In recent weeks, the United States and North Korean Officials have begun to thrash out the details of a plan to allow the resumption of food aid to the North Koreans. Robert King, a U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues has stated that progress has been made in these talks, and the remaining issues should be ironed out in the near future.
As part of this agreement, North Korea has agreed to freeze all its nuclear and missile tests, as well as its uranium enrichment programs. The agreement will also allow the return of U.N. nuclear inspectors. In return, the United States has pledged to provide 240,000 metric tons of “nutritional assistance,” to the country that despite its high military capacity, remains extremely impoverished. United States’ humanitarian aid to the nation had previously been halted in 2009 when tensions grew over North Korea’s nuclear program. The resumption of this program certainly signals a step in the right direction for the relationship between the two nations. U.S. officials are cautiously optimistic that this agreement can be the start of a “new era” in relations with the North that will eventually lead to the resumption of multilateral talks to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
Unfortunately, North Korea has recently stepped up its rhetoric against the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak. Earlier this week, North Korean television aired footage of a military unit carrying out live-fire drills in sight of a South Korean island. It showed tanks and artillery machines being prepared.
Li Gum-chol, a North Korean deputy commander said, “We will turn Seoul into a sea of flames by our strong and cruel artillery firepower. We are training hard, concentrating on revenge to shock Lee Myung-bak’s traitorous group and the military warmongers in South Korea” This is strong and troubling language. While threats of this nature aren’t exactly few and far between, this hostile language is not conducive to the prospect of future peace on the Korean Peninsula.
These two recent developments in North Korea’s foreign policy are on polar ends of the spectrum. While the agreement with the United States is definitely a productive step in the right direction for diplomacy going forward, the continuing hostility between North and South Korea is troubling. So is North Korea moving in the right direction after the death of Kim Jong Il? Or will the next few years see increased hostilities and tension between the the world and North Korea?