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November 1, 2006
Bush Gets A Win On North Korea

The Bush administration found vindication yesterday when North Korea agreed to return to six-party talks without any concessions from the US. The news of Kim Jong-Il's capitulation came through China, whose influence undoubtedly led to the breakthrough:

North Korea agreed Tuesday to resume nuclear disarmament talks, a first sign of easing tensions since the country’s nuclear test this month. But the talks have dragged on inconclusively for three years, and the chances for rolling back the country’s now-proven nuclear capability remained uncertain.

China announced that six-nation talks would reconvene shortly after a hiatus of more than a year, and an American envoy in Beijing said they could take place in November or December.

The agreement was a procedural victory for Beijing, which scrambled to reopen a diplomatic channel even as it joined the United States and other international powers in supporting United Nations sanctions on North Korea after the Oct. 9 test.

But Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, has participated in multiple rounds of talks over the past several years while he accelerated his pursuit of nuclear weapons, and some analysts suspect that he agreed to restart talks now to forestall tough enforcement of sanctions and to persuade China and South Korea to ease his government’s growing economic woes.

The New York Times tries throwing a lot of cold water on this diplomatic victory, but it's undeniable. Critics of the Bush administration had called for the US to lift sanctions on Pyongyang's banking activities after Kim started massively counterfeiting US currency, and to agree to bilateral talks.

The White House refused on both counts. Kim has pumped as much as a billion dollars in fake $100 bills into the world market in its desperate attempt to create hard-currency stocks for themselves, so we're unlikely to avert our eyes while he compounds the dilution of our money. And as to bilateral talks, none of the critics have answered Bush's question: what could North Korea request in bilateral talks that they could not in the six-party regional talks?

With Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia, the Bush administration has a diplomatic and economic encirclement of Kim that actually could crush him. Without engaging the regional players, Kim would be able to taunt us without fear of consequences. After all, we don't trade with Kim now, and he knows we will not start a new war with him. He had no risk in bilateral talks. But that wasn't true with China and Russia, both of which keep Kim afloat, especially China. He went too far over the past few months, embarrassing Beijing and making them look impotent -- and the Chinese must have cracked the whip good the past two weeks, looking at the results.

The Bush administration still has a long road to travel with North Korea. The US needs to stay firm on verifiable disarmament, a concept not robustly pursued in the Agreed Framework, and that will require some intrusive inspections. If given with the appropriate incentives, the multilateral negotations could result in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. It could also result in more game-playing by Kim, which is why verification plays such a critical role in the negotiations.

However, people need to recognize that we would not have any leverage at all had the Bush administration taken advice from its critics. Bush knew he needed sufficient leverage to get North Korean compliance, and he didn't see the point in making useless gestures to a tinpot dictator just to get a few decent headlines in the American press. It's called leadership, and Bush just provided a clear example.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 1, 2006 5:25 AM

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» North Korea Watch: A Return to 6 Party Talks - A Diplomatic Win for President Bush from FullosseousFlap's Dental Blog
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill walks to the departure hall after speaking to journalists, at Beijing airport November 1, 2006. Six-party talks aimed at reining in North Korea ’s nuclear programme must achieve progress in the ... [Read More]

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» Diplomatic victory from American Geek
Ed Morrissey, aka Captain Ed over at Captain's Quarters, has a good post up about a diplomatic victory for the Bush administration. The Bush administration found vindication yesterday when North Korea agreed to return to six-party talks without any con... [Read More]

Tracked on November 2, 2006 7:07 AM


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