Wendy Sherman on EU's role in curtailing the North Korean nuclear program

Former U.S. Official Calls on EU to Apply More Pressure on North Korea

By: Laurence Norman


The European Union can do more to raise pressure on North Korea as part of a concerted global strategy to press Kim Jong Un to curtail his nuclear and missile programs, Wendy Sherman, the chief U.S. negotiator of the Iranian nuclear deal, said Saturday.

Ms. Sherman, who was also former President Bill Clinton’s North Korea policy coordinator from 1997 to 2001, said North Korea’s weapons program was the No. 1 security challenge facing the Trump administration.

After a string of missile and nuclear tests in recent months, there are growing fears that North Korea is honing in on weapons technology that could allow it to directly threaten the U.S. in future.

Speaking at the Brussels Forum foreign-policy gathering, Ms. Sherman said the U.S. and its international partners have at various times tried military and diplomatic pressure, sanctions and negotiations to end North Korea’s nuclear buildup. But she said, “We have never tried everything all at the same time and that is what is required today.”

“Because we have to get Kim Jong Un to understand he has a choice and the choice is between having nuclear weapons and having his regime,” she said.

As part of that, Ms. Sherman said the U.S. must sustain its missile-defense plans for South Korea despite Chinese concerns. They must also use intelligence and covert capabilities while the U.S. military must be arrayed to make clear “we are ready to take whatever action will be necessary to protect our survival, the survival of Japan and South Korea.”

She said the Trump administration should engage with China to address their concerns about a conflict over Korea or the collapse of Mr. Kim’s regime. And she said the U.S. needed to focus other global actors on the challenge.

“I think the EU can get much more engaged—both on the human rights side…and the humanitarian side,” she said, “but also in tightening the sanctions and ending the financing and banking relationships that North Korea has around the world.”

Ms. Sherman welcomed the European move that led recently to three state-owned North Korean banks being cut off from the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, the world’s most important financial messaging service.

In addition to broad United Nations sanctions, the EU has unilaterally tightened its investing, trading and financial ties with North Korea over the past 18 months.

However, most EU countries maintain full diplomatic ties with North Korea and there are still banking and commercial ties.

On Tuesday, during a visit to Brussels by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the bloc was considering fresh sanctions against Pyongyang.

On a visit to South Korea last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hardened the U.S. approach to North Korea, ruling out direct talks and raising the option of a preemptive strike.

Ms. Sherman said the U.S. should keep open a channel for dialogue with the reclusive regime, saying that at first a secret channel would be most appropriate “perhaps with the willingness of the Chinese to be part of that discussion.”

However, with North Korea’s nuclear program expanding and Mr. Kim’s regime seemingly moving closer to being able to directly threaten the U.S., a sustained stepping up of global pressure on Pyongyang was critical now. “I don’t believe we have any choice.”

However, Ms. Sherman acknowledged the risks.

“Even doing the strategy I am suggesting…is very high risk because it could precipitate a collapse or a coup or a confrontation and then we are off to a considerable war that may have catastrophic consequences,” she said.