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Interview: U.S. should not insist on preconditions for talks with DPRK: expert

Photo provided by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 1, 2017 shows top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong Un (Front) recently guiding the Korean People's Army Tank Crews' Competition-2017. (Xinhua/KCNA)

By Lu Jiafei, Guo Yina

WASHINGTON -- The United States should not insist on any preconditions for direct talks with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and China's "suspension for suspension" proposal could serve as the basis for further negotiation, a U.S. expert said in a recent interview with Xinhua.

Joel Wit, senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said the recent increased tensions at the Korean Peninsula seemed puzzling.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula are rising as the DPRK on Friday warned of "toughest counteraction" in response to what it called "reckless miliary provocation" after the United States sent USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to waters near the Korean Peninsula in what it called a "reaction to provocations" by the DPRK with recent missile tests.

"I don't see why tensions are going up," said Wit. "There's nothing that has happened in the past month that necessitated sending a carrier battle group there, or increasing tensions."

Tensions could heat up if the DPRK conducts a new nuclear test, but right now nothing had happened that could really change the situation dramatically, he added.

Long before joining the Johns Hopkins University, Wit served as senior advisor from 1993 to 1995 to Robert Galluci, then chief U.S. negotiator with the DPRK during the Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis of 1994. Later, Wit became the U.S. official in charge of implementing the 1994 U.S.-DPRK Agreed Framework from 1995 to 1999.

He told Xinhua that the main lesson from dealing with the DPRK in the past two decades is to realize that the DPRK is not irrational as the United States would think.

"They keenly understand their own national interests, and act on those interests. Right now their main national interest is to build nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. That's very clear to them," said Wit.

The main reason for the DPRK to move forward with its nuclear weapons program is "to defend itself against what it feels is a threat from the United States and U.S. allies in the region, South Korea and Japan," said Wit.

"In the past, there have been times when they thought their national interests required better relations with the United States, and as a result of that, they were willing to limit their nuclear weapons program, or even get rid of it," said Wit. "We need to keep that in mind as we try to find a way out of this problem."

In his first trip to Asia in March, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there would be no negotiation until the DPRK agreed to dismantle its nuclear programs.

However, Wit said that there should not be any preconditions for establishing an "informal get-together" between the United States and the DPRK to explore whether formal talks are possible.

"At that first get-together, or maybe more than one meeting, we shouldn't have any preconditions," Wit told Xinhua. "It should just be a discussion about issues each side is concerned about."

Only after the first step of discussions back and forth will both sides be able to determine whether the informal contact can evolve into formal negotiations which might actually address the issus both are concerned about.

"It's pretty straight forward, but we can't insist on preconditions for that initial step," said Wit.

If the U.S. direct engagement with the DPRK falls short of the expectations, then tougher measures, such as more sanctions could be used to increase pressure on the DPRK before exploring a new dialogue, Wit suggested.

"We could impose more sanctions, but it's not really having an effect. We can cooperate, and tighten the noose a little bit more, but it's never going to be enough," said Wit. "What's enough is to tighten the noose, but also to keep open the channel of a possible dialogue."

Back in March, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed "suspension for suspension" to defuse the looming crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

"As a first step, the DPRK may suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for the suspension of large-scale U.S.- Republic of Korea (ROK) military exercises," Wang told a press conference at the time.

This will help the parties to break out of the security dilemma and return to the negotiating table, according to Wang.

Calling the Chinese proposal a "first proposal that might not necessarily acceptable to both countries," Wit said that the proposal would work if both the United States and the DPRK were willing to do it.

"It (the Chinese proposal) could be the basis for further negotiation," said Wit.

[ Editor: zyq ]