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(Yonhap Interview) Clinton's likely defense secretary says U.S. should intensify sanctions on N.K. rather than negotiate

2016/10/16 05:00

By Chang Jae-soon, Shin Ji-hong and Shim In-sung

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- The United States should not reopen negotiations with North Korea as long as it shows no interest in denuclearization, and instead significantly bolster sanctions on the regime, a former top U.S. defense official said.

Michele Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense who is widely considered the No. 1 candidate for defense secretary under a Hillary Clinton presidency -- made the remark during an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency and Yonhap News Television, stressing sanctions are the only way to force the North back to serious negotiations.

The remark shows the U.S. will stick to efforts to ramp up pressure on the North if Clinton is elected to the White House next month, even though some have called for urgent negotiations to curb the North's dangerously accelerating nuclear and missile development.

"I don't think we should go back to the table without some very clear signals from North Korea that they are reducing their provocations and they are willing to at least implement their previous promises on constraining their nuclear arsenal," Flournoy said during the interview Thursday in her office at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), ahead of her trip to South Korea next week.

"I think the only way you're going to get them to consider that is through additional sanctions, particularly sanctions placed on — sanctions that involve pressure from China," she said. "The greatest amount of cross-border activity and support for North Korea flows through China, and unless that is put at risk, I don't see this regime as coming to the table seriously."

   Absent denuclearization commitments from the North, negotiations would be "a waste of time," she said.

Former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy speaks during an interview with Yonhap News Agency in her office at the Center for a New American Security in Washington on Oct. 13. (Yonhap) Former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy speaks during an interview with Yonhap News Agency in her office at the Center for a New American Security in Washington on Oct. 13. (Yonhap)

The North's fifth nuclear test last month sparked serious concern in the U.S. that Pyongyang is making real progress in efforts to develop nuclear missiles capable of ranging the U.S. Some have even called for considering preemptive military action on the North.

"All options would be on the table," Flournoy said of preemptive action. "But the focus of our policy should be to try to put through sanctions and other pressure, get the leadership to come back to the negotiating table and make good on their earlier promises of denuclearization."

   Cutting off energy supplies to the North and restricting trade along the long North Korean-Chinese border would be among the most powerful sanctions, she said, stressing that the U.S. should seriously engage China to enforce sanctions.

"They always worry about pushing North Korea too hard because they fear instability that could create a refugee flow across their border. That's their biggest fear and that's understandable," Flournoy said of China. "But China also has to understand that if they leave North Korean provocations unaddressed, it will force the U.S. and South Korea to do more and more together to strengthen their capabilities to defend themselves."

   She said the decision to place the U.S. THAAD missile defense system in the South is an example.

"The reason we are taking that step is because we have not been successful in constraining the North Korean provocation. If China's really concerned about this, the answer is for them to do more to try to reduce tensions and constrain North Korea's provocations," she said.

Flournoy said THAAD's deployment will continue as long as the North's threats remain, rejecting an idea suggested by some experts that the U.S. offer to scrap THAAD deployment in exchange for China applying significant pressure on the North.

"As long as North Korea has missile systems that can hit South Korea potentially with nuclear weapons, we should not scrap THAAD based on the hope of negotiation," she said. "You don't give away THAAD because you have initial Chinese cooperation to try. THAAD is there to deal with a very real threat and it would be irresponsible for us as allies to leave South Korea undefended against a potentially nuclear missile threat."

  

Former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy speaks during an interview with Yonhap News Agency in her office at the Center for a New American Security in Washington on Oct. 13. (Yonhap) Former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy speaks during an interview with Yonhap News Agency in her office at the Center for a New American Security in Washington on Oct. 13. (Yonhap)

During the interview, Flournoy spoke emphatically about the importance of a firm alliance with South Korea. She also said the U.S. should work harder to reassure Seoul of its commitment to defend the Asian ally with "all means at our disposal up to and including our nuclear deterrent."

   That represents a stark contrast to accusations from Republican candidate Donald Trump that allies are free-riders sucking up American taxpayer dollars for their own defense and that the U.S. should be prepared to abandon them unless they pay more.

Flournoy said Trump's argument doesn't reflect general American sentiment at all. She said there is a strong bipartisan consensus in the U.S. about the strategic value of "our alliances in general, but particularly our alliance with South Korea."

   "When you ask Americans about the alliance with South Korea, there's very strong support across the board because they know something of the history, they know it's a region (beset by) North Korea's provocative behavior and their pursuit of nuclear weapons," Flournoy said.

"It's beneficial to us to have very close strong partnership" South Korea, she said.

Flournoy said it's wrong to look at the value of the alliance in dollar terms only. But even in money terms, South Korea currently pays more than half the cost of keeping 28,500 American troops in the country, and paid more than 90 percent of the cost of relocating U.S. bases, she said.

She also said it's more expensive to keep those troops in the U.S. than in Korea.

"But again, the larger question is, what is the value, the value of having our troops stationed forward? It contributes to deterrence, it enables us to work closely day in and day out with the South Korean military," she said. "It enables us to plan together, to exercise together, and to approach the challenges of the region sort of side by side on a daily basis."

   She flatly rejected calls in South Korea for developing the country's own nuclear weapons, saying it would be a "mistake" for Seoul to pursue nuclear armament. If countries started pursuing their own arsenals, that could trigger a waterfall of proliferation, she said.

Flournoy said President Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia" policy will continue under Clinton.

"There's no region of the world that will have more impact on U.S. economic growth and security than the Asia-Pacific," she said. "Secretary Clinton was one of the architects — one of the principal architects of the rebalance and she absolutely understands the strategic rationale for the policy."

   She described Clinton as the "most qualified candidate ever to run for president" against someone "who really, many people would characterize as lacking the experience and the temperament to be commander-in-chief."

   "Despite all of the uncertainty and bizarre chapters of this election, I hope coming out of this you will see a renewed U.S. commitment to its leadership role in the world, to its allies and the kind of foreign policy that we’ve been able to sustain with bipartisan support going forward," she said.

jschang@yna.co.kr

shin@yna.co.kr

sims@yna.co.kr

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