Commentary Magazine


Topic: Christopher Hill

McCain on North Korea

While the mainstream media continues to fawn over Christopher Hill’s efforts in the Six Party talks, John McCain sets out his own views on North Korea (and Asia more generally) in the Asian Wall Street Journal. While much of the piece contains relatively familiar words of support for free trade and strengthening existing alliances, this jumps out:

We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks. We must reinvigorate the trilateral coordination process with Japan and South Korea. And we must never squander the trust of our allies and the respect for our highest office by promising that the president will embark on an open-ended, unconditional personal negotiation with a dictator responsible for running an international criminal enterprise, a covert nuclear weapons program and a massive system of gulags.

The first two sentences are aimed squarely at the Bush administration. Many voices are urging McCain to get to the left of Bush on foreign policy. But here McCain goes the other way, in essence crying foul on the increasingly preposterous attempts (detailed by Stephen Hayes most recently) to ignore North Korea’s nuclear testing and proliferation (not to mention gross human rights abuses) for the sake of what some call “legacy deals.”

McCain continued these themes in a speech today on nuclear proliferation, stating that

North Korea pursues a nuclear weapons program to the point where, today, the dictator Kim Jong-Il has tested a nuclear weapon, and almost certainly possesses several more nuclear warheads. And it has shared its nuclear and missile know-how with others, including Syria. It is a vital national interest for the North Korean nuclear program to be completely, verifiably and irreversibly ended. . . .

Again, this criticism seems to be directed mainly at the unwillingness of the Bush administration to push for verifiable restraints on North Korea’s nuclear program. The latter may not do much to endear McCain to mainstream pundits, but it will likely cheer the conservative base (which has grown increasingly disgusted with Bush’s second term foreign policy record). North Korea is one issue on which McCain seems inclined to break with Bush, albeit not the way most critics envisioned.

While the mainstream media continues to fawn over Christopher Hill’s efforts in the Six Party talks, John McCain sets out his own views on North Korea (and Asia more generally) in the Asian Wall Street Journal. While much of the piece contains relatively familiar words of support for free trade and strengthening existing alliances, this jumps out:

We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks. We must reinvigorate the trilateral coordination process with Japan and South Korea. And we must never squander the trust of our allies and the respect for our highest office by promising that the president will embark on an open-ended, unconditional personal negotiation with a dictator responsible for running an international criminal enterprise, a covert nuclear weapons program and a massive system of gulags.

The first two sentences are aimed squarely at the Bush administration. Many voices are urging McCain to get to the left of Bush on foreign policy. But here McCain goes the other way, in essence crying foul on the increasingly preposterous attempts (detailed by Stephen Hayes most recently) to ignore North Korea’s nuclear testing and proliferation (not to mention gross human rights abuses) for the sake of what some call “legacy deals.”

McCain continued these themes in a speech today on nuclear proliferation, stating that

North Korea pursues a nuclear weapons program to the point where, today, the dictator Kim Jong-Il has tested a nuclear weapon, and almost certainly possesses several more nuclear warheads. And it has shared its nuclear and missile know-how with others, including Syria. It is a vital national interest for the North Korean nuclear program to be completely, verifiably and irreversibly ended. . . .

Again, this criticism seems to be directed mainly at the unwillingness of the Bush administration to push for verifiable restraints on North Korea’s nuclear program. The latter may not do much to endear McCain to mainstream pundits, but it will likely cheer the conservative base (which has grown increasingly disgusted with Bush’s second term foreign policy record). North Korea is one issue on which McCain seems inclined to break with Bush, albeit not the way most critics envisioned.

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Faith-Based Deterrence

“Some people imagine there is a building somewhere with a secret door they can open and find a group of scantily clad women enriching uranium.”

And with that unspeakably hilarious excuse, our chief North Korea negotiator, Christopher Hill of the State Department, has quipped America into submission. Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a piece by John Bolton about Mr. Hill and the startling failure of the American effort to disarm North Korea. Bolton writes:

According to numerous press reports and Mr. Hill’s April 10 congressional briefing, the U.S. will be expected to accept on faith, literally, North Korean assertions that it has not engaged in significant uranium enrichment, and that it has not proliferated nuclear technology or materials to countries like Syria and Iran.

Indeed, the North will not even make the declaration it earlier agreed to, but merely “acknowledge” that we are concerned about reports of such activities – which the United States itself will actually list. By some accounts, the North Korean statement will not even be public. In exchange for this utter nonperformance, the North will be rewarded with political “compensation” (its word): Concurrent with its “declaration,” it will be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and freed from the Trading With the Enemy Act.

Axis, schmaxis. As Bolton points out, the worst is yet to come. North Korea has been compensated for refusing to comply with the least intrusive of inspections. If Iran’s mullahs had ever considered being transparent about their own enrichment, they’re laughing about it now. The question of America’s role as the world’s police department is a debatable one. But if we’re  going to be the donut-chomping, overtime-collecting cop who was grandfathered into the force under outdated qualifications, who’s going to object? Only the nations we’ve pledged to protect, I suppose

“Some people imagine there is a building somewhere with a secret door they can open and find a group of scantily clad women enriching uranium.”

And with that unspeakably hilarious excuse, our chief North Korea negotiator, Christopher Hill of the State Department, has quipped America into submission. Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a piece by John Bolton about Mr. Hill and the startling failure of the American effort to disarm North Korea. Bolton writes:

According to numerous press reports and Mr. Hill’s April 10 congressional briefing, the U.S. will be expected to accept on faith, literally, North Korean assertions that it has not engaged in significant uranium enrichment, and that it has not proliferated nuclear technology or materials to countries like Syria and Iran.

Indeed, the North will not even make the declaration it earlier agreed to, but merely “acknowledge” that we are concerned about reports of such activities – which the United States itself will actually list. By some accounts, the North Korean statement will not even be public. In exchange for this utter nonperformance, the North will be rewarded with political “compensation” (its word): Concurrent with its “declaration,” it will be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and freed from the Trading With the Enemy Act.

Axis, schmaxis. As Bolton points out, the worst is yet to come. North Korea has been compensated for refusing to comply with the least intrusive of inspections. If Iran’s mullahs had ever considered being transparent about their own enrichment, they’re laughing about it now. The question of America’s role as the world’s police department is a debatable one. But if we’re  going to be the donut-chomping, overtime-collecting cop who was grandfathered into the force under outdated qualifications, who’s going to object? Only the nations we’ve pledged to protect, I suppose

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Vulnerable North Korea

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva late last week. Washington’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks was doing his best to show progress in the inconclusive negotiations to disarm Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state. To date, Pyongyang has shown little inclination to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons programs in compliance with a prior agreement to do so by the end of last year.

A weakened Bush administration appears to be at a loss as to what to do in the face of the North’s recent intransigence. In the first week of this month, Hill imposed a March-end deadline on Pyongyang to honor its commitments, but it is apparent that the announced due date is meaningless and that the United States will impose no penalty for a failure to meet his timeline.

Diplomacy may require patience, but it certainly works best with the threat of coercion, especially where rogues armed with dangerous weapons are involved. Analysts say there is no military option against North Korea. Even if this notion is correct—which it is not—the tolerance of the President is a fundamental mistake. Events over the past several weeks show that Washington is not playing its strongest cards at an important moment.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter is adversely affecting the North’s autumn crop of wheat and barley. This abnormal weather comes on top of last August’s devastating floods. As a result, the UN’s World Food Program expects a larger-than-usual shortfall in North Korea’ harvest. Surging grain prices on global markets do not help Kim Jong Il. Moreover, both China and South Korea have substantially reduced shipments of food and fertilizer to the North Korean regime. “For Kim Jong Il, this will be his most difficult year,” says Park Syung-je of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul.

The key is the new South Korean government. President Lee Myung-bak has announced that Seoul’s aid will be closely tied to Pyongyang’s adherence to its pledges of disarmament. Moreover, Lee, who travels to Washington in the middle of April, wants to align his North Korean polices with Washington’s. This means that the South will largely abandon the approaches of his predecessors, namely the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae Jung and the nearly identical Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul’s new approach isolates China and makes it the sole supporter of North Korea. This permits the United States to put Beijing on the spot.

So the Bush administration has new tools to coerce Pyongyang and, more importantly, Beijing. The main issue, therefore, is whether Washington has the will to use them.

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva late last week. Washington’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks was doing his best to show progress in the inconclusive negotiations to disarm Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state. To date, Pyongyang has shown little inclination to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons programs in compliance with a prior agreement to do so by the end of last year.

A weakened Bush administration appears to be at a loss as to what to do in the face of the North’s recent intransigence. In the first week of this month, Hill imposed a March-end deadline on Pyongyang to honor its commitments, but it is apparent that the announced due date is meaningless and that the United States will impose no penalty for a failure to meet his timeline.

Diplomacy may require patience, but it certainly works best with the threat of coercion, especially where rogues armed with dangerous weapons are involved. Analysts say there is no military option against North Korea. Even if this notion is correct—which it is not—the tolerance of the President is a fundamental mistake. Events over the past several weeks show that Washington is not playing its strongest cards at an important moment.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter is adversely affecting the North’s autumn crop of wheat and barley. This abnormal weather comes on top of last August’s devastating floods. As a result, the UN’s World Food Program expects a larger-than-usual shortfall in North Korea’ harvest. Surging grain prices on global markets do not help Kim Jong Il. Moreover, both China and South Korea have substantially reduced shipments of food and fertilizer to the North Korean regime. “For Kim Jong Il, this will be his most difficult year,” says Park Syung-je of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul.

The key is the new South Korean government. President Lee Myung-bak has announced that Seoul’s aid will be closely tied to Pyongyang’s adherence to its pledges of disarmament. Moreover, Lee, who travels to Washington in the middle of April, wants to align his North Korean polices with Washington’s. This means that the South will largely abandon the approaches of his predecessors, namely the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae Jung and the nearly identical Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul’s new approach isolates China and makes it the sole supporter of North Korea. This permits the United States to put Beijing on the spot.

So the Bush administration has new tools to coerce Pyongyang and, more importantly, Beijing. The main issue, therefore, is whether Washington has the will to use them.

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No More Secret Promises

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he wants North Korea fully to disclose its nuclear weapons program by the end of this month. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they can certainly do,” he told reporters after a speech at Columbia University. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve already agreed to do.”

There is no question that the North Koreans failed to provide their promised declaration of nuclear activities by the end of last year. The issue is whether they have a legitimate excuse. Hill’s North Korean counterpart Kim Gye Gwan says the United States has failed to live up to its side of the bargain by not taking his country off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and keeping American trading sanctions in place. Both of these actions were covered in an agreement reached last February as a part of the so-called six-party talks.

So who is at fault? The North Koreans have been making the point that Hill has been making side deals on the pace of normalization and that Washington has not honored the commitments it has made. Although Pyongyang’s diplomats are especially proficient at lying, Kim’s charges are not entirely unbelievable this time. After all, the current flap over the terrorism-sponsorship list and trade sanctions is reminiscent of the dispute over North Korean funds held in a Macau bank last year. During that imbroglio, Hill appeared to have made a secret commitment to Pyongyang to return those monies (which the United States eventually did in an especially humiliating climbdown).

Of course, we will never know what is going on until both the United States and North Korea open their archives. Yet there is one conclusion we can reach now: we always get into trouble when we engage in secret diplomacy with Kim Jong Il’s regime. There is no legitimate reason for the North Koreans to refuse to honor their promises. Yet we hand them excuse after excuse if we make secret concessions. If Hill can’t keep the diplomatic process on track without promising too much to Pyongyang, then the six-party talks are not sustainable and are not worth maintaining.

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he wants North Korea fully to disclose its nuclear weapons program by the end of this month. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they can certainly do,” he told reporters after a speech at Columbia University. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve already agreed to do.”

There is no question that the North Koreans failed to provide their promised declaration of nuclear activities by the end of last year. The issue is whether they have a legitimate excuse. Hill’s North Korean counterpart Kim Gye Gwan says the United States has failed to live up to its side of the bargain by not taking his country off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and keeping American trading sanctions in place. Both of these actions were covered in an agreement reached last February as a part of the so-called six-party talks.

So who is at fault? The North Koreans have been making the point that Hill has been making side deals on the pace of normalization and that Washington has not honored the commitments it has made. Although Pyongyang’s diplomats are especially proficient at lying, Kim’s charges are not entirely unbelievable this time. After all, the current flap over the terrorism-sponsorship list and trade sanctions is reminiscent of the dispute over North Korean funds held in a Macau bank last year. During that imbroglio, Hill appeared to have made a secret commitment to Pyongyang to return those monies (which the United States eventually did in an especially humiliating climbdown).

Of course, we will never know what is going on until both the United States and North Korea open their archives. Yet there is one conclusion we can reach now: we always get into trouble when we engage in secret diplomacy with Kim Jong Il’s regime. There is no legitimate reason for the North Koreans to refuse to honor their promises. Yet we hand them excuse after excuse if we make secret concessions. If Hill can’t keep the diplomatic process on track without promising too much to Pyongyang, then the six-party talks are not sustainable and are not worth maintaining.

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Smoking Out China

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

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Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

Why is he doing that? Hill provided one clue yesterday when he was in Beijing. There the American envoy told reporters that Pyongyang was delaying the issuance of its declaration because “to acknowledge certain activities would invite additional questioning on our part and further scrutiny on things.” By “certain activities,” Hill was primarily referring to North Korea’s efforts to develop a program to build nukes with uranium cores.

There is, in all probability, great concern in Beijing that a complete North Korean declaration would reveal the Chinese origin of Pyongyang’s uranium program. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the head of a global black-market ring in nuclear weapons technology, said he began working with North Korea around 1991. Khan agreed to transfer Chinese-designed equipment to Pyongyang, and China helped him deliver it. When Khan’s proliferation activities were exposed in the early part of this decade, Beijing persuaded Islamabad to end its investigation, pardon Khan, and keep him away from American interrogators. Beijing has steadfastly professed that it has been “completely in the dark” about Kim Jong Il’s uranium program when it is clear that it had substantial knowledge.

These denials are, as intelligence analyst John Loftus notes, “a real signal of partnership.” Some speculate that the Chinese may even have developed the long-term master plan that contemplated Pyongyang giving up its visible plutonium weapons program and keeping its covert uranium one. In any event, on Monday Agence France-Presse reported that China has developed contingency plans to grab North Korea’s nukes if that is necessary. Such an exercise would, of course, eliminate evidence of Beijing’s nuclear assistance to Pyongyang. In light of all the evidence, it appears that China recently ordered North Korea not to provide its promised declaration of its nuclear activities.

Another round of six-party talks, which Christopher Hill wants, will not help persuade North Korea to give up its arsenal. Yet insisting on a complete declaration and dragging out the disarmament process may help smoke out the world’s most dangerous proliferator. And I’m not referring to North Korea.

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North Korea’s Good Excuse

January 1 was the date, under an agreement negotiated last February, by which North Korea was supposed to come clean about its nuclear-weapons program. But the deadline came and went without a response — until January 5, when Pyongyang declared that “as far as the nuclear declaration on which wrong opinion is being built up by some quarters is concerned, [North Korea] has done what it should do.” In others, North Korea was insisting that it already done what it had not done.

After an initial and exceptionally tepid reaction from the State Department calling the broken promise “unfortunate,” the U.S. is now ratcheting down the pressure. “They’re engaging the international media, in their own way,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. “It is an important point that in none of this have any of the parties been backing away at all from their commitment to the process.”

Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, and now traveling in the region, has chimed in, explaining that “the problem is the [North] is not often automatically inclined to transparency and so it’s a little difficult for them.”

Connecting the Dots has three questions:

Why is the United States offering excuses for North Korean behavior?

What lesson is Iran, another aspiring nuclear power, likely to draw from this episode?

What is the right word for characterizing American behavior?

January 1 was the date, under an agreement negotiated last February, by which North Korea was supposed to come clean about its nuclear-weapons program. But the deadline came and went without a response — until January 5, when Pyongyang declared that “as far as the nuclear declaration on which wrong opinion is being built up by some quarters is concerned, [North Korea] has done what it should do.” In others, North Korea was insisting that it already done what it had not done.

After an initial and exceptionally tepid reaction from the State Department calling the broken promise “unfortunate,” the U.S. is now ratcheting down the pressure. “They’re engaging the international media, in their own way,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. “It is an important point that in none of this have any of the parties been backing away at all from their commitment to the process.”

Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, and now traveling in the region, has chimed in, explaining that “the problem is the [North] is not often automatically inclined to transparency and so it’s a little difficult for them.”

Connecting the Dots has three questions:

Why is the United States offering excuses for North Korean behavior?

What lesson is Iran, another aspiring nuclear power, likely to draw from this episode?

What is the right word for characterizing American behavior?

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Lessons Unlearned on North Korea

The latest collapse of nuclear negotiations with North Korea provides some clear lessons, but we are not learning them.

The New Year began with the flat refusal by Pyongyang to provide the inventory of her programs that she had promised. For good measure, North Korean state media editorialized on January 4th that “Our republic will continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the US stepping up its nuclear war moves.”

Today’s Washington Post indicates we still do not grasp the situation. It quotes envoy Christopher Hill: “We understand that this [preparation of an inventory] is always a difficult process, one that is rarely completed on time. So I think we have to have a little sense of patience and perseverance.” Such self-deception is inexcusable: we’ve been through this cycle of negotiation-to-a-dead-end twice now.

When North Korea’s nuclear program became known in 1993, President Bill Clinton talked tough. Speaking to Meet The Press from the Oval Office on November 7, 1993 he declared “North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. We must be very firm about it,” and spoke of possible “conflict.” Clinton changed course, reportedly after a briefing on military options that terrified him. The first cycle of negotiations ensued, with a never-fulfilled agreement in 1994 to dismantle in return for U.S. aid.

George W. Bush took up this refrain again, pledging that “I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons”. But in 2003 the Six Party Talks marked a return to the diplomatic track.

In the fifteen years wasted by these negotiations, North Korea has presumably perfected her nuclear capability. Our close allies the Japanese have, meanwhile, been angered by the American willingness to sacrifice Japanese concerns–about their citizens who have been abducted by Pyongyang—in order not to upset imaginary progress being made in the talks. What are the lessons? First, you cannot negotiate away nuclear capabilities. Second, military options do not really exist. Finally, and most worryingly, the very process of negotiation gives us a stake in the survival of the regime with which we are engaging. We’re becoming ever more committed to the survival of the regime that we originally identified as the problem.

Soon I expect we will be hearing calls for the U.S. to help stabilize North Korea after Kim Jong Il, even in the absence of that country’s abandonment of nuclear weapons.

The latest collapse of nuclear negotiations with North Korea provides some clear lessons, but we are not learning them.

The New Year began with the flat refusal by Pyongyang to provide the inventory of her programs that she had promised. For good measure, North Korean state media editorialized on January 4th that “Our republic will continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the US stepping up its nuclear war moves.”

Today’s Washington Post indicates we still do not grasp the situation. It quotes envoy Christopher Hill: “We understand that this [preparation of an inventory] is always a difficult process, one that is rarely completed on time. So I think we have to have a little sense of patience and perseverance.” Such self-deception is inexcusable: we’ve been through this cycle of negotiation-to-a-dead-end twice now.

When North Korea’s nuclear program became known in 1993, President Bill Clinton talked tough. Speaking to Meet The Press from the Oval Office on November 7, 1993 he declared “North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. We must be very firm about it,” and spoke of possible “conflict.” Clinton changed course, reportedly after a briefing on military options that terrified him. The first cycle of negotiations ensued, with a never-fulfilled agreement in 1994 to dismantle in return for U.S. aid.

George W. Bush took up this refrain again, pledging that “I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons”. But in 2003 the Six Party Talks marked a return to the diplomatic track.

