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NOW, We’re (Not) Talking

Perhaps the Obama administration has finally lost its infatuation with engagement. This marks a step in the right direction and a departure from the Bush administration and the first two years of this one:

The United States, South Korea and Japan are all balking at China’s request for emergency talks with North Korea over the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, as high-profile military exercises between South Korea and the United States in the Yellow Sea continued on Monday in a show of force.

Obama administration officials said that a return to the table with North Korea, as China sought this weekend, would be rewarding the North for provocative behavior over the past week, including its deadly artillery attack on a South Korean island and its disclosure of a uranium enrichment plant. Beijing called for emergency talks with North Korea, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Russia, participants in the six-party nuclear talks, which have been suspended indefinitely.

Finally. Now — what’s the rationale for talks with the mullahs? I substitute “Iran” for “North Korea” and you see the point:

“The United States and a host of others, I don’t think, are not interested in stabilizing the region through a series of P.R. activities,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman.

He said that the talks “without an understanding and agreement from the [Iranians] to both end their behavior … but also to come to the table with a seriousness of purpose on the denuclearization issue — without that seriousness of purpose, they’re just a P.R. activity.”

But back to North Korea. Step one is to stop doing unhelpful things — rewarding bad behavior by the North Koreans and indulging in the fantasy that if we are polite enough (and reticent enough when it comes to human rights), China will come to our aid. The good news is that there is, albeit quite belatedly, a recognition that China is of no help here. (“Rejecting the emergency talks amounts to a pointed rebuke to China. The United States wanted China to signal clearly that North Korea’s aggressive behavior would not be tolerated. Instead, Beijing remained neutral about who was responsible for the recent flare-up, and offered only to provide a venue for all sides to air their differences.”) The bad news is that the administration has yet to come up with an alternative.

It’s not only the WikiLeaks documents that are revealing the flawed assumptions of the Obama foreign policy approach. Every day, reality intrudes and tells us that the world is not as the administration imagines it to be.


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