Editor’s Note: In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Evans Revere explains that Pyongyang has been insisting since the summer of 2011 that it has the right to launch a satellite, miscalculating the U.S. stance on the issue.
ASAHI: At the meeting with North Korean Foreign Ministry officials in Germany, did you talk about their announcement of the “satellite” launch?
EVANS REVERE: Once again, North Korea has shown that agreement basically has no meaning. I said to my North Korean counterpart, “You just concluded an agreement with the United States and now you are doing this, a clear violation. Who will be left to stand up in the United States and say we should give the North Koreans something? No one.” I said that the universe of people who support this is getting smaller and smaller.
ASAHI: And what was the reaction?
Most of the conversation in Germany was the usual conversation. But at the very end of the second day of discussions, what I think the major message North Korea communicated to us is the following: “We have the sovereign right to launch a satellite and we will never give up that right no matter what. If others–and here I assume the United Nations, the United States or some group of people–take any measures that infringe on our sovereignty, we will take measures in response.” There was one more message: We are not in a position now to tell what those measures are.
Both of us have been looking at this for a long time. We know what that means. What have they done in the past in response? They have escalated their rhetoric. They have conducted military provocations, they have fired short-range missiles, they have launched medium-range missiles and they conducted nuclear tests. That is the range of actions that they are capable of taking. They may take more than that, but that is the basic menu.
Was there a specific statement for specific action? No. But there is a very clear statement that they will respond if the United States or the U.N. does anything. And they are not going to say what their response will be.
If you believe that the purpose of the launch is to test the missile, the logical thing they would want to do next is to test the warhead.
Now, will they do it? I am not predicting they will. But I am suggesting that that is probably on their list of options, and we have to be very careful about this.
The goal that North Korea has here is less improved inter-Korean relations per se. Their real goal, I think, would be, to the extent possible, to delink [South Korea] from the alliance with the United States. [What is to be avoided] is the situation where it appears as if South Korea and the United States are taking steps that seem to be in contradiction to one another.
[South Korea must be] realistic about [ inter-Korea talks] rather than make wildly optimistic conclusions about what the possibilities might be. There's always a danger in being too far forward-leaning toward North Korea, because it's entirely possible that North Korea will see that as a sign of weakness.