The Obama administration never tires of trying to curry favor with despotic regimes. They’ve tried soothing words and unilateral gestures with China, Iran, Russia, and Cuba. None of this paid dividends for the U.S. The regimes have become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad. So naturally, it’s time to repeat the same error with North Korea, a regime that has bamboozled two presidents. The New York Times reports:
The United States will resume exploratory talks with North Korea next week in Geneva and has appointed a full-time envoy with a background in nuclear issues, the State Department announced Wednesday, as North Korean media reported that Kim Jong-il made rare comments on the possibility of resuming broader six-party talks aimed at ending his country’s nuclear program.
The Times intones that since the failure of six-party talks, “North Korea has detonated a nuclear device and tested a long-range rocket that may one day be able to carry nuclear warheads. It also revealed an industrial-scale uranium enrichment plant and increased hostilities with South Korea.” But gosh, darn it. It now is really tough to — you guessed it — engage North Korea all over again. (“That has left policy-makers in Washington and Seoul with few options: engaging North Korea in talks, even though it may use them to try to extract more economic concessions without giving up its nuclear weapons; or avoiding talks, risking a runaway North Korean nuclear program and more military tension on the Korean peninsula.”)
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) released a statement that read: “In its efforts to engage the North Korean regime, the key will be seeing if the Administration sticks to its guarantees that there will be no incentives provided to North Korea if this bilateral negotiation eventually leads to a return to the multilateral Six-Party Talks. The Administration has assured me that it has made clear to North Korea that it must undertake concrete steps towards denuclearization. The days of paying North Korea in exchange for promises that it does not intend to keep are over.” But it never works out that way, does it? The concrete steps are quicksand without verification.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who has repeatedly criticized past efforts by the Clinton and Bush administrations to bargain with North Korea, e-mailed me: “There is no more evidence now than there ever has been that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons program. Restarting negotiations will simply throw them a lifeline of renewed legitimacy and time to continue their weaponization and missile efforts.”
The frenetic desire to sit down and talk with regimes that view negotiations as a strategy for fending off international pressure has permeated nearly every aspect of Obama’s foreign policy. But in this one, the Obama team is certainly not alone in its unrealistic fervor to make a deal with North Korea. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute remarked to me yesterday, “Negotiating with North Korea appears to be catnip to every administration. But, like catnip, it induces lots of purring, pointless behavior and, in the end, an addiction.”
There are alternatives, of course. A commitment to regime change, heightened international pressure, and financial strangulation are all better alternatives than the inevitable one-way negotiations that embolden the dictatorship and signal to other nations (most especially Iran) that we can be played.