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North Korea - the long way round



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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October 14, 2008

LONDON - One small step forward by North Korea and the U.S ; one large step for mankind. The political fight to persuade North Korea to halt its nuclear bomb making activities seems at last, in the dying days of the Bush presidency, to be entering a serious phase.

The U.S. has finally bowed to the North Korean request to remove it from the U.S. list of sponsors of terrorism- which will enable the renegade state to become eligible for international loans and sundry other economic benefits- in return for the North agreeing to re-allow inspections to verify a North Korean promise to freeze its nuclear activities, as it undertook last year and then withdrew from.

After nine years of erratic U.S. policies- met by equally erratic and bellicose Nort h Korean ones- the negotiations have ended up almost where they started following the highly fruitful diplomacy of the Clinton Administration that transformed North Korea from total intransigence to a willing and helpful negotiating partner. Indeed, by some counts, this was the Clinton Administration's only substantial and productive foreign policy success.

Well, not quite back to where the Clinton Administration had to leave off. North Korea now has tripled the amount of nuclear weapons' material in store. Worse, it has exploded a nuclear bomb and probably has enough material for half a dozen more.

This must count as one of President George W. Bush's worst foreign policy feats. Commitments made in tense but productive negotiations were not honored (and the Republican majority in Congress in Clinton's time also torpedoed commitments made by the Administration). Bush called the regime evil and then offered aid. It refused to negotiate over the financial issues at stake with the money laundering of the Banco Delta Asia- and then returned the money it had impounded.

Bush's first Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was made a fool of. After he declared that the new administration would try and complete the work of its predecessor Powell was in effect publicly repudiated. The insider work of Vice-President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld pulled the rug from beneath him. Even at one time when Bush tried to take a more positive approach, officials working in committee at the inter-agency level managed to deflect it - such was the power of the senior bureaucracy, (a lesson in the powerless of the presidency that a future president should take notice of).

Fortunately, the negotiations have been salvaged by a very determined second term Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rica, who took personal charge of the negotiations and empowered a skillful principal negotiator, Christopher Hill, to burrow through the labyrinthine of confusion and misunderstandings that were now heaped one on top of the other.

The force and frequency of U.S. negotiating offers were stepped up. Pyongyang's twists and turns and often appalling misbehavior were more tolerated. In September 2005, the U.S. formally offered a non-aggression pledge and an offer, in principle, to normalize relations. It also resurrected discussion of the Clinton decision to help finance and build a 'light water' reactor that would help satisfy the North's domestic power needs, without producing more bomb-making material. (The reactor sits half finished.) In return the North agreed to denuclearize and to open itself to international inspection.

Perhaps inevitably, both sides interpreted the agreement differently. The North again became intransigent. In October 2006 it exploded an underground nuclear device. Yet Rice managed to persuade Bush to dilute the rhetoric. The Administration continued with its more conventional diplomacy The hard-liners in the Administration, including Cheney, had been sidelined.

The Rice/Hill push continued forward. Fuel aid and food were offered as carrots. Then, earlier this year, the offer bore fruit. The North agreed to disable its nuclear weapons and other important facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex. It also said it would allow back both U.S. and UN inspectors. But when Washington stalled on removing the North from its terrorism list Pyongyang also stalled.

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Now we have the breakthrough, with the added bonus of the North agreeing to undeclared sites as well, but with the proviso the inspections are agreed to by 'mutual consent', leaving Pyongyang a card to play.

Fuel oil aid was promised and hints aired that the work on the nuclear reactor could recommence. Still, there is enough ambiguity in the agreement to allow the North to barter for more concessi ons in the future.

Nevertheless, a wheel has turned, almost back to where Clinton left off. Again not quite. Clinton's Secretary of State paid a visit to the North and Clinton was readying himself for his visit, but got diverted by the Israel/Palestine negotiations.

The next U.S. president will have to pick up the baton - and hopefully sprint with it.



Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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