Thursday, March 13, 2003

From The Madison Capitol Times, 3/13/03:
U.S. failing on N. Korea

By Edward Reed

We are witnessing one of the greatest failures of United States
diplomacy in the last 50 years, and one of the most dangerous.

I am not talking about Iraq, though the current crisis would certainly
be in the running.

I am speaking of North Korea.

Look how far we have fallen.

In October 2000, Gen. Jo Myong Rok, head of the North Korean military
and personal representative of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il,
held discussions in the Oval Office with President Clinton.

A joint communique issued by the United States and North Korea at that
time included the following paragraph:

"The United States and the DPRK have stated that they are prepared to
undertake a new direction in their relations. As a crucial first step,
the two sides stated that neither government would have a hostile
intent toward the other and confirmed the commitment of both
governments to make every effort in the future to build a new
relationship free from past enmity."

This meeting was the culmination of months of synchronized diplomacy
by the Clinton administration and Kim Dae Jung, then president of
South Korea.

The United States and South Korea agreed that security on the
peninsula could best be assured, not by confrontation, but by
encouraging change in North Korea.

Their aim was to create a climate in which North Korean leaders would
feel safe to embark on a major overhaul of their failing system.

The summit meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas in June 2000
reassured the North that South Korea was ready to be part of the
solution to their problems and not a threat.

This was followed by a burst of economic, military and cultural
consultations and agreements across the dividing line.

The mood on the Korean peninsula changed dramatically.

North Korea then reached out to normalize relations with all of our
allies, including the countries of the European Union, Australia and

After the October 2000 meeting with Clinton, negotiations began on a
formal agreement to limit North Korean missile sales in exchange for
U.S. support for accelerated economic change in the North.

For Koreans in the South and North, after 50 years of hostile
division, peace was tantalizingly in sight.

Where are we just over two years later?

In a breathtaking tit-for-tat escalation, the 1994 Agreed Framework
freezing North Korea's nuclear program has come totally unraveled.

North Korea, convinced that it is next in line after Iraq for a
pre-emptive U.S. attack, is moving quickly to acquire at least the
appearance of a nuclear deterrence and to demonstrate its military

President Bush has specifically mentioned the possibility of a
military solution if diplomacy fails.

But, where is the diplomacy?

The Bush administration rejects North Korea's offer to resolve the
stand-off through dialogue.

As someone who has worked to promote dialogue and reconciliation with
North Korea for over 10 years, I am deeply saddened, frustrated and
angry that it has come to this.

How and why did things deteriorate so rapidly?

The revelation last October that North Korea has been seeking
technology to develop nuclear weapons was certainly shocking.

The most surprising thing was that it didn't fit the pattern.

There was overwhelming evidence that North Korea's leaders were moving
toward a normal political and economic relationship with the rest of
the world.

Even after 9-11, North Korea issued a statement of sympathy and
quickly ratified two pending international anti-terrorism conventions.

Why would North Korea throw away the diplomatic and economic progress
it had made?

I believe that if approached in a way that allowed their leaders to
assess their options carefully, North Korea would have chosen a
different path.

Using quiet diplomacy rather than confrontation, the U.S. could have
acknowledged the positive trends in North Korea while pointing out
that a nuclear program was not compatible with the goals of economic
opening and normal relations.

Giving North Korea an opportunity to consider and respond to this
information may have yielded a very different outcome, one that
maintained the momentum toward engagement and peace.

It is hard not to suspect that the Bush administration did not desire
this outcome.

They came into office viewing President Clinton's negotiations with
North Korea as appeasement.

After including North Korea in the "axis of evil" the nuclear issue
was seized upon as confirmation of this label.

So far, the United States has rejected North Korea's offer for direct
talks to defuse the situation.

North Korea's leaders are certainly not blameless in this.

They have overreacted with unnecessary provocation.

But, their reaction was completely predictable based on past behavior
and their perception of U.S. threats to their security.

History clearly shows that a policy of isolation, sanctions and
military threat will not work with North Korea.

It is a policy that is opposed even by South Korea, our closest allies
and those directly under North Korea's guns.

It can only lead to catastrophe.

The progress over the last two years clearly indicates a better

The Bush administration must return to the path of dialogue.

To refuse to even begin a conversation with an adversary who has
consistently sought it is to fail at the most fundamental task of

Talking is not a reward for bad behavior; it is the fundamental
requirement for diplomacy.

If the United States continues to refuse the invitation to talk, the
North Koreans will be confirmed in their conclusion that the kind of
war planned for Iraq will soon be turned on them.

And I will begin to wonder if "bringing North Korea down," no matter
what the consequences to millions in Korea and the region, has been
the Bush administration's policy from the beginning.