정성장 윌슨센터 연구위원 "미 대선후 북한 비핵화 ...트럼프, 바이든 승자따라 기조 갈려“

남북미중 4자 정상회담과 6자회담으로 북한 비핵화 결단 압박해야...

김충열 정치전문기자 | 기사입력 2020/10/30 [10:45]

최근 미국 정성장 윌슨센터 연구위원(세종연구소 수석연구위원)은 지난 2019년 2월 하노이 정상회담과 10월 스톡홀름 실무회담 결렬 이후 북한이 미국과의 비핵화 협상을 거부하고 핵무기와 미사일 능력을 계속 고도화하고 있는 상황에서 오는 11월 3일 실시되는 미국 대선의 결과는 북한 비핵화 문제에 중대한 영향을 미칠 것으로 전망했다.

 

정성장 위원은  "결론적으로 오는 11월 대선에서 트럼프가 재선되든 바이든이 당선되든 북한 비핵화 문제에서 진전을 이룩하기 위해서는 기존의 미․북 양자협상의 틀을 넘어서서 중국의 적극적인 협조를 이끌어내는 것이 최대 관건이다.”며,  “만약 북핵 4자회담이 개최되고 여기에서 중요한 진전이 이루어진다면 이 회담을 일본과 러시아도 참가하는 6자회담으로 확대해 북․일 관계 정상화 카드를 가지고 북한의 비핵화 결단을 더욱 압박해야 한다”고 주장했다.     © 김충열 정치전문기자

 

정 위원은 윌슨센터 웹페이지의 아시아 프로그램 블로그인 Asia Dispatches에 기고한 글을 통해“트럼프 대통령이 오는 대선에서 재선되면 김정은 북한 국무위원장 간의 정상회담, 즉 ‘톱다운’ 방식을 통해 비핵화 협상을 진전시키려 할 것”으로 예측했다.

 

하지만 이러한 방식은 “지난 2019년 하노이 미․북 정상회담의 결렬은 실무회담에서의 협의를 통해 충분히 준비되지 않은 정상회담은 실패로 끝날 가능성이 높다는 사실과 미북 스톡홀름 실무회담의 결렬은 양국이 실무협상을 통해 비핵화 문제에서 진전을 이루기도 어렵다는 사실을 확인시켜 주었다.”고 밝혔다. 

 

그는 “현재 북한은 미국의 ‘대북 적대정책’ 철회 없이는 실무회담에도 나서지 않겠다는 입장이다.”며, “트럼프 대통령이 재선되면 그는 본격적인 비핵화 협상 재개 전에 미국의 ‘대북 적대정책’의 철회를 상징적으로 보여주는 관계 개선 조치를 우선적으로 고려해야한다”고 주장했다.

 

이어 “이 같은 조치로는 워싱턴 DC와 평양에 상대국 관계자를 상주시켜 사실상 대사관 기능을 수행토록 하는 연락사무소의 설치가 있다.”며, “연락사무소 혹은 이익대표부는 미국이 과거 적성국가들과 수교에 이르는 과정에서 상호 갈등을 완화하고 신뢰를 증진하는 과도기구의 역할과 기능을 도입해야 한다”고 주문했다.

 

아울러 “그런데 북한으로서는 연락사무소 설치가 북미 관계 정상화로 이어진다는 보장이 없고 그것을 통해 얻을 수 있는 실익이 크지 않기 때문에 이 같은 조치에 대해 큰 관심을 가지지 않을 수 있다.”며, “특히 현재처럼 코로나19의 세계적 대유행이 지속된다면 북한은 코로나19의 국내 유입을 막기 위해 대미 접촉 자체에도 계속 소극적인 태도를 유지할 가능성이 높다.”고 전망했다. 

 

정성장 위원은 “만약 11월 대선에서 바이든 후보가 당선된다면 미국 대북정책의 큰 변화가 예상된다.”며, “바이든은 자신과 김정은 간의 정상회담, 즉 ‘톱다운’식 대북 접근보다는 실무회담을 통해 먼저 북한이 취할 비핵화 조치와 국제사회의 상응조치에 대해 구체적인 합의를 도출한 후 북미정상회담을 수용할 것으로 예상된다.”고 언급했다.

