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March 12, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Secret North Korea talks?
A U.S. government source tells Inside the Ring there are signs the Obama administration is quietly working to open secret talks with North Korea as part of a plan to eventually normalize relations with the communist regime in Pyongyang. The discussions or plans for them are said to be similar to the secret diplomacy that led to the December 2014 announced initiative to normalize relations with Cuba.

Those talks were carried out in secret during meetings in Canada and Vatican City over several months before the December rollout. Pope Francis was said to be a key player on the Cuba thaw in relations.

Back-channel North Korea talks would be more complicated because of South Korea. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has taken a hard line on Chinese and North Korean appeals to resume nuclear talks that broke down several years ago. Mrs. Park is said to view the resumption of nuclear talks as a waste of time since the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un does not appear interested in holding sincere talks on giving up his nuclear arms.

Park spokeswoman Chun Hye-ran said South Korea is opposed to secret talks with the North. “The Korean government attaches great importance to transparency in pursuing dialogue and cooperation with North Korea,” she told Inside the Ring. She declined to comment when asked if the United States is seeking back channel negotiations with Pyongyang.

White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan denied there are secret talks.

“Reports of U.S. discussions with the DPRK are not true,” she said, using the acronym for North Korea. “We have channels of communication with the DPRK and remain open to dialogue, with the aim of returning to credible and authentic negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We are not currently, however, engaged in such dialogue.”

Japan to China: explain sea buildup
Former Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onadera wants China to clarify its military buildup near Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea — site of an ongoing political tug of war between the two Asian powers.

“Every country has a right to protect its territory and where to locate their bases and equipment,” Mr. Onadera told Inside the Ring. “However, they are obliged to explain why they are doing so to neighboring countries.”

Speaking through an interpreter during an interview at his parliamentary office in Tokyo, the former defense chief also rejected China’s imposition of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea.

China set up the zone in late 2013 announced that it includes the Senkakus. Initially, Beijing demanded that all aircraft, both civilian and military, report to China before transiting its airspace. The zone was rejected by Japan, the United States and South Korea.

Mr. Onadera said the Chinese appear to have relaxed efforts to enforce the zone in recent months.

“However, Japan will never accept the ADIZ including the Senkaku Islands,” he said. “It is our territory and we will not accept that that territory is included.”

ISIL Is Coming Here
Regnery Publishing is out with one of the first in-depth looks at the greatest terror army ever built.

“ISIS Exposed: Beheadings, Slavery, and the Hellish Reality of Radical Islam” is not just an investigative report on the group’s hideous atrocities and conquests. The book also examines how the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is winning over an increasing number of recruits from America’s growing Muslim population.

“The Twin Cities’ Somali community has been a virtual conveyor belt for foreign terrorist organizations over the past several years,” says author Erick Stakelbeck, an investigative reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network.

A recognized expert on the jihadi movement, Mr. Stakelbeck has produced two previous works on the Islamic threat, the trilogy including “The Brotherhood,” a look at the global Muslim Brotherhood fraternity, and “The Terrorist Next Door.”

Want a template for America’s future? Look at the Islamization of Europe, where ISIS is finding more and more followers — not the down and out, but middle-class young people who answer a call to commit mass murder. By September 2014, for example, as the Islamic State claimed huge pieces of territory in Syria and Iraq and launched a social media call to arms, nearly 1,000 French residents had left the country for Syria to join up. Over 100 have returned to France. Stay tuned.

“ISIS sees France as a gold mine of potential recruits and is making a concerted effort to woo more French citizens to its ranks,” Mr. Stakelbeck writes.

He believes these are great times, that radical Islam is our generation’s war. But not President Obama’s, or, as the author puts it, “America Fiddles and the World Burns.”

“We have reached a tipping point in the battle against radical Islam,” Mr. Stakelbeck says. “Future generations will look back on this period in history, much as we now look back on the Cold War and World War II, and judge us on how we confront the existential challenge of Islamic jihadism that has already changed the Western way of life in profound ways.”

— Rowan Scarborough

Banned in Asia
The U.S. military pulled out the welcome mat from underneath your Inside the Ring correspondent, who is currently finishing a two-week visit to South Korea and Japan.

In South Korea, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti turned down several requests for interviews. His public affairs chief, Chris Bush, then said no other U.S. military officials would be available to discuss the activities of the 28,000 troops currently deployed on the Korean peninsula. The blanket rejection of visits, interviews and briefings was transmitted in email messages labeled “unclassified.”

The lack of openness contrasts sharply with past commanders in South Korea who along with senior generals and officers were easily accessible for interviews, often on the record or more often on a background basis. Briefings on U.S. forces and the threat environment on peninsula and visits to military exercises and facilities also were common.

No more. Apparently, current press policies are designed to keep news reporters away.

Similarly in Japan, the public affairs office of the U.S. Forces Japan rejected all requests to visit Yakota air base and Yokosuka naval base. A request to see the newly deployed Kyogamisaki Communications Site, Japan’s second high-powered missile defense radar site located near the southern city of Kyoto, also was rejected.

The Pentagon jointly announced the radar the deployment in December with Japanese Defense Ministry, suggesting the site is a joint base. However, Japanese sources said Japan’s military has no role in the radar facility. The reasons for the denials also vacillated. Initially, U.S. Forces Japan said the site was off-limits because other news organizations had requested seeing it.

Then, despite more than a month of requests, public affairs official said the visit was rejected because they needed more time to arrange the visit.

One possible explanation is that a visit to the radar site might have upset the Pentagon’s high-priority effort to develop closer military ties to China’s People’s Liberation Army, a policy that has come under fire in recent months by members of Congress who say the exchanges are one-sided and have not developed closer ties between the militaries.

China in October criticized the Kyogamisaki radar as destabilizing for the Asia-Pacific region.

The radar is known as the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance system or AN/TYP-2, which is used in rapidly detecting missile launches and passing the information to ships or ground defenses that can then fire missile interceptors. No explanation was given for why interviews and visits were blocked for the key U.S. Air Force hub at Yakota and the major naval base at Yokosuka.

U.S. Forces Japan public affairs did not respond to an email seeking comment. The U.S. Pacific Command, which is in charge of forces in both countries, also did not respond, nor did a Pentagon spokesman.

Mr. Bush, the U.S. Forces Korea spokesman, suggested the command was too busy with the ongoing military exercises.

He also noted that a group of about 40 journalists and former members of Congress hosted by The Washington Times had visited the Demilitarized Zone. The group, including this correspondent, had a briefing from Army Col. James Minnich, secretary of the U.N. Command’s Military Armistice Commission.

Critics say one key characteristic of Obama administration press relations policies has been to try and limit or block information supplied to reporters.

The administration has been very aggressive in denying information to news outlets by a system that permits avoiding answering questions through phone calls. Instead, officials demand that reporters’ provide media requests in writing, usually through emails.

In response to the email queries, official flacks provide vague, non-responsive and misleading answers to reporters.

One staple of public affairs obfuscation process is the frequent use of this classic response: “Off the record, we have no comment.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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