US-North Korean Nuclear Negotiations


John Bolton was in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, August 31st, complaining again about the US negotiations with North Korea over the nuclear shutdown.  He said that the US was conceding too much by offering to take North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terror in exchange for a shutdown.  He also said that the US should not recognize the dictatorship of North Korean as a legitimate government by reestablishing relations with the country, saying ‘we haven’t recognized democracy in Taiwan, why should we recognize autocracy in North Korea?’.

 He’s right to point out the hypocritical nature of recognizing a government with such a poor human rights record, but there’s been no indication so far ,from what I’ve read, that the US would embrace such a move; there would be major opposition in the Senate to any treaty that recognized a country with such egregious human rights abuses.  It seems that Bolton would almost rather have us go back to not talking at all, and has been firing these barrages ever since his inglorious departure from his recess-appointment as US Ambassador to the UN.  After all, it was that leadership change that gave the breathing room for this kind of policy shift in the first place, and Bolton has never been happy about it. 

That said, I agree that the US is in danger of agreeing to too many concessions in a desperate attempt to conclude a successful deal.  The Bush administration is looking for any foreign policy success it can get.  I think the North Koreans smell this desperation and are dragging their feet and announcing purportedly wild concessions from the US side to embarrass and pressure the Americans in an effort to see what they can get.  The US should talk with the North Koreans, but we should not rush to conclude a bad deal.

In response to Bolton’s op-ed, Gordon Chang, who currently writes for the conservative Commentary magazine, but has been widely published elsewhere, wrote in the WSJ today that the US was indeed making concessions to obtain cooperation from Pyongyang, but that we were getting a good deal.  He listed a number of reasons why now was the right time to negotiate: North Korea was willing to concede to influence the upcoming South Korean elections, the North Korean economy had shrunk for the first time in 8 years last year, and Kim Jong-il’s poor health and the current succession struggle.  I did not know, but apparently, Kim recently received surgery, most likely for a bypass, which may explain the sudden willingness to negotiate on the North Koreans’ side.  


Theoretically speaking, I have mixed feelings about the US recognizing North Korea and reestablishing relations.  If it were to happen, depending on the details of an agreement, I might see the benefit.  All our pressure so far (decades of military and economic pressure) has failed to topple the regime .  With the testing of a nuclear weapon October 9, 2006, further military pressure brings added dangers, so a deal that would neutralize that threat and perhaps fundamentally change the situation may be tolerable because the status quo is obiously not working.  This may even be worth recognizing such a hideous government.  All of this is purely speculative because we have no idea how far the negotiations will go though. 


For Japan’s part, the country still maintains its stance that negotiations cannot move forward without a resolution to the abduction issue.  With the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the 11th though, this policy may change slightly with any new leadership.  


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