The State Department’s chief North Korean negotiator, Christopher Hill, is currently in Pyongyang. He should not be there; his presence can only worsen the state of affairs between the U.S. and North Korea. In fact, it already has.
To understand why requires some background. In February of this year, Hill negotiated a two-stage interim arrangement with North Korea. During the first stage, the militant state agreed to shut down and seal by April 14 its reactor in Yongbyon, under the supervision of international inspectors. In the second, the North Koreans promised to disable all their nuclear facilities and to disclose all their nuclear programs. In return, the United States and Japan agreed to lift some sanctions and to start the process of normalizing relations—and to provide a million tons of heavy fuel oil or an equivalent amount of aid. The State Department called this deal a “breakthrough.”
Not formally part of the deal was America’s promise to allow the return of about $25 million in North Korean funds held in the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia (BDA). In September 2005, the Treasury Department effectively froze these assets by designating BDA a “primary money-laundering concern.” (BDA had previously helped North Korean leader Kim Jong Il hide his cash, distribute counterfeit American currency, and launder the proceeds of other state-sponsored criminal activities.) Pyongyang refused to continue participating in Beijing-sponsored disarmament talks until all frozen funds were returned, and the Chinese sided with Kim’s government. In a humiliating about-face, Washington ultimately bowed and freed all the monies as of April 11 of this year.
• Alan Ayckbourn’s Intimate Exchanges, now playing at 59E59 Theaters through July 1 as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival, is the talk of Manhattan—or at least that part of Manhattan whose residents go to the theater fairly often. I raved about it in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, describing it as “a cycle of eight head-bangingly funny plays that leaves no possible doubt of Mr. Ayckbourn’s seriousness—or his ingenuity.” Alas, Intimate Exchanges, like most of Ayckbourn’s 70-odd plays, is (A) out of print in the U.S. and (B) doesn’t read nearly as well as it acts, while Alain Resnais’ French-language film version, Smoking/No Smoking, is not available on video. If you can possibly get to Intimate Exchanges, or any other Ayckbourn play, by all means do so. (Relatively Speaking, one of his earlier efforts, is playing at Connecticut’s Westport Country Playhouse July 12-28.)
And if not? Then allow me to direct you to The Crafty Art of Playmaking (Palgrave/Macmillan, 173 pp., $22.95). Practicing artists rarely take the time to sit down and write books about how they do what they do—they’re usually too busy doing it. I don’t know what possessed Ayckbourn to make himself an exception to that rule, but his nuts-and-bolts guide to playwriting and directing, originally published in 2002, is one of the most readable and revealing books ever written about the stage.
As the father of three daughters, and as someone whose intellectual interests lie lately in the realm of intelligence and counter-terrorism, I can’t say that the subject of circumcision is one that I find myself particularly interested in or eager to write about. But I cannot refrain.
Andrew Sullivan has published a Male Genital Mutilation Update, in which he argues that circumcision is a crime, a form of “child abuse,” being committed on “millions of men without their consent.” It is one of a series of posts by him in the same vein over the years. John Podhoretz has called Sullivan’s argument a “psychotic diatribe,” but calling it “psychotic” lets Sullivan off far too easily.
The UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) on Tuesday marked the end of its disappointing first year of existence by terminating independent human-rights monitoring for Belarus and Cuba. To make matters worse, the HRC adopted two measures to continue its special scrutiny of Israel.
These actions were part of a last-minute compromise. As incredible as it may seem, the final agreement could have been even more atrocious. In the days leading up to the deal, China worked hard to weaken the council’s power in selecting nations to be monitored for human-rights violations. Fortunately, Beijing did not achieve its objectives: “It is not a perfect text, but it represents the maximum common understanding,” said the Chinese representative, Jingye Cheng.
That assessment is on the mark, though not in the way Jingye intended. The 47-member council has become another battleground between the democracies of the world and their antagonists. The compromises that have been reached are “seriously flawed,” to borrow language from the State Department’s reaction to Tuesday’s deal.