The government in Pyongyang has announced that it might be prepared to resume talks with the object of dismantling its nuclear weapons programme if sanctions against the regime are brought to a halt and a peace treaty is drafted ringing the frozen 1950-53 Korean War to an official close. The last series of talks with North Korea back in April 2009 stalled after the government’s launching of a long-range missile and nuclear test led to widespread criticism. Since, calls for sanctions have increased as the country continues to develop its armoury, leading the UN Security Council to announce an array of sanctions in May.
North Korea’s administration started to make more conciliatory noises towards the end of 2009, saying that it would try and cooperate with the USA to narrow what it called “remaining differences” between them. But the latter has continuously condemned North Korea’s human rights situation, describing the country’s treatment of its citizens as “appalling” and insisting that the regime under President Kim Jong Il must have “a greater respect” for human rights as a condition for any kind of agreement being reached.
The offer from the North Korean foreign ministry follows Robert King's, the US special envoy to North Korea, first trip to neighbouring South Korea. President Pyongyang proposed a treaty could be drafted alongside six-party talks aimed at resolving North Korean nuclear ambitions.
The openSecurity Verdict: Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is not the first time that North Korea has made gestures towards ending its hostile relationship with South Korea and the US. Last year the government offered to return to the negotiating table only months after walking away from talks over its nuclear capacity. Then as now there is scepticism as to what extent this conciliatory move is genuine. Previously it was thought that the government had only relented because of the pressure exerted by its old ally, China. While sanctions inhibited the proliferation of North Korean arms and weapons technology, they do not seem to have substantially threatened the regime itself
This is largely because the country is imbued with a desperate desire to survive, particularly as it grows continually more isolated from the rest of the world. Key to its strategy for keeping the country’s citizens under control and preventing the state from falling apart is continuously portraying itself as being under threat, coupled with the ‘military first’ ideology of prioritising the armed forces above all else.
Another integral idea is that of Juche, which demands that North Korea be protected from exposure to any outside influences, something which the country sees as a central part of the national narrative, as it provides it with autonomy from the demands of foreign governments. As this has been essential to keeping the population under tight control, the administration in Pyongyang is unwilling to relinquish it. Meaningful opposition to its nuclear programme from within is therefore minimal, and although the threats and pleas from outsiders may instill a change in foreign posturing, the world seems powerless to dramatically alter the country's domestic political character. The latest statement from North Korea will probably not prove to be much of a departure.
New wave of attacks on Malaysian churches
A recent decision by a Malaysian court to allow Christians to use ‘Allah’ as a term for God in their ceremonies of worship has sparked outrage among segments of the majority Muslim community. The result has been the firebombing of several churches and the vandalising of another with black paint in the capital of Kuala Lumpur yesterday. This follows attacks on four others which took place at the weekend in Perak state and the southern region of Malacca. Injuries or fatalities are yet to be reported. The fury among many of the country’s Muslims has come as a surprise, as the Roman Catholic Church claims that it has been using the word ‘Allah’ in its Malay language publications for centuries.
Violence continues between political factions in Karachi
Five bodies were yesterday uncovered in the city of Karachi in southern Pakistan. The incident is thought to be the latest in a wave of politically-motivated killings that have taken place among rival political groups within the city this year, leaving an estimated thirty or more dead. Much of the tension lies between supporters of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), originally established to represent Urdu speaking immigrants from India, the Mujahir, and the Baloch-speaking members of the population, who are largely aligned with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Relations between the region’s political factions are often volatile, but the latest violence is thought to have flared up between grass roots supporters for the MQM and PPP after the killing in December of a MQM activist in the area of Lyari.
Sudan dismisses warnings of renewed conflict
The Sudanese government has shrugged off warnings from aid agencies that it is at serious risk of collapsing into civil war. Although in 2005 a peace agreement was reached between the warring parties of the north and the south, tensions have continued to simmer between the two for the past five years. A referendum deciding whether the south should secede from the north – an event which campaigners are concerned will prompt a fresh spate of hostilities – is due to take place in January this year.
The Sudanese Foreign Ministry has maintained that war is no longer seen as a solution for the problems of the two sides. His words came just after the killing of over a hundred civilians in clashes between different tribes in the southern district of Warrap last week.
President of Yemen declares willingness to talk with Al Qaeda
Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh yesterday stated that despite its continued resolve to fight the presence of Al Qaeda militants in the country, the government would be prepared to talk to fighters who have severed links with the organisation and given up violence. Fighters from the terrorist network have sought refuge in the lawless regions of the Arabian Peninsula, resulting in the US government placing huge pressure on the regime in Sanna to do its utmost to address the threat. Although members of the security services have been sent to hunt down the militants, Saleh has still insisted that “dialogue is the best way” of dealing with the problem.