N. Korea appears to have given up on normalizing ties with US, says renowned scholar

Posted on : 2023-11-08 16:35 KST Modified on : 2023-11-08 16:35 KST
The remark by Siegfried S. Hecker, an authority on North Korea’s nuclear program, came during a lecture in Seoul on Tuesday
Siegfried S. Hecker, a renowned expert on North Korea’s nuclear program, gives a special lecture at Ewha Womans University in Seoul on Nov. 7. (Yonhap)
Siegfried S. Hecker, a renowned expert on North Korea’s nuclear program, gives a special lecture at Ewha Womans University in Seoul on Nov. 7. (Yonhap)

US nuclear scientist Siegfried S. Hecker said Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un seems to have decided to “align with Russia and China and forget seeking normalization with the United States.” The scientist added that what worries him about North Korea and Russia’s move toward a weapons deal is what Russia may be doing for North Korea in return.

Hecker made the remarks while delivering a presentation as part of the William J. Perry Lecture Series at Ewha Womans University, in Seoul’s Seodaemun District, on Tuesday. (William Perry was a former US Secretary of Defense.)

Hecker visited the Yongbyon nuclear plant on seven trips to North Korea between 2004 and 2010, giving him a reputation as a global expert on North Korea’s nuclear program. The lecture was attended by John Linton (Korean name Ihn Yo-han), the chair of the People Power Party’s innovation committee, and Suh Hoon, the former director of Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

Hecker said that while the US had pushed for denuclearization several times during its three decades of negotiations with North Korea, all those attempts had ultimately failed, leading North Korea to cozy up with China and Russia.

In the nuclear scientist’s opinion, North Korea charted a twofold course: seeking to normalize relations with the US while developing nuclear weapons in case its diplomatic efforts failed.

Hecker observed that the US has a poor understanding of North Korea and tends to make decisions that are political, rather than technical, in nature. In particular, the scientist said that the US “missed an opportunity” when then President Donald Trump walked away from his summit with Kim in 2019.

The scientist said that sanctions against North Korea don’t help block it from developing nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions have been counterproductive in that regard, he said, because they push North Korea closer to China.

In a plenary session of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in January, Kim declared that North Korea would exponentially increase its nuclear stockpile. Then in September, Kim held a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome, making the prospect of Russia giving the North military technology an international issue.

Hecker noted that while North Korea isn’t currently in a position to increase its nuclear arsenal exponentially, that could change with Russian help. A responsible nuclear weapon state wouldn’t give North Korea uranium or share the results of its nuclear tests, he said, but voiced his concern about the fact that Russia is no longer a responsible nuclear weapons state.

Hecker said that South Korea developing its own nuclear arsenal is a terrible idea that would further endanger the Korean Peninsula.

The scientist was pessimistic about the possibility of North Korea and the US resuming dialogue in the short term. But he also predicted that they would seek opportunities for dialogue in the long term, quoting the proverb, “Never say never.”

As for the possibility of North Korea carrying out a seventh nuclear test, Hecker said that such a test is needed for the North to carry out its plan of becoming a nuclear weapon state. He said that Pyongyang hasn’t carried out a seventh test yet for political or policy reasons, rather than for technical ones.

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

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