North Korea Agrees To Sign Anti-Terror Pact ? But Will It Atone For Past?
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - North Korea's decision to sign up to a key United Nations anti-terror pact is to be welcomed, but until Pyongyang comes to terms with its past actions, its commitment to the anti-terrorism cause will be hard to take seriously, according to a leading South Korean analyst.
While the move is aimed primarily at improving relations with Washington, it is South Korea that has suffered most from North Korean-linked terrorism, said Dong-bok Lee, a former lawmaker and advisor to the South Korean prime minister and intelligence head.
He was responding to reports that North Korea intends to sign the U.N. International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.
A State Department spokesman said earlier the U.S. welcomed the news. North Korea is on the department's list of terror-sponsoring states, a designation that carries economic sanctions.
North Korea first announced its intention in a meeting with senior European Union officials at the end of October. The EU established relations with Pyongyang after last year's historic summit between the leaders of South and North Korea.
EU external affairs official Percy Westerlund said after a three-day visit to Pyongyang that the North Koreans would probably sign the anti-terrorism treaty at the U.N. in New York this month.
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman subsequently confirmed Pyongyang would sign the treaty.
"We have made every possible effort to combat worldwide terrorism," said the spokesman, as quoted by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
"As part of it we have decided to sign the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, an important instrument of the international anti-terrorism struggle," the spokesman said.
The 1999 convention obligates states to prosecute or to extradite those accused of funding terrorist activities, and requires banks to take steps to identify suspicious transactions. It has been signed by 71 countries but has yet to enter into force.
The spokesman said North Korea would also sign a 1979 U.N. convention against the taking of hostages.
U.S.-North Korean ties improved under the Clinton administration, but under President Bush they cooled considerably. When he came to office Bush suspended all dialogue with the North Koreans, and Secretary of State Colin Powell said last April that the U.S. was nowhere near establishing diplomatic ties with the "totalitarian regime."
Unresolved issues include relations with South Korea - a key U.S. regional ally - missile proliferation, human rights concerns, and terrorism.
The State Department added North Korea to its blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism after it refused to hand over Japanese Red Army faction members, known as the Yodo-go group, who hijacked a Japanese airplane to North Korea in 1970.
Pyongyang wants to be removed from the list, which also includes Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria, and last month accused Washington of pursuing "a hostile policy" against North Korea for not doing so.
State media Tuesday called on the U.S. to respond to the decision to sign the agreements by removing North Korea from the list.
Keeping it on the list was "undisguisedly inciting mistrust and antagonism" against Pyongyang, the KCNA said.
Although North Korea issued a statement condemning terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks, it has opposed the U.S.-led retaliatory strikes in Afghanistan. A foreign ministry spokesman said at the time the bombardment began it could result in a "vicious circle of terrorism and retaliation that may plunge the world into the holocaust of war."
The State Department's latest annual report on terrorism, released last spring, accuses North Korea of continuing to give safe haven to the Japanese airline hijackers, and says it may also have sold weapons directly or indirectly to terrorist groups during 2000.
But the report also says that the U.S. is committed to removing countries from the list once they have taken necessary steps to end their link to terrorism.
"In fact, the Department of State is engaged in ongoing discussions with North Korea and Sudan with the object of getting those governments completely out of the terrorism business and off the terrorism list," it adds.
Among past terror attacks attributed to North Korean agents are: the killing of 21 people in an attack on a South Korean government delegation in Rangoon, Burma in 1983; a 1986 bombing at Seoul's Kimpo Airport which killed five people; and the bombing of a Korean Air Lines airplane over the Indian Ocean in 1987, killing 115.
North Korea is not known to have been behind any terrorist attacks since then, although Seoul maintains that agents from the north were responsible for the 1996 assassination of a South Korean official in Vladivostok, Russia.
According to South Korean analyst Lee, North Korea has much to do before it proves a real commitment to the struggle against terrorism.
Speaking by phone from Seoul, he said South Korea has been the key victim of North Korean terrorism. "Inter-Korean relations over the last half century have been marred by a series of terrorist crimes."
These matters could not be allowed to go unresolved, Lee said.
"There is an internationally accepted practice in dealing with state terrorism activities - admission, apology, compensation and a guarantee against recurrence of such activities," he added.
While it wasn't perhaps necessary for all of these requirements to be met in this case, Lee said, "at least the two Koreas must be able to deal with these past incidents in a frank manner, come to an agreement how to dispose of this past behavior."
Without this, he argued, it was not clear any anti-terrorist commitment by North Korea could be taken seriously.
Ralph Cossa of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Pacific Forum attributed the North Korean move to a desire not to fall foul of an America focused on fighting terror.
"It is clearly aimed at staying off our bad side, that is, not becoming a target in the anti-terrorism campaign," he said.
The North Koreans attached a lot of importance to being removed from the terrorist list, he said, not just because this may increase the prospect of foreign investment and loans, "but also from a national pride standpoint."
Cossa said former President Clinton last year had apparently offered the North Koreans a deal - "expel the Japanese Red Army folks and start saying the right things and we will remove you from the list." Pyongyang no doubt wished it had taken up the offer, he added.
The JRA, which has been inactive for years, was recently removed from the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Even so, Cossa said he expected the U.S. would hold to the demand that North Korea expel the hijackers, "since that is an important issue to Japan and we, rightfully, want to keep Tokyo happy."
Dong-bok Lee agreed that the North Koreans give high priority to removal from the State Department list.
Among other things, its inclusion on the list is a hurdle to getting access to aid from international financial institutions.
However, mere removal from the list would not automatically qualify it for the aid. North Korea would also have to be completely transparent with the financial institutions, he added, providing "truthful and objective" statistical information.