In the fifteen years wasted by these negotiations, North Korea has presumably perfected her nuclear capability. Our close allies the Japanese have, meanwhile, been angered by the American willingness to sacrifice Japanese concerns–about their citizens who have been abducted by Pyongyang—in order not to upset imaginary progress being made in the talks. What are the lessons? First, you cannot negotiate away nuclear capabilities. Second, military options do not really exist. Finally, and most worryingly, the very process of negotiation gives us a stake in the survival of the regime with which we are engaging. We’re becoming ever more committed to the survival of the regime that we originally identified as the problem.

Soon I expect we will be hearing calls for the U.S. to help stabilize North Korea after Kim Jong Il, even in the absence of that country’s abandonment of nuclear weapons.

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Faith-Based Diplomacy on North Korea

On Wednesday, the State Department’s Christopher Hill told Senators that any past transmittal of nuclear weapons technology from North Korea to Syria would not undermine current efforts to disarm Pyongyang. “I came away with the sense that whatever, if anything ever had occurred in the past, it is not occurring now, and I think our negotiators feel that with good confidence,” said Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat.

If there is any confidence that North Korea is not currently proliferating, it is only because Israel struck and destroyed from the air a Syrian nuclear facility on September 6. David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector, thinks it was a reactor of North Korean design. Others have adopted the more ominous assessment that the target was a facility for processing North Korean plutonium. High-level consultations between Damascus and Pyongyang occurred in the immediate aftermath of the raid. And it is now known that the North Koreans, despite their prior agreement reached in February, are refusing to provide information about sensitive aspects of their nuclear program, especially their links to other rogue states. North Korea has merchandised every conventional weapons system it has ever produced—recent disclosures relate to sales to Hizballah—so it is prudent to wonder about transfers of nuclear tech as well, especially because Iranians were in North Korea to witness its only known detonation of a nuke, in October of last year.

Hill makes the technical point that it is only the present and future that matter when it comes to Pyongyang’s sales of dangerous technologies. In a strict sense, he is perfectly correct. Yet he is asking Senators—and the rest of us—to ignore the conduct of North Koreans in the immediate past, even though such conduct is the best indication of what they will do in the future. In September 2005 the North Koreans promised to give up their most destructive weapons. In February of this year they agreed to specific steps to do so. If Pyongyang was actively selling fissile material and technology as late as this September—and would be doing so now but for the Israeli raid—there is great reason to doubt the value of its current promises.

Short of the use of force, we can assure ourselves that Kim Jong Il has disarmed only if we send inspectors into every corner of his miserable country. If we don’t do that, we must trust the word of a leadership that has continuously lied to the international community about its nuclear weapons efforts since 1985, when it signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Bush administration no longer talks about “CVID”—complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament of North Korea, its old formulation and the only basis on which we should proceed. With the way things are going, Christopher Hill will soon declare that China has become a democracy, the Palestinians really want peace, and North Korea has already disarmed.

On Wednesday, the State Department’s Christopher Hill told Senators that any past transmittal of nuclear weapons technology from North Korea to Syria would not undermine current efforts to disarm Pyongyang. “I came away with the sense that whatever, if anything ever had occurred in the past, it is not occurring now, and I think our negotiators feel that with good confidence,” said Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat.

If there is any confidence that North Korea is not currently proliferating, it is only because Israel struck and destroyed from the air a Syrian nuclear facility on September 6. David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector, thinks it was a reactor of North Korean design. Others have adopted the more ominous assessment that the target was a facility for processing North Korean plutonium. High-level consultations between Damascus and Pyongyang occurred in the immediate aftermath of the raid. And it is now known that the North Koreans, despite their prior agreement reached in February, are refusing to provide information about sensitive aspects of their nuclear program, especially their links to other rogue states. North Korea has merchandised every conventional weapons system it has ever produced—recent disclosures relate to sales to Hizballah—so it is prudent to wonder about transfers of nuclear tech as well, especially because Iranians were in North Korea to witness its only known detonation of a nuke, in October of last year.

Hill makes the technical point that it is only the present and future that matter when it comes to Pyongyang’s sales of dangerous technologies. In a strict sense, he is perfectly correct. Yet he is asking Senators—and the rest of us—to ignore the conduct of North Koreans in the immediate past, even though such conduct is the best indication of what they will do in the future. In September 2005 the North Koreans promised to give up their most destructive weapons. In February of this year they agreed to specific steps to do so. If Pyongyang was actively selling fissile material and technology as late as this September—and would be doing so now but for the Israeli raid—there is great reason to doubt the value of its current promises.

Short of the use of force, we can assure ourselves that Kim Jong Il has disarmed only if we send inspectors into every corner of his miserable country. If we don’t do that, we must trust the word of a leadership that has continuously lied to the international community about its nuclear weapons efforts since 1985, when it signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Bush administration no longer talks about “CVID”—complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament of North Korea, its old formulation and the only basis on which we should proceed. With the way things are going, Christopher Hill will soon declare that China has become a democracy, the Palestinians really want peace, and North Korea has already disarmed.

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The Philharmonic in Pyongyang

cross-posted at About Last Night

I just got back from a press conference at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall at which the New York Philharmonic officially announced its plans to play in Pyongyang on February 26. Present were Paul Guenther, the orchestra’s chairman; Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s president and executive director; and Pak Gil Yon, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN. Christopher Hill, an assistant secretary of state in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was also supposed to be at the press conference, but sent his apologies, claiming that “responsibilities” in Washington prevented him from attending.

Highlights:

• The Philharmonic will spend two and a half days in North Korea. During that time it will give a single concert in Pyongyang in a hall seating 1,500 people. It will then fly to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to give a second concert there.

• Lorin Maazel, the orchestra’s music director, will conduct both performances.

• The Pyongyang program will consist of Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, plus the national anthems of the U.S. and North Korea. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony will be played in Seoul.

• According to a statement released this morning, the orchestra is making the trip with “the encouragement and support of the U.S. Department of State.”

• Paul Guenther said that the Philharmonic’s “somewhat unusual journey” to North Korea would be a reflection of its “calling to serve, which the New York Philharmonic has never shied away from.”

• The concert will be broadcast, but as of this morning Zarin Mehta had no information on whether or how it would be heard inside North Korea, or who will be permitted to attend the performance. “I would guess they do not have the kind of system we have of advertising concerts and selling them,” he said.

• Fifty members of the international media will accompany the orchestra to Pyongyang. Mehta does not know what restrictions will be placed on them by the North Korean government.

• The orchestra wants to give master classes in Pyongyang for “music students and other professionals,” but so far no final arrangements have been made to do so.

• Ambassador Pak dodged the question of whether news of the concert has been released by North Korea’s state-controlled media as of this hour.

• Asked whether the concert would be a propaganda coup for North Korea, Mehta replied, “We’re not going to do any propaganda.”

• More quotes from Mehta:

“One small symphony is a giant leap.”

“All we can do is show the way that music can unite people.”

