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And you wonder why this is going nowhere?

November 10, 2009

Word on the street is that Stephen Bosworth, the Obama administration’s special representative for North Korea policy is going to Pyongyang before the end of this year.  This is certainly encouraging news. However, there are indications suggested by Victor Cha, a former White House Asia specialist and now a professor at Georgetown University that the Obama administration may not be so sincere in talking to the North Koreans after all.  Cha’s theory is that Bosworth is going to Pyongyang to simply move the Chinese” without trying to achieve anything substantial, the goal is said to be kicking the ball back to China. The thought makes me cringe.

Everyone knows that the Dear Leader had made it clear to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during his visit to Pyongyang in early October that North Korea would consider coming back to the six-paty talks only if the outcome of the bilateral DPRK-US talk is positive enough. The meetings between Ri Gun and Sung Kim seem to have gone quite well, which apparently helped finalize Bosworth’s upcoming visit to Pyongyang. I was heartened by the alleged progress and now this?? If the Americans are not serious about talking to Pyongyang they should at least have the decency to be honest and open about it, don’t play games by getting people’s hopes up and wasting taxpayers’ money (if Bosworth is set up to fail, what’s the point of sending Jack Pritchard and Scott Synder there?) to only kick the ball back to China. North Korea’s nukes are America’s problem as much as they are China’s, if the Americans only want to pass the buck and choose to do do nothing, you get forget about making any progress. 

Seriously, why not talk to the North Koreans?  The Americans even held talks with the Burmese military junta just to spite China. Why not the North Koreans? There are no swarms of vote-wielding die-hard conservative Korean-Americans in crucial battleground states who can potentially vote any party who is brave enough to talk to the North Koreans out of the White House. So what’s the harm talking to North Korea? Both China and South Korea would welcome such a move. Yet the Americans won’t budge. They are playing games, childish games. Instead of making a serious effort to genuinely engage Pyongyang, the Americans want to “appear” serious in talking to them. One wonder what the Americans are up to.  The thought makes me cringe.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2009 2:46 pm

    It sounds as though you might be much better read on this topic than me, Pffef, but I don’t see anything surprising – or culpable – in America’s reluctance to engage in bilateral talks. Now that the six-party framework has been well-established, and has from time to time achieved some small “successes”, it seems pointless to revert to a bilateral dialogue which cannot achieve anything itself, but only serve as a preamble to the next round of six-party talks. Indeed, entering into bilateral discussions would seem to be disrespectful to the other four stakeholders. It looks to me as though the request for bilateral talks from the DPRK is not really sincere, but just another delaying tactic to frustrate the six-party process.

    Small English note: ‘cringe’ describes a rather subtle and complex emotional response, so you have to be careful how you use it. You compound this problem here by two or three times saying “The thought makes me cringe” without clearly identifying what thought you mean. I can probably infer what you mean, but your English is unclear: it’s hard to tell what you mean by ‘cringing’ or what exactly you’re cringing at.

  2. November 16, 2009 2:05 am

    The DPRK’s request for bilateral talks is really sincere? Come on! How long has the DPRK been requesting bilateral talks with the US? Two years if I am not mistaken. Why do you think they conducted the nuclear test and launched the satellite/missile this year? They wanted attention from the Americans. They wanted the Americans to talk to them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the six-party talks at all. But if you think about it, why are we here in the first place? Why did the DPRK want to go nuclear? Sure they wanted to use their nukes to blackmail the international community, but more importantly, they wanted to use the nukes as deterrent against a potential US invasion or attack. What the North Koreans really want is (1) security guarantee from the Americans that they will not attack the DPRK (2) diplomatic relations with the US. So it is sort of useless to talk to the other four about these. Only talking to the Americans makes sense.

    Just to make you happy my friend: The thought that the Americans are not sincere about talking to Pyongyang makes me cringe. OK?

  3. November 16, 2009 9:22 am

    You may have a point, Pffef, in that the US is the main player in the six-party talks, and the power from whom the DPRK seeks the most important concessions. But it is seeking other things as well (aid packages, energy technology, end to sanctions and improved trade) in which the other powers can play a part, as the overall issue is one of regional security which affects all parties. There is no reason why the American position cannot be discussed and modified within the context of six-party discussions. Indeed, it seems likely that the other four regional parties would pressure America to make necessary concessions to advance the process. Such pressure is lacking in bilateral negotiations.

    Nuclear demonstrations are counter-productive in softening the American position. The most recent ones have been widely interpreted as intended mainly for the domestic audience, to boost the image of KJ’s designated successor.

    Oh, and I still don’t get ‘cringe’. You don’t like the presumed American attitude at the moment, but why does it make you cringe? ‘Cringe’ means to recoil from something in a timid (or ashamed) way (not a disgusted or disapproving way), and the two most common uses of the word suggest ‘subservient, fearful grovelling’ or ‘writhing with embarrassment’. Brits, perhaps, might cringe in the first sense, if we get a dressing down from the White House for not being supportive enough in the ‘special relationship’ over Afghanistan, or whatever. Americans themselves who disagree with American foreign policies might cringe in the second sense. But a dispassionate outside observer like yourself – why would you cringe?

  4. November 16, 2009 9:44 am

    Of course the other four parties, especially China and South Korea have high stakes vested in the six-party talks and they are eager to see the talks resume. However, both China and South Korea know the DPRK wants to talk to the Americans and the Americans first. Now the fate of the six-party talks depends on the outcome of the bilateral talks beteen the US and the DPRK, and the Americans don’t seem to be interested, that’s what was making me cringe. A lot is at stake.

    But after reading that brilliant and inspring article from Andrei Lankov, I don’t know any more. I honestly don’t know at this point what can be done, if anything to denuclearize the DPRK.

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