During the White House briefing today, ABC News’ Jon Karl asked spokesman Josh Earnest if, in the wake of the administration’s normalization of relations with Cuba, President Barack Obama will be doing the same with North Korea. Karl asked this after Earnest went on discussing the U.S.’s precedent of dealing with nations with “checkered” records on human rights, specifically mentioning Burma and China.
JON KARL: “If engagement works when you’re dealing with a country with a bad human rights record or a country that behaves poorly, why not North Korea? Can you explain the difference?…Yesterday, you said no, the president’s not considering normalizing relations with North Korea. I assume he wouldn’t welcome Kim Jong-un to the White House, that he wouldn’t visit Kim Jong-un. But can you explain why given what you just said about how you think that kind of engagement is what works?”
JOSH EARNEST: “The principal concern that’s been raised about Cuba is about the deplorable human rights record the Castro regime has. For 50 years, or more than 50 years, for five decades, there was in place a policy to compel the Castro regime to change the record by isolating them. The fact is that policy failed because the Castro regime remained in power and continue to take steps that oppressed their people. The point is that policy had failed and it’s time for us to try a new strategy to get the Castro regime to better implement policies that don’t oppress the basic human rights of the people.”
“Our concerns about North Korea’s behavior certainly include their deplorable human rights record, but they also other things too. It includes significant concerns with their nuclear program. It concerns the threatening statements they have made about neighbors, who happen to be strong allies of the United States of America. So our concerns with the regime in North Korea are different than the concerns that we have with Cuba. There is no concern that the Cuban regime is, for example, developing a nuclear weapon or testing long-range missile technology, that was frankly from a previous era. That era has closed, and that is why we believe the policy needs to be changed to reflect the fact that that era no longer exist.”
KARL: “Do you think this policy of isolation is ultimately going to work with North Korea? I understand the transgressions are qualitatively worse than Cuba. But I’m talking about the approach, because all the same things can be said. This has been a long time and there has certainly been no progress in changing North Korean Behavior.”
EARNEST: “I think there have been. At the end of the previous administration, there was a move to relax some sanctions in exchange for the North Koreans to take steps to come into compliance with some of the international communities. Concerns about their nuclear weapons programs. The North Korean regime walked back on the commitments. So there have been attempts to at least consider changing policy toward North Korea, but no doubt the problem with North Korea imposes a rather vexing policy challenge to the United States but also broader community, particularly our allies that are much closer to North Korea. The United States continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with Republic of Korea and Japan as they confront the threat that’s posed by North Korea.”