Russia-Turkey joint ops in Syria : Are US-N. Korea back to square one? | Sunday Observer

Russia-Turkey joint ops in Syria : Are US-N. Korea back to square one?

Less than a fortnight after the second round of US-North Korea summit talks, relations between the two countries seems set to go back to the old confrontational posture after the United States suddenly resumed joint military exercises together with military ally South Korea. As Pyongyang understandably protested the threatening ‘war games’ on its border, this significant uptick in hostile posturing by both sides may herald a return to a kind of extended Cold War-style relationship in this prosperous but politically unstable corner of East Asia.

To make matters worse, the United Nations is alerting the world to a return to near-famine conditions in the sanctions-ridden North Korean socialist republic. But experts say that, given its state-controlled economic system, Pyongyang is likely to survive this latest challenge without North Korean society becoming crippled by resource shortages.

Meanwhile, in embattled Palestine last week, another young man died while protesting Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip for the 50th consecutive week of Friday protests. The 24-year-old youth was killed by Israeli troops firing on Palestinian demonstrators at the border fence that shuts in the 1.88 million Gazans in a mere 365 square kilometres - the most congested territory on Earth. Another 42 were injured in the firing including 15 children and 2 women civilians and four paramedics.

Gaza has a world record population density of 13,064 people per square mile all living in a virtual prison of fenced-in land bordered by a sea coast also blockaded by the Israeli navy which heavily restricts fishing in Palestinian coastal waters. Quoting UN and other humanitarian agency sources, Al Jazeera reports that nearly 15,000 Palestinians have been injured and at least 190 killed during 50 weeks of protests in Gaza.


Meanwhile, in northern Syria, joint military operations have begun between Russia and Turkey to monitor the once rebel-infested Idlib province that has now been largely cleared of anti-government Islamist rebels. With the help of Russian air force units stationed in Moscow’s regular military bases in northern Syria, Turkey had sent across its military forces marginally into Syrian territory to gith the insurgents.

The Turkish move was specifically in order to dominate Syrian border regions close to Turkey in order to prevent infiltration by pro-secessionist Syrian Kurd rebel groups that could revive the fortunes of the Kurdish secessionist movement inside Turkey. The joint Russian-Turk military operations can also be seen as a heightened intervention by Russia after the US began withdrawal of its own forces on the ground in Syria.

Last week South Korean and US agencies monitoring North Korea’s military infrastructure reported that satellite surveillance indicated a revival of operations in one major missile assembly and testing site in the Democratic People’s Republic (DPRK). News sources in Seoul stressed, however, that the volume of activity noted at the site was minimal and so far had only involved minor repairs to parts of the building. They said that the current level of revived activity was non-military and presently did not directly indicate a resumption of nuclear development.

Although Washington last year claimed that North Korea had stopped nuclear testing at the behest of the US, actually, the Pyongyang government had announced a moratorium on nuclear tests long before the first Trump-Kim summit was held in Singapore. Contrary to claims by the West, the DPRK had earlier formally announced the nuclear moratorium on the basis of having completed the number of bomb tests it had needed for its nuclear arms development programme.

However, North Korea had firmly held to its negotiations posture with the US of agreeing to nuclear disarmament only if it is multilateral and involved the de-nuclearisation of the entire Korean Peninsula, which meant de-nuclearisation by the US forces in the region as well. Washington has always remained non-committal on the issue of multilateral denuclearisation, preferring to solely push North Korea for unilateral disarmament. Successive South Korean regimes have also backed the multilateral disarmament.

Bombastic claims

Abruptly ending summit talks early in Hanoi last week, US President Donald Trump kept up his pretence of “smooth progress” in the talks. He insisted that the talks were a “success” and that Pyongyang was poised to extend its cooperation in the de-nuclearisation process. Trump departed Hanoi with his continued bombastic claims of ‘success’ although much of the world’s experts remained sceptical of any progress at all.

Analysts point out that, under a constant sanctions siege as it has been for over a half century, North Korea is in no way capable of building itself up as a world nuclear power.

While the US is now ramping up its hostile posture with Pyongyang once more, some of the excitement in Washington is due to the domestic policies (if any) of a Trump presidency that is currently exploiting foreign relations threats to the maximum to distract from potentially crippling criminal probes against Trump.

Perhaps in order not to appear too soft on Pyongyang, Washington has now organised a series of limited military ‘exercises’ that have now begun. Apparently these are on a much smaller scale when compared with the massive annual war games that the US, South Korea and Japan collaborated in South Korean territory adjoining the DPRK, including off-shore waters. The war games had been held for decades after the end of the Korean War and were very overtly the practising of sea-borne invasions of North Korea.

The war games routinely included long range bomber practice flights that went close North Korean airspace.

While Trump guardedly expressed ‘disappointment’ over the reports of repairs to North Korean nuclear facilities, Pyongyang has responded to the sudden US military exercises with predictable anger.

Given that the Trump White House had done little preparation for its second Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi, analysts are watching to see how serious Washington will remain in pursuing nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang.