Friedman: US Should Offer Peace Treaty, Full Relations to North Korea

Appearing as a guest on Friday's New Day on CNN to discuss the recent tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman went so far as to recommend that the U.S. should offer to recognize the legitimacy of the North Korean regime -- which functions as a giant prison for its population -- in an effort to get the oppressive government to give up its nuclear weapons. He then argued that, even though North Korea would likely reject the offer, it was important to get countries like China and Russia to not view the standoff as "two crazy men threatening each other with fire and brimstone."

At 7:26 a.m. ET, Friedman began presenting his suggestion:

It seems to me, the only rational, long-term strategy for the United States is to, one, deter the North Koreans by our own anti-missile systems. We're doing that, we've been doing that, we're continuing to do that effectively. And to tighten the economic sanctions around them so they will stop testing these missiles and ultimately agree to a de-nuclearization deal. I think the best way to go about doing that is by putting on the table a very clear American peace offer to the North Koreans: "If you fully de-nuclearize and end your missile program, we will offer you full peace, full diplomacy, full engagement, economic aid, and an end to the Korean War. If you don't, we will tighten the economic sanctions."

He continued:

And by putting this plan on the table, the entire world would see who is the person who is actually threatening the stability of the Korean Peninsula. That, then, would keep Russia, China the Japanese and the South Koreans all on our side, which will make the sanctions even stronger. That's how you really mess up the North Koreans. I think we play into their hands when you engage in a tit for tat, fire and brimstone threats which ultimately I think have no long-term sustainability and are frightening the allies we need to sustain sanctions.

A bit later, he added:

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But that rhetoric has to be tied to a long-term strategy -- both military of building up our missile deterrence around North Korea and diplomatic of enlisting more and more of the world -- particularly China, Japan, and South Korea -- on sanctions against North Korea. That's what ultimately threatens that regime and puts a choice before them of either you de-nuclearize or you really will completely run out of money. That is what will really squeeze them. What plays to their strength is if we look just like we're equals, two crazy men threatening each other with fire and brimstone.

After Cuomo asked, "Why hasn't that been tried? And if it has been tried, why hasn't it worked?" Friedman argued that such an offer has been "implicit" in the past and then added:

What I'm saying is make it explicit -- not as an act of weakness because that explicit declaration that we are ready to end the war with you, open an embassy in Pyongyang, engage in economic trade and aid, etc. That is precisely what will give us the moral high ground to sustain sanctions for a long, long time. Then, the Chinese can't say we are the threat, then the Russians can't say we are the threat. We've actually got the Russians and Chinese on our side now in the latest UN vote. We want to keep them there. We want to create a situation where North Korea looks around, and the entire world, including its neighbors, are against it, and it's under tighter and tighter sanctions noose.

After substitute host Brianna Keiler wondered if North Korea would be willing to make such a deal since open relations would undermine the regime's control over the civilian population if they were allowed to interact with the world, Friedman responded:

Well, sure. By the way, I have very little belief the North Koreans would accept such an offer in the near term. But this is about: What is a long-term, sustainable strategy for tightening the noose and weakening their regime? They're not going to accept this -- such a proposal tomorrow. But what it does do is give us the moral and strategic high ground to sustain economic sanctions for a very long time. That puts us in a much stronger position than we are right now.

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Friday, August 11, New Day on CNN:

TOM FRIEDMAN: It seems to me, the only rational, long-term strategy for the United States is to, one, deter the North Koreans by our own anti-missile systems. We're doing that, we've been doing that, we're continuing to do that effectively. And to tighten the economic sanctions around them so they will stop testing these missiles and ultimately agree to a de-nuclearization deal.

I think the best way to go about doing that is by putting on the table a very clear American peace offer to the North Koreans: "If you fully de-nuclearize and end your missile program, we will offer you full peace, full diplomacy, full engagement, economic aid, and an end to the Korean War. If you don't, we will tighten the economic sanctions."

And by putting this plan on the table, the entire world would see who is the person who is actually threatening the stability of the Korean Peninsula. That, then, would keep Russia, China the Japanese and the South Koreans all on our side, which will make the sanctions even stronger. That's how you really mess up the North Koreans. I think we play into their hands when you engage in a tit for tat, fire and brimstone threats which ultimately I think have no long-term sustainability and are frightening the allies we need to sustain sanctions.

(...)

But that rhetoric has to be tied to a long-term strategy -- both military of building up our missile deterrence around North Korea and diplomatic of enlisting more and more of the world -- particularly China, Japan, and South Korea -- on sanctions against North Korea. That's what ultimately threatens that regime and puts a choice before them of either you de-nuclearize or you really will completely run out of money. That is what will really squeeze them. What plays to their strength is if we look just like we're equals, two crazy men threatening each other with fire and brimstone.

(...)

CHRIS CUOMO: Here's what I don't get -- and forgive me for this. I understand what you're saying -- its sounds very reasonable. Why hasn't that been tried? And if it has been tried, why hasn't it worked?

FRIEDMAN: It's a good question, Chris. We have never actually put a full-fledged treaty on the table. We have never gone to that length so far. I think it has to do with a worry by some administrations that some of that would look weak on our part. I think it would actually look -- would be an incredible source of strength because what I'm describing to you, Chris, is actually the bottom line of the diplomacy we've been trying all along. It has always been implicit in our position that if the North Koreans denuclearize and end this threat, we are ready to end the Korean War, which has been open now since its inception -- we're just in an armistice. 

That's always been implicit in our position. What I'm saying is make it explicit -- not as an act of weakness because that explicit declaration that we are ready to end the war with you, open an embassy in Pyongyang, engage in economic trade and aid, etc. That is precisely what will give us the moral high ground to sustain sanctions for a long, long time. Then, the Chinese can't say we are the threat, then the Russians can't say we are the threat. We've actually got the Russians and Chinese on our side now in the latest UN vote. We want to keep them there. We want to create a situation where North Korea looks around, and the entire world, including its neighbors, are against it, and it's under tighter and tighter sanctions noose.

BRIANNA KEILAR: But how does that work? And I wonder what the Kim regime would think about that idea, Tom, because: Would they be looking at China and say, "Opening up economically, opening up diplomatically -- look at what's happened to China"? I mean, certainly you still have a communist regime there, but arguably there could be in North Korea if you do open up diplomatically and economically, then you're opening up what is a hermit kingdom, allowing the North Koreans to see the outside world and realizing things are not as their government has been telling them.

FRIEDMAN: Well, sure. By the way, I have very little belief the North Koreans would accept such an offer in the near term. But this is about: What is a long-term, sustainable strategy for tightening the noose and weakening their regime? They're not going to accept this -- such a proposal tomorrow. But what it does do is give us the moral and strategic high ground to sustain economic sanctions for a very long time. That puts us in a much stronger position than we are right now.

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