its nuclear programme.

Pyongyang could not accept this demand.

Nuclear proliferation expert David Albright (co-author with Kevin O'neill of the ISIS Press book Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle) was one of the first to warn about Pyongyang's weapons- grade plutonium activities. He wants Pyongyang to be more transparent and forthcoming. However, he thinks the US side had wrongly demanded that international inspectors be given access to any sites, documents, individuals and materials they thought they must probe into, whether there was a valid reason to suspect them of being linked to North Korea's suspected nuke-production projects. That demand, Albright thinks, is tantamount to "getting a license to spy" on the North.

Like David Albright, no one must forget that North Korea had lied and tried to fool the USA, Japan and South Korea many times in the past. So the outside world must insist on verification and transparency. We must find out as much as we can. But it must be done in a way that does not humiliate the North as if it were a country defeated in a world war.

Yes, Pyongyang must be made to abandon its nuclear-power ambitions. But efforts to do so can only succeed if the possibility of compromise is kept alive.

Striking the North's name from the USA's terrorism list is a major step towards keeping the concord with the North warm. It is easy, if Pyongyang's actions prove to be recalcitrant, to put it back on the list.

Importance of Korea to Filipinos

Peace in the Korean Peninsula is of great importance to us Filipinos.

South Korea is one of our major investment sources and trading partners. Thanks to Hanjin, for example, the Philippines has become a major shipbuilding country.

Thousands of Filipino overseas workers are in South Korea, among those whose remittances help rescue the national economy from major problems.

Some irritations have arisen between some Filipinos and Koreans in the many "Korea towns" that have sprung up in our country's most prosperous cities and provinces. But the fact, however, is that by and large most Filipinos welcome their Korean neighbours and investors in their communities.

Filipinos must never forget that point in our history when, during the Cold War, Koreans and Filipinos were often alone among Asians in international forums in defending the American-led "Free World." That closeness continues up to now.

It should be as much our hope and our prayer, as it is of our South Korean friends, that the six-nation talks about North Korea's nuclear programme succeed.

Originally published by The Manila Times website, Manila, in English 30 Sep 08.

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