Switzerland's Offer to North Korea

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 10 2013 3:42 PM

Switzerland's Offer to North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un

Photo by Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

As North Korea continues issuing daily threats against the United States and South Korea, Switzerland has offered to step in as a moderator. But so far, nobody seems to want the famously neutral country's help.

Switzerland emailed a statement to the Associated Press on Wednesday reminding the Korean Peninsula that they're there in case anyone needs them: "Switzerland is willing to contribute to the relaxation of the Korean Peninsula and is always willing to help find a solution," the statement read, adding, "The parties have so far made no such request." The country has apparently spoken to diplomats from both countries on the Peninsula about their offer.

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The country, where Kim Jong-un was reportedly educated as a child under a pseudonym, helps to monitor the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Switzerland has a long résumé of international moderation efforts, Reuters notes:

"Neutral Switzerland often hosts peace talks and mediates in international conflicts, more recently between Russia and Ukraine and between the United States and Iran and Cuba. The Swiss Foreign Ministry said it had been involved in more than 15 sets of peace negotiations in the past seven years, including in Sudan, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Nepal."

Meanwhile, North Korea reportedly finished preparations to test a medium-range Musudan missile on Wednesday, prompting South Korea to raise its threat level. While the hyperbolic language of the threats pouring out of Kim Jong-un's propaganda machine are amusingly unsupported by reality, the international community is legitimately worried about the possibility of something going wrong as tensions escalate.

Adm. Samuel Locklear, the U.S.'s top military officer in the Pacific, expressed just that concern yesterday during congressional testimony. Calling North Korea a "clear and direct threat" to the U.S., Locklear told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “I share your concern about the seriousness of a provocation that would lead to a miscalculation or an escalation that would go kind of up and out pretty quickly." The Christian Science Monitor summarized the admiral's elaboration on his concerns: 

"The threat is not just from missiles, Locklear said. North Korea’s armaments in the demilitarized zone make the possibility of a miscalculation even more dangerous, Locklear added. 'That amount of artillery, through a miscalculation or a provocation, would put Seoul at risk,' Locklear said. 'And it is a primary concern of US Forces Korea and mine.' " 

And on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel argued that the "bellicose rhetoric" of North Korea's threats are "skating very close to a dangerous line ... their actions and words have not helped defuse a combustible situation," Reuters reported.

The latest tension on the Korean Peninsula is more or less a result of Pyongyang's angry response to a new round of U.N. sanctions after the country conducted its third nuclear test earlier this year.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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