South Koreans in Seoul watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech on Jan. 1. (Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press)

Regarding Charles Krauthammer's Jan. 6 op-ed on the North Korean nuclear threat, "Cold War relic, present-day threat":

Mr. Krauthammer’s suggestion that China could control the situation if only the United States would apply the proper leverage is a throwback to Cold War-era thinking that North Korea takes orders from Beijing or Moscow. The North Korean state’s raison d’être is defying foreign pressure. The historical foundation of its ultra-nationalist-Stalinist government is rooted in a rejection of foreign coercion; it would never give in to American or Chinese demands. Mr. Krauthammer’s claim that the North Korean government is “wholly unpredictable . . . and often irrational” is the continuation of a reductive Cold War narrative that suggests Pyongyang makes decisions beyond understanding. It encourages Americans to believe that confrontation is inevitable.

To diminish the threat of the North Korean nuclear program, the best path forward is to negotiate a peace treaty — contingent on Pyongyang’s acceptance of U.S. forces in South Korea — that quietly accepts Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons program.

Brandon K. Gauthier, Greenwich, Conn.

Charles Krauthammer wrote that the United States offered food as an inducement to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program. Along with other donors, we provided food in the 1990s to end a serious famine. With World Food Program leadership, we were largely successful. At the end of the Clinton administration, the United States had extensive contacts with North Korea that could have resulted in peace on the Korean Peninsula.

U.S. policy under the George W. Bush administration took a confrontational turn in line with the “axis of evil” trope. The Obama administration also adopted this approach. Now, 16 years later, it is clear our policy has been a failure. The options laid out by Mr. Krauthammer mostly involve escalating to the brink of nuclear confrontation on the Korean Peninsula.

Perhaps a better choice would be a fresh start, beginning with direct talks with North Korea. As the Jan. 7 obituary for Selig Harrison ["Scholarly Washington Post reporter covered and shaped Asian affairs"] indicated, there has always been an alternative policy based on peaceful engagement. Such a policy would require swallowing obnoxious compromises, such as security assurances for the North Korean elite. Success would be uncertain, but it should be tried before risking massive loss of life that could result from the bellicose policies Mr. Krauthammer advocated. It's unfortunate Mr. Harrison is no longer here to provide counsel.

Len Rogers, Arlington

The writer was deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development and oversaw the U.S. food aid program in the late 1990s.