Pundits point to the on-going six-way negotiations between the two Koreas, Japan, the US, China and Russia on the North Korean nuclear crisis as proof that diplomacy works.
Of course diplomacy works. That has been proven even before these six-party talks came about. What really was proven there is a totally different matter: a lesson that I’m sure diplomats from Tehran to Damascus are taking notice of.
To understand this lesson, consider the ambiance of US-North Korean relations four years ago, when Pyongyang, though pulled itself out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), did not have the bombs yet.
Right after the initially promising first phase of the six-party talks failed when George W. Bush refused to unfreeze the North’s account in Macau’s Banco Delta Asia, Washington had been hawkishly harsh towards the reclusive Kim Jong-Il regime.
Bush even singled Kim out as one of the leaders he specifically loath. In his State of the Union address in 2002, he referred to North Korea as part of the “axis of evil” and a terrorist-sponsoring state. And what was his policy towards terrorist then? No negotiations.
Fast forward to 2006.
The North Koreans, claiming they were threatened by Bush’s hostile rethoric, then decided to detonate an atomic bomb. What did Bush do? He dragged himself back into the negotiating table.
And not only did the nukes make Bush talk with Kim. He was forced to swallow his pride as well.
Bush eventually agreed to unfreeze Pyonyang’s account in Macau’s Banco Delta Asia, something he initially insisted he would never do. He then pledged to consider establishing formal diplomatic relations with the Stalinist regime, and forced ally Japan to reluctantly do the same. He even went to the extent of promising the dictator tons of aid in cash and in kind, an act seen by many, most notably the neocon zealots, as one of embarrassing desperation.
What’s more, Bush even broke his personal pledge to the families of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang (which the US leader made during their visit to the Oval Office, an event he described as the described as the “most moving moment of [his] presidency”) by setting aside the abduction issue in moving to delete North Korea from the US list of terrorist-sponsoring states. That’s at the expense, of course, of relations with Japan, Uncle Sam’s most reliable ally in the Far East.
A big about face. For these concessions were never considered by Bush during the earlier six-party negotiations, when Pyongyang did not have any nuclear bombs yet.
What did the North Koreans give Bush in return? Little, if you ask me. They allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect North Korean and agreed to dismantle their nuclear facilities in Yongbyon.
The latter part remains a pledge for now, though.
The six parties agreed that the dismantlement of Yongbyon and the disclosure of all nuclear activities must be made by Pyongyang by or before the end of this month, yet many analysts believe that whether North Korean would be able to comply with the deadline remains uncertain.
In lieu of this, Bush last week sent a personal letter to Kim through Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill. Nobody knows what the letter contained but analyst Noriyuki Suzuki of Tokyo believes that it is yet another desperate gesture from Bush begging Kim to comply with the agreements.
“The letter must contain the basic US stance that Washington is ready to drop North Korea from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, improve relations and normalize diplomatic relations with North Korea on condition that the North disable and abandon its nuclear weapons program,” Suzuki told Reuters.
Whether the North would make it by the end of this month remains to be seen. People, meanwhile, wonder of the possible things the US might do if ever Pyongyang would fail to meet the deadline. However, given the lameduck status of Bush and America’s declining foreign policy leverage due to its blunders in Iraq, I don’t think one should expect a strong response from Washington.
But still, there are those who remain optimistic. Christopher Hill is one of them. He believes Yongbyon would be dismantled by the end of this month. People like him are satisfied with what North Korea gave back in exchange for heavy concessions from the US.
But they seem to fail to realize that there are also a lot of things that North Korea refused to give.
One of these is a pledge to include in the December deadline the crucial steps towards irreversibly dismantling Yongbyon in such a way that it would not be re-started again. The North Koreans say such actions would come at an appropriate time. In layman’s terms, they might do it only after they receive the tons of aid from the five parties.
Another is disclosure of information about their nuclear activities’ links to states considered pariah by the US. Last September of this year, the Israelis launched a covert air strike on a Syrian nuclear facility, which they claim to have been built with North Korea assistance.
Also in 2004, Pakistan’s AQ Khan was arrested for black market sales of nuclear weapons technology to North Korea. Chistopher Hill is apparently not satisfied with Pyongyang’s explanations regarding this.
My point? What we see in these six-party talks is the transformation of the Bush White House from being too harsh towards North Korea into being too generous in giving concessions. This is making Korean leaders happy and America’s neocons outraged. Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton hit it right when he said that the US gave much, the North Koreans are giving little.
And all these things happened because of one thing: Kim Jong-Il has nuclear weapons. That’s the single factor why the US took him and the six-party talks seriously.
Real lesson proved by these six-party talks? that you can get bullies like Bush to act nice to you if you have nukes.
And it makes perfect sense. High school bad boys won’t bully a guy carrying a baseball bat, would they?
Mamoud Amadenijad is probably contemplating this lesson, while Saddam Hussein is turning over in his grave saying: “If only I had the nukes and the WMDs, I would still be ruling Iraq today!”