A Terrible Development In Our North Korea Policy

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 12, 2009

For years, North Korean has tried to subvert the six-party talks that included it, the United States, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia, in favor of trying to get the United States to conduct business bilaterally with the Hermit Kingdom. The United States resisted this; quite properly pointing out that South Korea and Japan had a lot of skin in the game, and could not be wished away from the talks. Moreover, China and Russia were needed to exert pressure and influence on North Korea.

But now, we see that the Obama Administration has capitulated to Kim Jong-Il:

The US shifted its policy today, saying it is now willing to meet one on one with North Korea if that is helpful to bring Pyongyang back to the nuclear negotiations.

US envoy Stephen Bosworth got the green light from the other members of the 6-party talks, negotiations to rid Pyongyang of its nuclear program, during meetings in the region in recent days.

[. . .]

North Korea has recently said it will never return to the nuke talks… so is there an expectation now that they might?

“We’ll wait and see,” the senior official said.

What? Why would the North Koreans return to the talks anymore? They have gotten what they wanted; bilateral discussions with the United States. They have been able to cut Japan and South Korea out of the discussions, despite the latter’s clear interests in working to ensure that nuclear proliferation will be controlled on the Korean peninsula. And now, China and Russia can no longer be asked within the context of the six-party talks to try to get the North Koreans to be reasonable. Why on Earth would the North Koreans give up these massive gains, and consent to go back to the six-party talks, and how would it even remotely be possible to convince them to do so, now that the Obama Administration has given in to the North Koreans on the issue of bilateral negotiations.

It would perhaps be something if bilateral talks could actually convince the North Koreans to be reasonable concerning the issue of nuclear proliferation. But who actually thinks that will happen? The North Koreans have become experts at wringing one concession after another out of the United States; there is nothing to cause us to think that they will stop doing so now that they have succeeded at getting the Obama Administration to abandon the longstanding American interest in holding six-party talks.

At the end of the day, an Administration that promised to consult our allies more often, and promised to try to help rally international opinion to assist in achieving American foreign policy goals has behaved just like those supposedly dangerous unilateralists in the Bush Administration by excluding its allies from talks with North Korea, and preventing countries that could actually exercise influence with the North Koreans from being able to sit at the table. No foreign policy gains whatsoever will come out of this move, and it will set the stage for yet more capitulations in the future when it comes to the Obama Administration’s dealings with North Korea.

Feel good about this? Well, neither do I.

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