“We’re going there to create some joy.”

* * *

To read “Serenading a Tyrant,” my original October 27 Wall Street Journal column on the Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang, go here.

cross-posted at About Last Night

I just got back from a press conference at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall at which the New York Philharmonic officially announced its plans to play in Pyongyang on February 26. Present were Paul Guenther, the orchestra’s chairman; Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s president and executive director; and Pak Gil Yon, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN. Christopher Hill, an assistant secretary of state in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was also supposed to be at the press conference, but sent his apologies, claiming that “responsibilities” in Washington prevented him from attending.

Highlights:

• The Philharmonic will spend two and a half days in North Korea. During that time it will give a single concert in Pyongyang in a hall seating 1,500 people. It will then fly to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to give a second concert there.

• Lorin Maazel, the orchestra’s music director, will conduct both performances.

• The Pyongyang program will consist of Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, plus the national anthems of the U.S. and North Korea. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony will be played in Seoul.

• According to a statement released this morning, the orchestra is making the trip with “the encouragement and support of the U.S. Department of State.”

• Paul Guenther said that the Philharmonic’s “somewhat unusual journey” to North Korea would be a reflection of its “calling to serve, which the New York Philharmonic has never shied away from.”

• The concert will be broadcast, but as of this morning Zarin Mehta had no information on whether or how it would be heard inside North Korea, or who will be permitted to attend the performance. “I would guess they do not have the kind of system we have of advertising concerts and selling them,” he said.

• Fifty members of the international media will accompany the orchestra to Pyongyang. Mehta does not know what restrictions will be placed on them by the North Korean government.

• The orchestra wants to give master classes in Pyongyang for “music students and other professionals,” but so far no final arrangements have been made to do so.

• Ambassador Pak dodged the question of whether news of the concert has been released by North Korea’s state-controlled media as of this hour.

• Asked whether the concert would be a propaganda coup for North Korea, Mehta replied, “We’re not going to do any propaganda.”

• More quotes from Mehta:

“One small symphony is a giant leap.”

“All we can do is show the way that music can unite people.”

“We’re going there to create some joy.”

* * *

To read “Serenading a Tyrant,” my original October 27 Wall Street Journal column on the Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang, go here.

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The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

It’s official: the trip that Benjamin Ivry deemed “likely” to happen on this blog in October will indeed go forward. This coming February, the New York Philharmonic will visit North Korea.

About the trip to the land of Kim Jong Il, the New York Times reports U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill’s commenting, “‘I hope it will be looked back upon as an event that helped bring that country back into the world.’” Yet, as horizon blogger Terry Teachout, himself quoted in today’s Times article, noted in an October opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal,

What would you have thought if Franklin Roosevelt had encouraged the Philharmonic to accept an official invitation to play in Berlin in the spring of 1939? Do you think such a concert would have softened the hearts of the Nazis, any more than Jesse Owens’s victories in the 1936 Olympics changed their minds about racial equality? Or inspired the German people to rise up and revolt against Adolf Hilter? Or saved a single Jewish life?

Only at the end of today’s article does the Times reporter mention that “Some questions have been raised about the appropriateness of visiting a country run by one of the world’s most repressive governments”—a regime that has starved millions of its own people.

The formal announcement of the New York Phil’s trip will take place tomorrow at Avery Fisher Hall, when more details about the visit will be revealed. What we do already know is that the Philharmonic sought pre-conditions relating to the trip and that these conditions have been met. Among them: “that the orchestra could play The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Philharmonic should consider whether it’s brave to entertain a land that isn’t free.

It’s official: the trip that Benjamin Ivry deemed “likely” to happen on this blog in October will indeed go forward. This coming February, the New York Philharmonic will visit North Korea.

About the trip to the land of Kim Jong Il, the New York Times reports U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill’s commenting, “‘I hope it will be looked back upon as an event that helped bring that country back into the world.’” Yet, as horizon blogger Terry Teachout, himself quoted in today’s Times article, noted in an October opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal,

What would you have thought if Franklin Roosevelt had encouraged the Philharmonic to accept an official invitation to play in Berlin in the spring of 1939? Do you think such a concert would have softened the hearts of the Nazis, any more than Jesse Owens’s victories in the 1936 Olympics changed their minds about racial equality? Or inspired the German people to rise up and revolt against Adolf Hilter? Or saved a single Jewish life?

Only at the end of today’s article does the Times reporter mention that “Some questions have been raised about the appropriateness of visiting a country run by one of the world’s most repressive governments”—a regime that has starved millions of its own people.

The formal announcement of the New York Phil’s trip will take place tomorrow at Avery Fisher Hall, when more details about the visit will be revealed. What we do already know is that the Philharmonic sought pre-conditions relating to the trip and that these conditions have been met. Among them: “that the orchestra could play The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Philharmonic should consider whether it’s brave to entertain a land that isn’t free.

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Poisoning the Process

Today, the White House announced that President Bush sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il urging him to make a full disclosure of his country’s nuclear activities. The letter reinforces comments made by the State Department’s Christopher Hill that Pyongyang must come clean on the enrichment of uranium.

Hill’s demand comes on the heels of his statement yesterday that there was still no agreement between Washington and Pyongyang as to the information that North Korea must provide about its nuclear weapons. The success or failure of American efforts to disarm the militant state will almost entirely depend on its willingness to deliver a complete inventory of its programs and facilities as required by the agreement reached in February in Beijing at the six-party talks.

How will we know whether Pyongyang is telling the truth when it issues its disclosure? The United States has, over the course of more than two decades, collected information regarding the extent of the North Korean programs to build bombs based on both plutonium and uranium cores. American analysts will be comparing what the North has released with information previously obtained. If there is a wide discrepancy, then we know Kim Jong Il has no intention of giving up his arsenal of atomic weaponry.

Unfortunately, Hill, the American representative at the six-party negotiations, has been helping the North Koreans. For instance, in early October he publicly stated that Pyongyang possesses about 110 pounds of plutonium obtained from its reactor in Yongbyon. More important, Hill announced on the first of this month that he expected the North Koreans to clear up doubts about the centrifuges and aluminum tubes we know they had previously purchased from a black-market ring based in Pakistan.

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Today, the White House announced that President Bush sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il urging him to make a full disclosure of his country’s nuclear activities. The letter reinforces comments made by the State Department’s Christopher Hill that Pyongyang must come clean on the enrichment of uranium.

Hill’s demand comes on the heels of his statement yesterday that there was still no agreement between Washington and Pyongyang as to the information that North Korea must provide about its nuclear weapons. The success or failure of American efforts to disarm the militant state will almost entirely depend on its willingness to deliver a complete inventory of its programs and facilities as required by the agreement reached in February in Beijing at the six-party talks.

