While folks in Moscow are celebrating VE day and the defeat of the Nazis, the real events are the brief 10, 20 and even 50 minute meetings that are taking place on the sidelines of the official 60th Anniversary commemoration. In addition to the much-highlighted Bush-Putin summit, and the repeated images of Bush driving Putin’s car (I don’t recall Bush letting Putin drive the truck down in Crawford), there were several bilaterals that related to the Korean Peninsula, including meetings between Hu and Roh, Hu and Putin, Roh and Putin and even in part the Koizumi/Putin meeting, though that was more about trying to look friendly while sending signals of intense dislike.
Amid the flurry of news reports on the imminent North Korean nuclear and missile tests (and I will diverge briefly in a moment as an addendum to correct a previous discussion on the Silkworm), there were actually quite a few glimmers of progress in the ongoing non-talks over the nuclear crisis. Hu hinted that there was about to be a major change in the situation as Washington leaked that Beijing had refused to suspend oil shipments to the north but did hint at possible food and other economic suspensions. Washington reiterated that North Korea was, in fact, a sovereign nation. And North Korea hinted that, should Washington recognize that North Korea is a sovereign nation, Pyongyang may consider returning to talks, and would even come back to six party talks, dropping earlier pseudo-demands that Pyongyang only wanted direct bilateral talks with Washington.
In general, the public outcry over the direness of the situation is providing a convenient mask for the more subtle nuances of negotiations playing in the background – a diplomatic dance that, if carefully choreographed, can suddenly rend a solution from the irresolvable stubbornness of the North Korean and U.S. positions. Of course, few parties really want to see a North Korean nuclear test, least of all North Korea if it can find some other face-saving solution to back out of its self-created crisis, so the unity of goals is present. The only thing left is the ability of each side to give in a bit while not making it extremely obvious that they gave in a bit.
Two other things. First, if North Korea didn’t want people to see it was building a reviewing stand and filling in a mine in Kilju, it wouldn’t allow it to be seen. Look, this is the land of the mole people, and they are quite aware of the constant stream of satellites imaging every square inch of above-ground North Korea, and probably a few inches underground as well. They WANT to be seen. It doesn’t mean they wont do something sometime, but it does mean that, as with their clear statements like “we have nuclear weapons” and “we are reprocessing fuel rods to make weapons grade plutonium,” the North Koreans have never really tried to hide their true intentions and actions except beneath the veneer of the extremely obvious and blunt.
And second, it wasn’t a Silkworm, but a modified SS-21 Scarab, the KN-02. While the political message remains unchanged, the added significance includes the potential to re-establish the lucrative overseas missile trade by selling a quite useful battlefield weapon to eager clients, as opposed to the few-and-far-between high-end No-Dong sales.
SS-21 from FAS
SS-21 from Claremont Institute
Arirang TV on SS-21 launch
Korea Times on SS-21 launch
KBS Global on SS-21 launch