 

정 위원은 “문제는 바이든이 김정은을 보는 시각이 매우 부정적이기 때문에 그가 대통령에 당선될 경우 북한과의 협상에 회의적 태도를 취하며 더욱 강한 대북 압박과 제재에 의존하며 현 트럼프 행정부의 대북정책보다 상대적으로 강경해질 가능성이 높다.”고 전망했다.

 

이어 “바이든이 당선된다면 새로운 외교안보진영을 구성하고 대북정책 방향을 수립하는데 적어도 6개월 정도는 소요될 것이므로 북한과의 협상은 빨라도 내년 하반기에나 가능할 것으로 예상된다.”며, “한국은 2022년 3월 대선을 앞두고 2021년 하반기부터 본격적인 대선 국면에 접어들면서 문재인 정부의 정책 추진 동력이 약화될 수 있다.”고 우려했다.

 

정성장 위원은 “현재 북한이 미국과의 비핵화 협상을 거부하는 가장 중요한 이유는 핵무기를 포기하지 않고도 중국과의 협력을 통해 경제발전을 이룩할 수 있다고 판단하고 있기 때문이다.”며, “미 행정부가 북한 비핵화와 관련해 중국의 적극적인 협력을 이끌어내지 못한다면 어떠한 방안을 제시하더라도 북한과의 협상에서 성공을 거두기 어렵다.”고 전망했다.

 

정 위원은 “중국의 적극적인 협조를 이끌어내기 위해서는 북한 비핵화와 그에 대한 상응조치 문제를 미국과 중국, 북한과 남한이 참가하는 4자 정상회담과 실무회담에서 본격적으로 논의하는 것이 매우 중요하다.”며, “4자회담에서 한반도 비핵화와 평화협정 체결 및 대북 안전보장과 제재 완화, 미․북 관계 정상화 등 모든 관심사들이 포괄적으로 논의”되기를 기대했다. 

 

그는 “현재의 미․중 전략적 경쟁은 미국으로 하여금 중국의 협조를 이끌어내는데 제약 요인으로 작용할 가능성이 높다.”며, “하지만 중국도 북한의 비핵화를 원하고 있으므로 미국이 한국과 긴밀하게 공조하여 북한의 비핵화와 국제사회의 상응조치에 대해 창의적이고 합리적인 대안을 제시한다면 중국도 주변정세 안정을 위해 협력할 것으로 예상된다.”고 밝혔다. 

 

결론적으로 “오는 11월 대선에서 트럼프가 재선되든 바이든이 당선되든 북한 비핵화 문제에서 진전을 이룩하기 위해서는 기존의 미․북 양자협상의 틀을 넘어서서 중국의 적극적인 협조를 이끌어내는 것이 최대 관건이다.”며, “만약 북핵 4자회담이 개최되고 여기에서 중요한 진전이 이루어진다면 이 회담을 일본과 러시아도 참가하는 6자회담으로 확대해 북․일 관계 정상화 카드를 가지고 북한의 비핵화 결단을 더욱 압박해야 한다”고 주장했다. hpf21@naver.com

 

The following article was contributed by researcher Cheong Seong-Chang to Asia Dispatches, an Asian program blog on the Wilson Center Web page.

 

 

Outlook and Tasks for U.S. North Korea Policy Post-Election

By Seong-Chang Cheong on October 27, 2020

 

North Korea has persistently refused to negotiate on the issue of denuclearization with the United States since the breakdown of the second summit at Hanoi in February last year and working-level negotiations at Stockholm in October. At the same time, it has continued to develop its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capability.

 

Given this context, the result of the upcoming U.S. presidential electionis expected to have a significant impact on North Korea policy going forward.

 

Return to summits under Trump?

