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United States-North Korea: Summit in Singapore

Volume 791: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2018

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the impact of the US-DPRK Singapore Summit on security and human rights on the Korean Peninsula.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice. In so doing, I declare an interest as the co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.

My Lords, the Government welcome the summit as an important first step towards securing a denuclearised North Korea. This is in the interests of regional peace and international security. More needs to be done. We hope that this marks the beginning of a substantive process, leading to concrete actions from North Korea towards complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation. We continue to have grave concerns about human rights in North Korea and expect more discussions and actions to follow.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. While inevitably remembering broken promises on denuclearisation made in 1994 and 2007, is the noble Earl not right that this is a moment to give a cautious welcome to the Singapore summit and to work with the United States, China, Japan and the vibrant democracy in South Korea to turn hopes into substance? Would not the best memorial to the 1,000 British servicemen who died in the Korean War be the formal ending of the state of war that has continued since 1954? Meanwhile, will the Minister confirm that, in the short term, Security Council sanctions will stay in place until we see real evidence of denuclearisation, and that in due course we will press for human rights, said by the United Nations commission of inquiry to be sui generis—without parallel anywhere in the world—to become part of the negotiations, as they were in the Helsinki process?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that question and I agree with much of what he said. As far as sanctions are concerned, the noble Lord is quite right that UN sanctions will remain in place under 10 UN Security Council resolutions, the most recent of which was adopted in December 2017. But the noble Lord is also right to say that this is a step forward. It was the first meeting between a sitting US President and a North Korean leader, and this is a very important step forward.

My Lords, immediately after the summit, President Trump said at a press conference that he did raise the issue of human rights with the North Korean leader. In fact, he said at the press conference:

“I want significant improvement. I want to start that process. Although you cannot finish that process for a while, but you cannot go back”.

Can the Minister tell us what he thinks President Trump meant by that statement, and what sort of process we will actually see that will deliver change for the people of North Korea who have suffered so horrendously?

The noble Lord is quite right; the suffering of the people of the DPRK is of utmost importance and something we must never forget. As the noble Lord said, yes, President Trump did mention that human rights issues, including the treatment of Christians, were discussed and would be discussed further. It is very important that these discussions continue, and the last but one paragraph of the communiqué states:

“The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date”.

My Lords, of course jaw-jaw is better, as we all know, than war-war, but will Her Majesty’s Government please ensure that the President of the United States is aware that this regime is the same as it has been for many decades and that the dictator Kim Jong-un is the same man that had his half-brother murdered not two years ago at an airport in Malaysia and, indeed, had his uncle executed shortly after he came to power. The human rights abuses remain and we must be incredibly cautious in this.

My Lords, my noble friend makes some very good points and we must never forget those atrocities—but it is so important to have regular dialogue with the DPRK. We continue to raise our concerns through our embassy in Pyongyang and in multilateral fora such as the UN General Assembly in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva—but my noble friend is quite right.

My Lords, bizarre as some of the images from Singapore might be, clearly, as other noble Lords have indicated, we have to welcome any moves to reduce tension on the Korean peninsula, though we should indeed be very cautious. What efforts might be made to encourage the United States Administration to look at Iran in a similar light—or is that far too much to hope for?

My Lords, I think I answered something on Iran some time ago, but I fear my memory does not go back that far. Of course, Iran is of great importance and we discussed a number of matters during that exchange. I will draw it to the attention of my noble friend the Minister and write to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, President Trump argued that there should be a formal ending to the Korean War, which actually came to an end with a ceasefire. That, of course, is a matter for the belligerents, of which the United Kingdom was one. Have there been any representations by President Trump to the British Government in respect of that matter?

My Lords, we are in regular dialogue with the US and our international partners on the subject of the DPRK. As for the actual detail of what has been discussed, in particular the matter that the noble Lord raises, I am not aware that this has been raised as yet.

My Lords, while the Singapore summit is clearly better than the alternative, which was escalating belligerent rhetoric between the leaders of two nuclear-armed states, I invite the noble Earl to agree with the words of Mark Fitzpatrick, the very well respected executive director of IISS, who yesterday wrote that,

“void of verification measures, the Singapore summit result pales in comparison to the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew a month ago. The hypocrisy is beyond words”.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Browne, makes a very good point. The goal has to remain the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea and the removal of its ballistic missile capability. This is what is required to protect UK national interests in the region and uphold international security. The noble Lord brought up the subject of Iran again, and I know what he says.

My Lords, friends of mine served as national servicemen in Korea; I served elsewhere in my national service time. Is it not interesting to note just how long that war has remained unended? While I certainly support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, about the need to proceed with great caution, it is high time that that war was brought to an end.

My noble friend is quite right. My own godfather was imprisoned during that war. I remember his recollections. The many lives that were lost in that conflict should also be remembered and we must look forward to the formal point that the noble Lord mentioned.

My Lords, this is potentially a major step forward that of course should be welcomed. But is there not a danger that it might expose the limits of a personalised and unpredictable diplomacy, and should not more heed be taken of the concerns expressed by Japan and other regional allies?

My Lords, we are in close contact with our allies in the region. The Foreign Secretary has been in regular contact about the DPRK with his counterparts in the United States, European countries, South Korea, Japan and China. Many of those countries, China in particular, could help take this forward.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned China. Does he accept that the cutting of exports from China to North Korea by anything between 70% and 90% had an enormous effect on bringing these talks to pass? Does he feel that the Chinese will resume those sanctions if progress is not made on verification of the denuclearisation of North Korea?

My Lords, my noble friend refers to sanctions. These sanctions have been very effective. They are the toughest sanctions imposed on a country this century. As my noble friend will be aware, China has lent its influential voice to the universal condemnation of North Korea and has supported all United Nations Security Council resolutions, including the most recent one.