Christian Freedom Experts Split on N. Korea Nuclear Pact

Correction appended

WASHINGTON – Christian human rights and religious freedom experts are divided over the new nuclear agreement that calls for North Korea to shut down its main nuclear facilities within 60 days in exchange for aid.

Some supporters hailed the pact as a “breakthrough” in talks with the reclusive, communist state, applauding the agreement’s provision of energy, food, and other aid to the millions of impoverished citizens in North Korea.

“My personal response is this is very positive,” said Paul Estabrooks, minister-at-large for Open Doors International and author of Escape from North Korea. “It addresses the needs in North Korea by providing food and energy which are challenges in winter time.”

Estabrooks said that although philosophically he agrees with some critics that human rights should be addressed first before giving aid to North Korea, he “can’t but feel for the 30 million people in desperate situation” in the country.

“I don’t know if they or we can wait forever for the correction of human rights abuse before helping,” said Estabrooks. “Their needs have to be addressed.”

According to Mike Huggins, World Food Program spokesman, 37 percent of children under six are chronically malnourished in North Korea and one-third of North Korean women are anemic and malnourished.

Also, experts estimate that as many as two million people in North Korea have died of hunger in the 1990s.

Meanwhile Suzanne Scholte, chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition and president of Defense Forum Foundation, has denounced the new agreement criticizing it for falling into the traps of Kim Jong-Il.

“The Six Party Talks have achieved Kim Jong-Il’s objectives: he can now openly claim that the DPRK is a full-fledged nuclear power and can manipulate other countries into providing him enormous aid so he can remain in power while stringing us along with false promises,” said Scholte.

The human rights leader said the agreement “ignores” the suffering of the North Korean people and “betrays” American values for an agreement which will “ultimately unravel.”

“We have helped this brutal regime to survive instead of pressing him to reform,” declared Scholte, who has spearheaded countless North Korea human rights campaign in Washington.

Describing the pact as an “enormous” setback for human rights and religious freedom, Scholte argued that no aid or support should be given to Kim Jong-Il until he resolves abductee cases, dismantle political prison camps, and allow North Koreans to travel freely.

In the political sphere, President Bush has defended the new agreement against critics as “unique” and a “good first step” towards normalizing relations with North Korea, though he did say that “there is a lot of work to be done to make sure that the commitments made in this agreement become a reality,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The United States has agreed to take steps towards removing North Korea’s designation as a terror-sponsoring state and ending U.S. trade sanctions.

The World Council of Churches and its member Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea have also welcomed the agreement.

Open Doors’ Estabrooks, who has visited North Korea once, concluded by relating the nuclear disarmament agreement to the history of Christianity on the Korean peninsula; Korea last month celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Pyongyang revival. The 1907 revival is said to have established the base of Korean Christianity.

“There is a kind of anticipation among Christians that God will answer their prayer for their brothers and sisters in the North,” said Estabrooks. “There is hope, a rising concern among Christians, that this is a major year of breakthrough and this [nuclear agreement] event could be a possible opening to bring peace and freedom to North Korea.”

The agreement was reached at the Six Party Talks in Beijing on Feb. 13.

Correction: Thursday, February 15, 2007:

An article on Thursday, February 15, 2007, about the North Korea nuclear disarmament agreement incorrectly reported that Korea will celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Pyongyang revival this year in March. The anniversary was actually observed already on January 14, 2007.