 

If President Donald Trump is reelected, he will seek to jumpstart negotiations using the approach we saw in 2018 and 2019: a top-down, summitry-led process of direct meetings between himself and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

 

However, the breakup of his second meeting with Kim, in Hanoi in February 2019, demonstrates how summits held without sufficient prior preparation through sustained working-level negotiations are likely to end in failure. At the same time, the experience of working-level talks at Stockholm in October 2019 between the United States and North Korea confirmed just how progress on the nuclear issue is difficult to achieve.

 

At present, North Korea has said it will not participate even in working-level negotiations unless the United States ends its “hostile policy.”

 

Thus, if President Trump wins reelection, he may consider prioritizing the largely symbolic demonstration of ending the “hostile policy” through measures that improve relations.

 

Such measures could potentially include the posting of diplomats at liaison offices in each other’s respective capitals that would function as de facto embassies. Liaison offices or interest sections have previously played the role of transitional institutions in U.S. relations with hostile states, and have helped to resolve conflicts and build trust.

 

But for North Korea, there is no guarantee that opening liaison offices would ultimately lead to a normalization in relations with the United States, and the actual gains from such a move are not that large. Hence, there may be limited interest in Pyongyang in such proposals. Additionally, if the coronavirus pandemic continues, North Korea may remain passive to interaction with the United States to ensure limit the potential entry of COVID-19 into the North.

 

Big changes under Biden

 

If former Vice President Joseph Biden wins, we can expect big changes in U.S.-North Korea policy.

 

Biden has indicated that efforts would be redirected toward working-level negotiations and to prioritize international coordination in order to develop a concrete agreement before proceeding with another U.S.-North Korea summit.

 

“Fewer summits, tighter sanctions, same standoff,” Reuters summed up in August.

 

If Biden is elected president, it appears likely that Washington’s North Korea policy will become tougher than current Trump Administration policy.

 

In November 2019, Biden declared: “There will be no love letters in a Biden Administration.” A month later, in response to the question “Would you continue the personal diplomacy President Trump began with Kim Jong-un?” from the New York Times, he said “No.”

 

The New York Times also asked: “Would you tighten sanctions until North Korea has given up all of its nuclear and missile programs?” and he responded “Yes.”

 

The New York Times also asked: “Would you tighten sanctions until North Korea has given up all of its nuclear and missile programs?” and he responded “Yes.” He also said he would consider using military force, but “force must be used judiciously to protect a vital interest of the United States, only when the objective is clear and achievable, with the informed consent of the American people, and where required, the approval of Congress.”

 

Biden has consistently stuck to the view that a summit with Kim would only be possible if certain conditions were met. In a Washington Post survey of Democratic presidential published in September 2019, Biden said he would continue with Trump-style direct meetings with the North Korean leader even without substantial concessions toward denuclearization only if “North Korea satisfies certain conditions.”

 

Similarly, in a January 2020 Democratic Party presidential debate, Biden said he would not meet Kim Jong Un without preconditions.

 

He said that by meeting with Kim, President Trump had given the North Korean leader “legitimacy and weakened the sanctions we have against them.” He pledged to strengthen relations with South Korea and Japan, while “putting pressure on China to put pressure on [North] Korea to cease and desist” their nuclear program.

 

And during the Oct. 22 presidential debate, Biden said he would only meet with Kim Jong Un on the condition that “[he] agrees to draw down his nuclear capacity.”

 

Biden’s apparent skepticism toward a summit with Kim stems fundamentally from his view of Kim as a “dictator,” “tyrant,” “butcher” and “thug.” While campaigning in Iowa, Biden criticized Trump Administration policy, saying: “We are embracing thugs like Putin and Kim Jong Un.”

 

“This president's talking about love letters with a butcher,” he said, referring to Kim. “This guy had his uncle's brains blown out sitting across the table, his brother assassinated in an airport. This is a guy who has virtually no social redeeming value.”

 

In November 2019, the Korean Central News Agency responded to Biden’s remarks with characteristically colorful language: “A rabid dog in the US has another fit of spasm, being greedy for power. Rabid dogs like Biden can hurt lots of people if they are allowed to run about. They must be beaten to death with a stick, before it is too late.”