How will we know whether Pyongyang is telling the truth when it issues its disclosure? The United States has, over the course of more than two decades, collected information regarding the extent of the North Korean programs to build bombs based on both plutonium and uranium cores. American analysts will be comparing what the North has released with information previously obtained. If there is a wide discrepancy, then we know Kim Jong Il has no intention of giving up his arsenal of atomic weaponry.

Unfortunately, Hill, the American representative at the six-party negotiations, has been helping the North Koreans. For instance, in early October he publicly stated that Pyongyang possesses about 110 pounds of plutonium obtained from its reactor in Yongbyon. More important, Hill announced on the first of this month that he expected the North Koreans to clear up doubts about the centrifuges and aluminum tubes we know they had previously purchased from a black-market ring based in Pakistan.

Through these public statements, the American diplomat was either telling the North Koreans what we know or reminding them what their disclosure had to include. Moreover, he has had extensive conversations with them in private. As Hill told reporters today, “We’ve had a lot of discussions with them about uranium enrichment.”

It looks like Hill may have coached Pyongyang and thereby compromised the disclosure process, which is critical to the six-party disarmament efforts. By doing so, he is making it more difficult for us to determine whether North Korea’s disclosure, whenever it is delivered, is reliable.

How much damage has Hill caused? If the six-party process is to continue, it is absolutely essential that the intelligence community learn exactly what he has told the North Koreans—and to make an initial assessment whether it will ever be possible for us to measure Pyongyang’s truthfulness. I suspect that the American diplomat has already told too much to his North Korean counterparts.

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More Idiocy from Zbigniew Brzezinski

In today’s Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski argues for a patient American approach to Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the Chinese can be our partner in helping to stop the Iranians. “China, despite its meteoric rise toward global preeminence, currently is geopolitically a status quo power,” Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser states.

Zbig, after his recent talks with Chinese leaders, tells us they are concerned about the fallout of “a major U.S.-Iran collision” and the Chinese are ardent supporters of “strategic patience.” Once we sit down with the Iranians at the negotiating table, “China could help break the stalemate.” In Brzezinski’s mind, negotiations with Iran would follow the North Korean model. We are on the path to peace in North Asia because the United States dropped its confrontational policy, he contends. Then he adds this: “Even more important, China’s abandonment of its initial reticence eventually proved vital to convincing Pyongyang that its own political intransigence could become suicidal.”

Too bad Brzezinski could not have read the New York Times before penning his op-ed. This morning the paper reports that everyone is hitting a dead end in dealing with the Iranians over their nuclear program. “The chosen strategy of pressure and engagement is not working,” said a European official involved with Tehran. “As a result, you have a lot of people desperately banging on the door of the Iranians. All of them are coming back empty-handed.” The Iranians, the Times reports, believe that renewed diplomatic effort on the part of others is proof that their defiance is working. That’s making any talks with them, in a word, counterproductive.

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In today’s Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski argues for a patient American approach to Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the Chinese can be our partner in helping to stop the Iranians. “China, despite its meteoric rise toward global preeminence, currently is geopolitically a status quo power,” Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser states.

Zbig, after his recent talks with Chinese leaders, tells us they are concerned about the fallout of “a major U.S.-Iran collision” and the Chinese are ardent supporters of “strategic patience.” Once we sit down with the Iranians at the negotiating table, “China could help break the stalemate.” In Brzezinski’s mind, negotiations with Iran would follow the North Korean model. We are on the path to peace in North Asia because the United States dropped its confrontational policy, he contends. Then he adds this: “Even more important, China’s abandonment of its initial reticence eventually proved vital to convincing Pyongyang that its own political intransigence could become suicidal.”

Too bad Brzezinski could not have read the New York Times before penning his op-ed. This morning the paper reports that everyone is hitting a dead end in dealing with the Iranians over their nuclear program. “The chosen strategy of pressure and engagement is not working,” said a European official involved with Tehran. “As a result, you have a lot of people desperately banging on the door of the Iranians. All of them are coming back empty-handed.” The Iranians, the Times reports, believe that renewed diplomatic effort on the part of others is proof that their defiance is working. That’s making any talks with them, in a word, counterproductive.

The other major flaw in Brzezinski’s reasoning is that the Chinese actually helped broker a deal with Pyongyang. There’s no question they sponsored dialogue with the North Koreans, arranging the multilateral talks that continue to this day. Yet that’s not the same as promoting a solution. Beijing, by dragging out the negotiations, gave Kim Jong Il the one thing he needed to construct his bomb: time. And after the detonation of the North Korean device in October 2006, the record shows that there was real progress—if we can call it that—only when Christopher Hill, the State Department’s point man, met with his North Korean counterparts without the Chinese present.

Now, Chinese leaders are proposing to Brzezinski that the Iranians get even more time to build a bomb. Tehran, which earlier this month announced that it has 3,000 centrifuges fully working, needs two years at most before it possesses the fissile material for its weapon.

Hasn’t Brzezinski learned from the mistakes of his old boss? In 1994, Jimmy Carter arranged a deal with the North Koreans that ended up giving them almost another decade to perfect their nuclear weapons technology. Zbig, at this moment, wants to provide to the Iranians a similar opportunity.

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Jabbing Japan

Japan’s new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, arrives in Washington tomorrow for talks with President Bush on Friday. This is his first foreign trip since taking office in September, after the resignation of Shinzo Abe, a staunch supporter of the United States.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of tensions between Tokyo and Washington. The issue that gets the most attention is the withdrawal of Japan’s naval mission in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, there are other matters unsettling relations between the United States and its most important ally in East Asia. The one that can do the most immediate damage on Friday relates to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang demands that the State Department remove it from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Japan, for its part, insists the United States take no such action until the North comes clean on the whereabouts of Japanese nationals it has abducted. The Japanese public has rightly become transfixed over the plight of the victims, especially Megumi Yokota, a schoolgirl who was nabbed in late 1977 on her way home from badminton practice in Niigata.

In a gesture to then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, Kim Jong Il admitted that rogue North Korean agents—are there any other kind?—had abducted the young Yokota and twelve other Japanese from 1977 to 1983. Five of the abductees were still alive, Kim said. Megumi, however, was not among them. She had, according to the North Korean leader, taken her own life in 1993. The government said it could not locate her remains.

The North Koreans then tried to get the Japanese to accept the actuarially-improbable notion that almost two-thirds of the young abductees had croaked and the medically-incredible claim that both a 24-year-old male and a 27-year-old female had died of heart disease. Since then, Pyongyang has issued more prevarications, inventions, and fabrications about the abductees. Fortunately, the Japanese public has not bought any of the perverse untruths. Tokyo’s envoys have also been resolute.

