The US and North Korea have agreed to a deal that would send over 240,000 tons food aid to North Korea in exchange for a moratorium on their nuclear program and missile testing. Yul Kwon speaks with Stanford University's David Straub about the agreement.
To help us understand what this agreement means, we're joined on Skype today by David Straub. Mr. Straub is associate director of the Korean Studies Program at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. Among other diplomatic jobs, he was head of the political section at the US embassy in Seoul and ran the State Department's Korea Desk in Washington, DC. Thanks for joining us today, David. Now first of all, the Al Jazeera report says that this deal was in the works even before Kim Jong-Il died and his son was thrust into power. What can you tell us about that?
David Straub, Stanford University:
Well, that's basically correct. The US and North Korea were negotiating last year, and I think they were close to finalizing this agreement during the month of November, just before Kim Jong-il died. So I think the fact that they've now finalized the agreement suggests that there's a great deal of continuity in North Korea under the new leadership. That's the good news. It would have been bad if they had not been able to finalize this agreement. It would have suggested that there are serious problems with the new leadership.
So Kim Jong-un isn't exactly making a U-turn in terms of policy. But have circumstances in North Korea changed or worsened in the past year such that the regime is more anxious to make a deal now rather than later?
I don't think the situation has seriously deteriorated in North Korea, but it's probable that the new leadership there would like to show other people and the elite, as well as the people as a whole, that they're able to manage external threats and challenges. And also, North Korea is chronically short of food, and so under this deal, they're going to receive 240,000 tons of US food aid over the next year, and that will help alleviate the food shortage.
Secretary of State Clinton sounded very cautious when she announced the deal, characterizing it as a "modest first step," and saying that the US will "watch closely and judge" North Korea by its actions. From your experience in dealing with North Korea, do you feel that this level of caution is warranted?
Yes, indeed. The North Koreans have, in their own mind, good reasons to keep nuclear weapons. And over the years, they've negotiated with US and others about eventually giving up those weapons, but so far, all they've been willing to do is negotiating suspension of various programs, various kinds of talks on the margins that have never led to them completely giving up their nuclear weapons. And in the meantime, they get various concessions and aid. So yes, we need to be realistic and cautious when dealing with the North Koreans.
In contrast to the US, which gave a more tepid and cautious tone, North Korea by contrast, seemed a lot more positive when it released its statement about the moratorium. Was there anything about the statement that surprised you?
In the North Korean statement, they do say that when six-party talks are resumed, that the priority will be put on lifting sanctions on North Korea and providing North Korea with light-water nuclear reactors to provide energy. Now that's not in the American statement. And in fact, if you look at the North Korean statement, it doesn't say that there was agreement with the United States about this point. This is the North Koreans putting their negotiating position on the record.
A moratorium on the nuclear program and missile testing implies that the stoppage is just temporary and that it could resume at some future point in time. What do you think the US could do to try to facilitate a more permanent solution?
Well the moratorium is indeed just a temporary measure. In fact, in the North Korean statement, it says that the moratorium on nuclear tests and missile launches will continue only as long as the talks are continuing. That means, obviously, continuing to North Korea's satisfaction. But what this does do is move us a step closer to being able to hold another round of six-party talks in Beijing on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. And when we get there, if and when we get there, then it will be up to the six parties to have some very tough negotiations to try to reach a comprehensive agreement that will finally end North Korea's weapons programs.
How do South Korea's upcoming elections play into this week's announcement?
South Korea this year has national assembly elections and a presidential election. And South Koreans have long been very divided by how to deal with North Korea. On the right, the position is typically similar to the United States. That is, North Korea must first move to give up its nuclear weapons, and as it does so, we'll be willing to remove sanctions and provide some assistance. The left in South Korea believes that North Korea will not respond positively to that and that the best way to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons is to provide it with assurances, aid, and eventually to make North Korea believe that it no longer needs nuclear weapons to be secure. There's a possibility that the left will win the elections in South Korea, and if they do, they're going to pursue that kind of a policy, which usually is called a Sunshine Policy, that's significantly different than the policy of the Obama administration or of previous US administrations for the most part. So by having these talks with the North Koreans and possibly resuming six-party talks, the United States will be in a better position to try to cooperate with its South Korean ally if the progressives do win the elections this year.
Thanks, David. David Straub is a former diplomat and Korea expert. In 2009, he helped Bill Clinton gain the release of two American reporters who'd been captured on the border with China.
If you read and watch entertainment news, you know that an Iranian filmmaker, Asghar Farhadiis, is racking up the Hollywood awards for A Separation even in a climate of US-imposed sanctions. And if you're paying attention to most media coverage, you're well aware of the nuclear issue. But other than that, do we have a lens into the lives and stories of Iranians? Does this kind of cultural lens matter as we settle into our perspectives about Iran? Yes. Without showing the lives, struggles and culture of everyday people living and working in Iran, we in the West have a potentially skewed image of Iranians.
In 2006, Link TV developed a documentary TV series, Bridge to Iran, to provide a window into the lives and struggles of everyday Iranians -- to respond to the cultural and political tensions that have developed between Iran and the US since the Iranian Revolution. Over the years, Bridge to Iran has covered a wide range of social and political issues in modern Iran, including the experiences of young girls facing womanhood and uncertain futures, religious pilgrims who risk their lives to visit a holy site in war-torn Iraq, rural life and political awareness, an exploration of Tehran as an urban metropolis, and Iranian women's participation in the election process.
The new season premieres on February 14. In each of the four episodes of Bridge to Iran, in-depth discussions between host Parisa Soultani and top Iranian filmmakers provide a unique lens into some of the challenges and realities facing Iranians during a time of increased instability -- including censorship, sanctions and safety concerns.
Here are the details about the films and when to catch the episodes, on Link TV or online:
Bridge to Iran offers a diverse perspective on a country on the receiving end of a torrent of media attention -- but with a lens that's inclusive of the people and the art found within Iranian borders. We hope you'll tune in and tell others.
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Caty Borum Chattoo is a producer and communication strategist with Link TV, assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, DC, and media fellow with the AU Center for Social Media.