 

A spokesman for the Biden campaign responded: “It’s becoming more and more obvious that repugnant dictators, as well as those who admire and ‘love’ them, find Joe Biden threatening.”

 

In his August 2020 speech accepting the Democratic nomination, Biden said: “The days of cozying up to dictators" were over. In the second Presidential Debate, he also referred again to Kim Jong Un as a “thug.”

 

Clearly, if Biden wins, he will take a skeptical attitude toward negotiations with North Korea and would likely rely on pressure and even stronger sanctions.

 

It could take six months for the Biden Administration to assemble a new foreign policy and security team and to establish the new direction of North Korea. Negotiations with the North Korea could be expected to begin in the latter half of next year at the earliest.

 

Given that South Korea’s next presidential election is scheduled for March 2022, the latter half of 2021 will be right when South Korean politics enters full-scale campaign mode. This may weaken the potential policy momentum of the Moon Administration in Seoul.

 

In the meantime, there is real risk that North Korea will have further developed its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, and denuclearization will be a yet more difficult goal to realize.

 

Therefore, it would be best if a potential Biden Administration moves quickly to minimize the gap in negotiations with North Korea through closer cooperation with Seoul.

 

Biden has previously stressed the role of close cooperation with allies South Korea and Japan and pressuring China in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. This is a good sign.

 

“After three made-for-TV summits, we still don't have a single concrete commitment from North Korea,” he told the Washington Post in September 2019. “If anything, the situation has gotten worse.

 

“As president, I will empower our negotiators and jumpstart a sustained, coordinated campaign with our allies and others including China to advance our shared objective of a denuclearized North Korea,” he said.

 

In response to New York Times questions for candidates in December 2019, Biden said: “I would work with our allies and partners to prevent North Korea's proliferation of nuclear weapons to bad actorsAnd I would insist that China join us in pressuring Pyongyang.”

 

China’s role

 

The single most important reason why North Korea currently refuses to negotiate with the United States on denuclearization is that it believes it can develop its economy through cooperation with China, without giving up its nuclear weapons.

 

Thus, if the U.S. government is unable to get active cooperation from China on the North Korean nuclear issue, it will struggle to succeed in negotiations with the North, regardless of proposals it puts on the table.

 

North Korea can refuse to negotiate with the United States, but given its need to cooperate with China to survive, North Korea would struggle to refuse to participate in talks if China is involved.

 

Summits and working-level talks involving the United States, China, and the two Koreas through a “four-party talks” framework are essential to ensuring that China is actively involved in the process of denuclearization and the issue of reciprocal measures. North Korea can refuse to negotiate with the United States, but given its need to cooperate with China to survive, North Korea would struggle to refuse to participate in talks if China is involved.

 

If four-party talks are held, a comprehensive range of issues, including denuclearization, a peace treaty, security for the North, sanctions relief and normalizing relations between Washington and Pyongyang, can all be discussed. If such talks happen, we can hope for actual progress on the nuclear issue.

 

Strategic competition between the United States and China limits the potential for Washington to cooperate with Beijing on the North Korea issue. Yet, China wants North Korean denuclearization, too. Hence, if a creative and rational alternative with respect to denuclearization and the international response is put forward by the United States in close cooperation with South Korea, then China can be expected to cooperate for the stability of the region. Regardless of who wins in November, it will soon be time to move beyond the current bilateral framework for negotiations on the nuclear issue, and to actively engage with China in the process.

 

Chinese cooperation is the biggest issue in the North Korean denuclearization process.

 

If four-party talks begin and should they result in real progress, then it will come time to expand them further to include Russia and Japan in a reconstituted six-party talk framework.

 

This will allow for the prospect of normalization of relations between Pyongyang and Tokyo, adding further pressure to North Korea to push forward decisively with denuclearization.

 

_______________________

Seong-Chang CHEONG is a fellow at the Wilson Center’s Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy and is a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute in the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

 

The views expressed are the author's alone, and do not represent the views of the U.S. Government or the Wilson Center. Copyright 2020, Asia Program. All rights reserved.



 

   
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