American diplomats, however, have taken a less inspiring stand. For example, Christopher Hill, the State Department’s lead negotiator in the North Korean disarmament talks, appears to have cut another of his famous side deals recently. It looks like he promised to take North Korea off the terror list in return for Pyongyang’s cooperation on disabling nuclear facilities and disclosing its nuclear programs. Fukuda, who has a reputation as a dove, has reportedly been upset on being undercut by Washington on the abductee issue.

What do the Japanese abductees have to do with the American terrorism list? Pyongyang kidnapped the thirteen-year-old Yokota and other Japanese to obtain language and culture instruction for its undercover agents. Pyongyang won’t release Yokota and the seven others because, it appears, they know too much about Kim Jong Il’s responsibility for clandestine activities and terrorist acts, especially the downing of a South Korean jetliner in 1987.

Americans seem to be fascinated by abductions. But we’ve negelcted Megumi Yokota, wrongly: her fate is now bound up with ours. People might disagree with me if I said that we cannot truly solve any of the problems involving North Korea until we solve all of them, so let me make a more modest point: I do not see the logic in offending Japan, an old friend, to please a dangerous adversary, North Korea. North Korea should stay on the State Department’s list until it frees Yokota and the other abductees.

Japan’s new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, arrives in Washington tomorrow for talks with President Bush on Friday. This is his first foreign trip since taking office in September, after the resignation of Shinzo Abe, a staunch supporter of the United States.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of tensions between Tokyo and Washington. The issue that gets the most attention is the withdrawal of Japan’s naval mission in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, there are other matters unsettling relations between the United States and its most important ally in East Asia. The one that can do the most immediate damage on Friday relates to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang demands that the State Department remove it from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Japan, for its part, insists the United States take no such action until the North comes clean on the whereabouts of Japanese nationals it has abducted. The Japanese public has rightly become transfixed over the plight of the victims, especially Megumi Yokota, a schoolgirl who was nabbed in late 1977 on her way home from badminton practice in Niigata.

In a gesture to then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, Kim Jong Il admitted that rogue North Korean agents—are there any other kind?—had abducted the young Yokota and twelve other Japanese from 1977 to 1983. Five of the abductees were still alive, Kim said. Megumi, however, was not among them. She had, according to the North Korean leader, taken her own life in 1993. The government said it could not locate her remains.

The North Koreans then tried to get the Japanese to accept the actuarially-improbable notion that almost two-thirds of the young abductees had croaked and the medically-incredible claim that both a 24-year-old male and a 27-year-old female had died of heart disease. Since then, Pyongyang has issued more prevarications, inventions, and fabrications about the abductees. Fortunately, the Japanese public has not bought any of the perverse untruths. Tokyo’s envoys have also been resolute.

American diplomats, however, have taken a less inspiring stand. For example, Christopher Hill, the State Department’s lead negotiator in the North Korean disarmament talks, appears to have cut another of his famous side deals recently. It looks like he promised to take North Korea off the terror list in return for Pyongyang’s cooperation on disabling nuclear facilities and disclosing its nuclear programs. Fukuda, who has a reputation as a dove, has reportedly been upset on being undercut by Washington on the abductee issue.

What do the Japanese abductees have to do with the American terrorism list? Pyongyang kidnapped the thirteen-year-old Yokota and other Japanese to obtain language and culture instruction for its undercover agents. Pyongyang won’t release Yokota and the seven others because, it appears, they know too much about Kim Jong Il’s responsibility for clandestine activities and terrorist acts, especially the downing of a South Korean jetliner in 1987.

Americans seem to be fascinated by abductions. But we’ve negelcted Megumi Yokota, wrongly: her fate is now bound up with ours. People might disagree with me if I said that we cannot truly solve any of the problems involving North Korea until we solve all of them, so let me make a more modest point: I do not see the logic in offending Japan, an old friend, to please a dangerous adversary, North Korea. North Korea should stay on the State Department’s list until it frees Yokota and the other abductees.

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The List

Yesterday, North Korea, after talks with the United States in Geneva, said that Washington had decided to take it off the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Today, Washington denied that it had agreed to do so. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington’s chief negotiator in the six-party disarmament negotiations, stated: “Getting off the list will depend on further denuclearization.”

Hill must have misspoken. The State Department does not maintain a list of states possessing nuclear weapons, but of states that sponsor terrorism. Inclusion on the list depends, simply, on sponsorship or non-sponsorship of terrorism. There is evidence suggesting that North Korea should be on the list. But its possession of nukes should not be a factor.

Pyongyang wants to be taken off the list, and Washington obviously is using this matter as a bargaining chip in the long and agonized negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear programs. This may be smart diplomacy in the short run, but it’s a fundamental mistake nonetheless. Cynical maneuvering should not define our approach to diplomacy. Veteran diplomats may laugh at that statement, but maintaining our global reputation for fair dealing will eliminate many of the problems we face today—and make the remaining ones easier to solve.

Yesterday, North Korea, after talks with the United States in Geneva, said that Washington had decided to take it off the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Today, Washington denied that it had agreed to do so. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington’s chief negotiator in the six-party disarmament negotiations, stated: “Getting off the list will depend on further denuclearization.”

Hill must have misspoken. The State Department does not maintain a list of states possessing nuclear weapons, but of states that sponsor terrorism. Inclusion on the list depends, simply, on sponsorship or non-sponsorship of terrorism. There is evidence suggesting that North Korea should be on the list. But its possession of nukes should not be a factor.

Pyongyang wants to be taken off the list, and Washington obviously is using this matter as a bargaining chip in the long and agonized negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear programs. This may be smart diplomacy in the short run, but it’s a fundamental mistake nonetheless. Cynical maneuvering should not define our approach to diplomacy. Veteran diplomats may laugh at that statement, but maintaining our global reputation for fair dealing will eliminate many of the problems we face today—and make the remaining ones easier to solve.

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Talking with the Taliban

Today, after face-to-face negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban, South Korean officials announced a tentative arrangement to free nineteen South Koreans, who were seized on July 19. Seoul said that more discussion would be needed before the hostages, Christian aid workers, actually would be released. The Taliban has already killed two of the hostages and freed two others. The State Department’s Christopher Hill, acting on behalf of President Bush, had recently pledged support for South Korea’s efforts to negotiate with the kidnappers.

As a condition of the release of the remaining nineteen, South Korea confirmed (as it had previously announced) that it would withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan. Seoul also said it would stop all missionary activity in the country. The Taliban said that South Korea would withdraw all South Koreans from Afghanistan. The South Koreans did not meet the two most important Taliban demands: the payment of a ransom and the release of Taliban prisoners held by Kabul.

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Today, after face-to-face negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban, South Korean officials announced a tentative arrangement to free nineteen South Koreans, who were seized on July 19. Seoul said that more discussion would be needed before the hostages, Christian aid workers, actually would be released. The Taliban has already killed two of the hostages and freed two others. The State Department’s Christopher Hill, acting on behalf of President Bush, had recently pledged support for South Korea’s efforts to negotiate with the kidnappers.

