On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.
“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”
South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.
And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.
With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?
The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.