Tuesday, May 4, 2004

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North Korea talks to Selig Harrison

The Financial Times reports that North Korea has told Selig Harrison -- a North Korea expert who has acted as a conduit for North Korean diplomatic proposals in the past -- that it has no plans to sell its nuclear material to Al Qaeda:

North Korea, probably the world's most secretive and isolated nation, has offered an olive branch to the US by promising never to sell nuclear materials to terrorists, calling for Washington's friendship and saying it does not want to suffer the fate of Iraq.

Senior members of the communist regime have spelt out proposals for solving the simmering crisis over their nuclear weapons programmes in an unusually frank series of interviews with Selig Harrison, the Washington-based Korean expert....

Kim Yong-nam, deputy to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, said in a two-hour interview: "We're entitled to sell missiles to earn foreign exchange.

"But in regard to nuclear material our policy past, present and future is that we would never allow such transfers to al-Qaeda or anyone else. Never."

Paik Nam-soon, foreign minister, denounced al-Qaeda and other terrorists and said George W. Bush, US president, was using the shock of the September 11 attacks to turn Americans against North Korea. But he said: " The truth is that we want and need your friendship."

Mr Kim rejected the notion that North Korea would never give up nuclear weapons. He argued that Pyongyang - branded by Mr Bush as part of the "axis of evil" - was developing nuclear weapons purely to deter a US attack. "We don't want to suffer the fate of Iraq," he told Mr Harrison....

Mr Kim told Mr Harrison he thought Mr Bush was delaying resolution of the North Korean issue because of the war in Iraq and the US presidential election later this year.

But he said: "Time is not on his side. We are going to use this time 100 per cent effectively to strengthen our nuclear deterrent both quantitatively and qualitatively. Why doesn't he accept our proposal to dismantle our programme completely and verifiably through simultaneous steps by both sides?"

The problem with these kind of dimplomatic messages is that they merely confirm the predispositions of the different elements of the Bush administration. To Powell the pragmatists, this is evidence that North Korea's government is willing to strike a bargain in return for its continued existence. To Cheney the conservatives, North Korea's prior duplicity means that the government cannot be trusted under any circumstances. Overtures like these are merely evidence that the regime is close to cracking.

I'm betting that Bush will side with the conservatives on this one.

posted by Dan on 05.04.04 at 12:40 AM


There's nothing inconsistent between the positions you ascribe to Powell and to Cheney. They could both be true, and it's really a matter of which course is preferred for optimal results.

posted by: Ray on 05.04.04 at 12:40 AM [permalink]

It seems to me that whichever view is correct (the pragmatic or the conservative), this in unquestionably good news. Was this not the whole point behind our involvement in Iraq in the first place? The fact that it has already yielded such startling results (in Lybia and North Korea) should give the critics pause. And who knows what other belligerents are currently involved in frenzied negotiations behind the scenes?

posted by: Barry N. Johnson on 05.04.04 at 12:40 AM [permalink]

I've been waiting for evidence that the recent railroad disaster was not an accident, such as another one.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 05.04.04 at 12:40 AM [permalink]

We can try drawing a new line in the sand, and threatening a nuclear attack if a nuclear sale occurs. But warheads aren't that large.
The underlying fact is that North Korea is in the business of producing more and more nuclear weapons. Every couple of months or so it seems a new warhead goes on-line, and most likely the rate of production will only increase.
Since the debacle in Iraq, it's harder than ever to see how force can be used against North Korea. What then is left but promises of safety and economic assistance?
But as you suggest, Mr. Bush wants no truck with evildoers.

posted by: Scared on 05.04.04 at 12:40 AM [permalink]

Scared: Force was never a good option against North Korea as it risked so many South Korean lives.

The problem remains How can we ever trust such a regime? We cannot and experiece shows that they will almost surely continue to cheat.

Den Beste posted a theory last year that our strategy should be (and is) to starve them out till the regime collapses. There is a lot of information coming from N. Korea suggesting this will happen. The latest train wreck really has to hurt as both trains were filled with energy, a resouce in very short supply there and the damage to the rail system will only make things worse for their economy.

posted by: tallan on 05.04.04 at 12:40 AM [permalink]

pragmatism simply makes no sense with this regime.

posted by: kluless on 05.04.04 at 12:40 AM [permalink]

That you can ascribe the term "conservative" to Cheney and juxtapose it against the "pragmatism" of Powell is just plain wrong on so many levels Dan. Cheney is not a "conservative". He's a political and big business operator who works in the Republican party. He does not represent "conservative" values. He does however side with the hardliner and reactionary pro-confrontation military wing of thought within the Republican party - a position more neoconservative than conservative.

In addition, Powell is not a "pragmatist". Powell always has been "conservative" about the use of military force, favoring it only if strongly supported by the public and delivered with overwhelming force as a last resort for strictly Machiavellian National Security Interests. For instance he opposed the Bosnian/Serbia invasion for years.

However he cannot be called a pragmatic, since he has gone along with some truly pathetically unpragmatic ideas. Suffice to say both your labels are wrong, and your analysis messed up. What Bush wants is to get relected. Hence he will punt the ball to buy time. What he choices in December may be quite different, but for the time being all he wants to do is keep the lid on the pot.

posted by: Oldman on 05.04.04 at 12:40 AM [permalink]

One of the drawbacks of having weak Presidents is the difficulty they have breaking bureaucratic deadlocks on important and even urgent issues. This is what is going on here.

The default is Cheney's side of the Cheney/ Powell disagreement on North Korea, because this is the side that requires no action to be taken. But we don't know that from the President, or from anyone who speaks for the President. This leads to the thought that the powers within the administration have just agreed to disagree until some major crisis either proves one side right or forces action one way or the other. In any event is it not logical to expect a President who entered office with no knowledge of Korea other than its approximate location on a map to break a stalemate between determined senior officials with strong views on a difficult subject.

posted by: Zathras on 05.04.04 at 12:40 AM [permalink]

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