As a condition of the release of the remaining nineteen, South Korea confirmed (as it had previously announced) that it would withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan. Seoul also said it would stop all missionary activity in the country. The Taliban said that South Korea would withdraw all South Koreans from Afghanistan. The South Koreans did not meet the two most important Taliban demands: the payment of a ransom and the release of Taliban prisoners held by Kabul.

The South Korean government has, in reality, not given up anything. It had already banned its citizens from traveling to Afghanistan. The Taliban also conceded little. It would have risked even more international condemnation if it had executed the remaining nineteen hostages, who over time would have become a liability in the hands of their captors. Their release, therefore, avoided a dilemma for the Taliban.

The whole incident, of course, further weakened the Karzai government. Yet it also demonstrated once again the inability of today’s democracies to defeat Islamic militants. Despite what they say, elected leaders these days will negotiate with thugs, fanatics, and terrorists.

In a peaceful world, presidents’ making deals with criminals, although deplorable, may not result in lasting injury to the international system. Yet President Bush tells us we are involved in a global death match with terrorists. If we are, in fact, fighting for civilization—which I believe we are—then Bush’s facilitation of the negotiations with the Taliban makes all of us appear feckless.

Either we are involved in an existential struggle or we are not. President Bush should let us know, and act accordingly.

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No Room to Maneuver

Today, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that North Korea shut down its reactor in Yongbyon on Saturday, pursuant to the first stage of the February 13 deal to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The North took this step after South Korea delivered part of a first installment of heavy fuel oil, one of the conditions mandated by the agreement. The shutdown came three months to the day after the deadline for shuttering the North’s Soviet-era reactor.

But the closure of Yongbyon, which had been widely expected, is the easy part. The second stage of the February 13 arrangement demands that the North Koreans disable all their nuclear facilities and disclose all nuclear programs. The United States will be meeting with North Korea and four other parties at Beijing-sponsored talks on the 18th of this month to discuss implementation of Pyongyang’s promise. At issue: whether Kim Jong Il’s militant state will publicly come clean about its covert uranium nuclear weapons program.

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Today, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that North Korea shut down its reactor in Yongbyon on Saturday, pursuant to the first stage of the February 13 deal to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The North took this step after South Korea delivered part of a first installment of heavy fuel oil, one of the conditions mandated by the agreement. The shutdown came three months to the day after the deadline for shuttering the North’s Soviet-era reactor.

But the closure of Yongbyon, which had been widely expected, is the easy part. The second stage of the February 13 arrangement demands that the North Koreans disable all their nuclear facilities and disclose all nuclear programs. The United States will be meeting with North Korea and four other parties at Beijing-sponsored talks on the 18th of this month to discuss implementation of Pyongyang’s promise. At issue: whether Kim Jong Il’s militant state will publicly come clean about its covert uranium nuclear weapons program.

One significant danger is that the State Department’s chief North Korea negotiator, Christopher Hill, who championed the February 13 agreement, will accept an incomplete disclosure from North Korea just to keep relations on track. Pyongyang has spent the last five months pushing Washington around on this issue, and the prospect of a complete accounting is not good.

Since September 2005, when the Bush administration switched tactics and accepted a Chinese-brokered framework for disarming North Korea, Washington has made one concession after another (including the unsatisfactory February 13 agreement itself). Now is a critical moment in the process of disarming Pyongyang, and there is no room for America to compromise or flinch yet again.

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The Dangers of Patience

On Tuesday, referring to North Korea’s failure to live up to its pledge to shut down and seal the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon by April 14, Condoleezza Rice remarked that “we don’t have endless patience.” North Korea made its promise to shut down the reactor in February at six-party disarmament talks as a part of a two-step plan to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program. The talks were sponsored by Kim Jong Il’s only ally, China, which pressured the United States to accept the deal.

Secretary Rice was repeating comments made last Friday by President Bush, who declared that “Our patience is not unlimited” as he stood next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Camp David. (To their credit, Abe and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, have been pushing the United States to adopt a stiffer policy toward Kim Jong Il.)

These latest statements add to the collection of similar warnings that Kim has collected over the past two weeks. “Our patience is not infinite,” Reuters reported a senior U.S. official as saying on April 14. On that day the State Department’s Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator at the talks, said, “We are not indifferent to missing a deadline.”

Maybe the Bush administration is not indifferent, but it has been very tolerant. The same unidentified American official said that Washington was willing to give Pyongyang “a few more days.” In fact, the U.S. has given the North Koreans a few more weeks.

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On Tuesday, referring to North Korea’s failure to live up to its pledge to shut down and seal the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon by April 14, Condoleezza Rice remarked that “we don’t have endless patience.” North Korea made its promise to shut down the reactor in February at six-party disarmament talks as a part of a two-step plan to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program. The talks were sponsored by Kim Jong Il’s only ally, China, which pressured the United States to accept the deal.

Secretary Rice was repeating comments made last Friday by President Bush, who declared that “Our patience is not unlimited” as he stood next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Camp David. (To their credit, Abe and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, have been pushing the United States to adopt a stiffer policy toward Kim Jong Il.)

These latest statements add to the collection of similar warnings that Kim has collected over the past two weeks. “Our patience is not infinite,” Reuters reported a senior U.S. official as saying on April 14. On that day the State Department’s Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator at the talks, said, “We are not indifferent to missing a deadline.”

Maybe the Bush administration is not indifferent, but it has been very tolerant. The same unidentified American official said that Washington was willing to give Pyongyang “a few more days.” In fact, the U.S. has given the North Koreans a few more weeks.

What’s next? Well, American policymakers will undoubtedly confront Kim Jong Il with . . . more patience. For his part, Kim seems to have a more robust strategy for dealing with us. Last week, for the first time in fifteen years, he showed off missile systems in a military parade. There were three new systems, but what caught analysts’ attention was a new intermediate-range ballistic missile with a maximum range of 4,000 kilometers. It can reach the American territory of Guam. Kim’s Taepodong-2 missile—though not yet deployed—will be able to reach America’s West Coast with a nuclear payload.

So perhaps it would be a good time to start paying attention to Pyongyang’s leader. As Kim Myong Chol, often described as North Korea’s “unofficial spokesman,” wrote at the beginning of this year, “Kim is now one click away from torching the skyscrapers of New York.” This is an exaggeration: at this particular moment, the worst the North Korean leader could do is to incinerate Anchorage or Honolulu. But if North Korea’s arms development continues at this pace, in five to seven years, Kim’s technicians will be able to miniaturize nuclear weapons, mate them to missiles, and deploy them in a launch vehicle that can reach any point in North America.

Perhaps we should move the White House to Bermuda.

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