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UPF-Washington, DC: Report on The Washington Brief



Washington, DC, United States—The Washington Brief is the premier monthly webcast on Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia security issues. The episode for Tuesday, September 5, 2003 featured guest panelist Sydney Seiler, former National Intelligence Officer for North Korea in the office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Mr. Seiler has held positions that place him as the senior-most intel officer on North Korea for the U.S. He was previously senior analyst and senior defense intelligence expert for North Korea, serving with U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) as the senior expert and advisor to the USFK Commander and all intelligence agencies.


Mr. Seiler also previously served as the U.S. Special Envoy for Six Party Talks (2014-2015), where he was the point person for all negotiations with North Korea, the senior U.S. diplomat to the DPRK, and leading expert on Pyongyang’s motivations.


The Washington Brief webcast, “North Korea Policy Choices: Near-term Challenges, Long-term Goals,” dealt with the broad range of North Korea issues from the DPRK perspective as well as their relations with China, Russia and the U.S.


Regular panelists included former six-party talks envoy Amb. Joseph DeTrani as moderator, along with Georgetown University security studies professor Dr. Alexandre Mansourov.


Pyongyang’s motivation to strike a denuclearization deal with the U.S. seems to have dropped dramatically in recent years, America’s former top intelligence officer for North Korea said during the webcast, warning that the country’s deepening relationships with Russia and China have dimmed the prospects for any diplomatic breakthrough in the near term, in his opinion.


He said that North Korea passed on its best chance to strike transformational agreements with the U.S. and South Korea late last decade. Instead, Pyongyang has reverted to routine ballistic missile tests, thinly veiled threats of nuclear war, and provocation toward America and its key allies in the region, chiefly South Korea and Japan.


At the same time, Pyongyang has sought out closer cooperation with both China and Russia. The latest evidence of that came Tuesday as news reports emerged that North Korean regime leader Kim Jong-un may meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss providing more weapons for Russia’s war in Ukraine.



The end result, Mr. Seiler argued, is a North Korea that right now views any diplomacy with the U.S. and its allies as secondary to nurturing friendships, military partnerships and economic cooperation with some of Washington’s lead adversaries on the global stage.


“What’s new now that actually bodes, I think, poorly against a possible reexamination by Pyongyang of a relationship with the United States is a perceived lack of need to have that relationship with the United States—if Pyongyang’s view of the world is that there is this new world order emerging and this new bloc geopolitics, this ability to turn to Russia, to turn to China, to turn to Iran,” stated Mr. Seiler.


Mr. Seiler said that North Korea had its greatest potential diplomatic partners in former President Donald Trump and former South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Those men seemingly gave Mr. Kim every opportunity to strike a deal that would lighten sanctions and open up economic investment in North Korea in exchange for a verifiable end to the country’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Trump even held three historic, face-to-face meetings with Mr. Kim in the hopes of securing a deal.


“If they couldn’t make a breakthrough with the Moon Jae-in administration, who are they going to make a breakthrough with?” Mr. Seiler said. “If they were unable to take advantage of Donald Trump’s unique approach to diplomacy and what he put on the table in front of them, where are they going to find another president like that?”


“The sad truth is that international trend lines point toward a North Korea that may feel it is less dependent on the need to denuclearize. … For now, at least, they have ideological bedfellows who will be a little bit less demanding and a little bit more conducive to North Korea’s diplomatic and national security goals,” he said. “They’ll find them in Moscow and Beijing more so today than they have in the recent past, and therefore I think less likely to turn to us or to South Korea.”


For now, Pyongyang appears to have found a willing economic partner in Russia, which reportedly will supply food and other critical supplies in exchange for ammunition and other weapons of war.


Mr. Putin and Mr. Kim also plan to discuss cooperation in space exploration and in other domains during their upcoming meeting, according to media reports, underscoring the newfound depth of that bilateral relationship.


It’s a significant shift for international efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. China and Russia previously had worked with the U.S., Japan and South Korea to help contain North Korea’s nuclear program, with those nations making up the “six party talks” that ran from 2003 to 2009.


Today, China and Russia have largely disappeared from that initiative, and there’s little sign that such widespread global cooperation between major powers will materialize again in the near future.


Indeed, President Biden’s recent Camp David meeting with the leaders of South Korea and Japan represented “another nail in the coffin” of a united global front to contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, panelist Alexandre Mansourov stated, and warned that North Korea instead could move to enhance more direct military alliances with Russia and China.


“And of course, more worrisome would be that in the wake and in light of extending bilateral cooperation between Japan, South Korea and the United States, we might see the initial moves to start up the trilateral cooperation, military cooperation, between North Korea, China and Russia,” Mr. Mansourov remarked.


By Larry Moffitt, Secretary General, UPF North America
September 5, 2023

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