At a time of great change in the world, it is helpful to have a fundamental American principle that focuses on goals and objectives.
When thinking of U.S. relations with North Korea, that fundamental American principle comes from the United States Navy and is enshrined in the battle flag aboard the USS Niagara during the War of 1812 – “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”
“Don’t Give Up the Ship”
As the Trump Administration prepares for a second face-to-face meeting sometime this spring with North Korean Leader Kim Jung Un, it is hoped that the Commander in Chief carries a message of this American and U.S. Navy principle as part of his conversation and meeting agenda.
Fifty-one years ago this week the USS Pueblo (AGER-2), a commissioned U.S. Navy ship on an intelligence mission in the Sea of Japan, was fired upon by North Korean MiG fighter jets and patrol boats. During this violent at-sea encounter, the North Koreans boarded our ship, killed a sailor and then captured and imprisoned her 82-member crew, holding them in North Korea for 11 months. The capture of the Pueblo represented the first capture of a U.S. Navy ship since the War of 1812.
The “Pueblo Incident” occurred in the final months of President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, amid the Vietnam War, the onset of the 1968 Tet Offensive and in the context of the geopolitical rivalries of the Cold War. To secure the crew’s release in December 1968, the Johnson Administration was forced to provide a written apology, admit to the ship’s spy mission, and pledge that the U.S. would avoid missions of this type in the future.
A Pusan arrival would also be symbolic – occurring entirely within the Korean Peninsula and a real gesture of gratitude to South Korean President Moon Jae – for his efforts to build a new relationship with North Korean Leader Kim Jung Un. The importance of embracing this new moment cannot be understated.
Although the crew returned home, the ship was left behind and remains on display – an old political symbol of North Korean victory over the U.S. The United States, the U.S. Navy and most importantly the former officers, men, families and veterans remain seized with our efforts to have the ship returned.
It is time to hear their enduring voices and return their ship.
To build the new relationship – Return the Pueblo
To its credit, the Trump administration, through the personal diplomacy of President Trump with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and the partner diplomacy of South Korea’s President Moon, a new relationship is at hand between the United States and North Korea.
In order for that new relationship to work, there needs to be some level of trust between nations.
According to former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg, North Korea indicated that they would be willing to repatriate the Pueblo in exchange for high-level talks in Pyongyang, with the American side to be represented by the secretary of state. This has happened.
Both sides are engaged in high-level talks, including both Secretary of State Pompeo and President Trump. These discussions have involved both message delivery and receipt of listening to each other. It is time now to return the Pueblo, which is still on propaganda display at its Napo location, where it has sat since October 1999.
Envisioning the return
After the ice, high tides, fog and heavy rains of spring have abated along the Potong River, a North Korean Navy ship or merchant marine noncombatant could tow the Pueblo into the Yellow Sea to be turned over to a U.S. non-combatant auxiliary for an overnight tow to the South Korean port of Pusan.
An arrival in Pusan would provide a positive signal of support for developing relationship between North Korea and South Korea, as well as an opportunity for diplomacy with U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris to accept the vessel and align its return to the broader ethic of the newly re-established POW-MIA process that supports the veterans and families of the Pueblo crew.
A Pusan arrival would also be symbolic – occurring entirely within the Korean Peninsula and a real gesture of gratitude to South Korean President Moon Jae – for his efforts to build a new relationship with North Korean Leader Kim Jung Un.
The importance of embracing this new moment cannot be understated.
For North Korea, your desire for a new, more positive relationship with the U.S. would be enhanced if the ship of long ago was returned to her home.
It is time for the Pueblo to return home.
“Don’t Give Up the Ship”, Mr. President!