One point Candidate Kerry has remained consistent on during last night’s debate is his plan to open bilateral talks with nK. When asked how he would deal with what he perceived as the greatest threat to America, Kerry responded, “I’m going to immediately set out to have bilateral talks with North Korea.”
President Bush immediately rebutted this idea, explaining:
Again, I can’t tell you how big a mistake I think that is, to have bilateral talks with North Korea. It’s precisely what Kim Jong Il wants. It will cause the six-party talks to evaporate. It will mean that China no longer is involved in convincing, along with us, for Kim Jong Il to get rid of his weapons. It’s a big mistake to do that.
We must have China’s leverage on Kim Jong Il, besides ourselves. And if you enter bilateral talks, they’ll be happy to walk away from the table. I don’t think that’ll work.
President Bush is correct that multilateral talks are the only diplomatic method which has any chance of putting an end to the Jonger’s nuclear ambitions. But there’s more.
nK has been characterized by many academics and political analysts as a “tribute-seeking state” which thrives and survives by demanding respect and rewards from other states. Since 1993 Pyongyang has used its nuclear program to blackmail the US into offering recognition, security assurances, and economic benefits. Kim Jong Il plays this game well, always recognizing when he has gone too far in his demands and backing away from the ledge of war.
In 1994 President Clinton made the mistake of paying tribute to nK, allowing former president Carter (aka the “Great Appeaser”) to negotiate with Kim Il Sung. nK learned its nuclear program was its greatest bargaining chip, gaining it the desired tribute from the US. This became evident during the extended negotiations for the Agreed Framework, where the US and South Korea gave the North light water reactors in return for a nuclear freeze: the nK delegation insisted that the agreement characterize the reactors as being provided by and built by the US, even though the reactors were in fact designed and purchased by South Korea.
Today nK is once again leveraging its nuclear weapons program to gain tribute from the US, and Senator Kerry is willing, even anxious, to pay it to them.