US Reached Out To NoKo At UN

In an attempt to jump-start multilateral negotiations with North Korea, the US used low-level direct contacts with the Kim regime through the United Nations, according to an anonymous US embassy official. According to the Boston Globe and an AP report in USA Today, nothing substantial about nonproliferation was discussed, but assurances were given to the Kim regime on sovereignty and security:

U.S. officials met with North Korean officials in New York last week to discuss American policy toward the Stalinist state, a U.S. Embassy official in Tokyo said Thursday.
“We can confirm that we had working-level contact with North Korean officials on Friday, May 13, in New York,” an embassy official said. “This channel is used to convey messages about U.S. policy, not to negotiate.” …
A report in Japan’s Asahi newspaper on Thursday said senior U.S. State Department officials told North Korean officials on Friday that Washington recognizes the North as a sovereign nation under the leadership of Kim Jong Il.
The U.S. officials also told the North Korean side that the administration of President Bush does not intend to attack North Korea, the Asahi said.
The report said the meeting took place at North Korea’s representative office at the United Nations.
The Boston Globe reported in its Thursday edition that the meeting was attended by Joseph DiTrani, the U.S. special envoy to the six-nation nuclear talks, and Jim Foster, the head of the State Department’s Office of Korean Affairs.

Interesting. The Bush administration appears to have arranged this meeting after a long policy of refusing any direct bilateral contact with North Korea over nuclear disarmament, a policy that frustrated some in the State Department. The Kim regime dug in its heels, however, saying it would not return to the bargaining table without some kind of security assurances from the US about its continued sovereignty and existence. It looks like Bush has reconsidered, at least long enough to toss the dice with Pyongyang to see if that approach will break the impasse.
Perhaps it will work, although Kim is a master manipulator. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he found another pretext for delaying multilateral talks, having received what he demanded at Turtle Bay. If it fails to bring Kim back to the table, Bush can demonstrate that he made the attempt to use all of the options available to satisfy Pyongyang of US good faith. More likely, though, Kim will exploit this as a precedent to refuse any multilateral negotiations in the future.

NoKos Try Orwell As They Return To Bargaining Table

The North Koreans have sent a “conciliatory” message asking for a resumption of the multilateral negotiations the US insists on using as a framework for non-proliferation talks with the Kim regime. In fact, the message was so conciliatory that the North Koreans now claim that they never wanted any other kind of framework than the six-nation approach:

Capping a week of rising tension with a conciliatory note, a foreign ministry statement issued late Sunday said Pyongyang was ready to sit down and resolve the standoff through six-party talks.
“Our will to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and seek a negotiated solution to (the nuclear standoff) still remains unchanged,” the statement said Monday, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
It also dropped a precondition to a resumption of the six-way talks by denying it had ever asked for separate, one-on-one talks with Washington, a demand the United States has rejected.
“We have never requested the DPRK (North Korea)-US talks independent of the six-way talks,” the foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying.

Excuse me? Pyongyang has long insisted that its only obstacle to peace was the United States and that before any regional arrangements could be made, the US had to negotiate directly with Kim on a non-aggression pact. It was that same foot-stamping by Kim during Clinton’s term that led Jimmy Carter to come to his rescue, pushing Clinton to agree to that framework that eventually gave Kim enough time to develop his nuclear weapons. This double-speak might fool the North Korean citizenry — although I doubt it — but it shouldn’t fool anyone else.
Pyongyang knows that it won’t move the Bush administration through threats, at least not in ways it wants. It found that out when Condoleezza Rice threw Kim’s missile test back in their faces, reminding Kim that the US has more nuclear warheads on one submarine than Kim has altogether — and that if he wants to play the game that way, we can certainly escalate it right along with him. That exchange may have been instructive for both Pyongyang and our erstwhile nonproliferation partners in Beijing. One suspects that the Chinese may have more than just a little influence on Kim’s latest note of conciliation.
Once again, the North Koreans rolled the dice for belligerence, and once again they came up snake-eyes. Sooner or later, they may actually start learning that this American administration doesn’t get impressed with sabre-rattling from tinpot dictators, even those with a few big guns under the desk.

North Korean Brinksmanship Redux

The DPRK has ominously shut down or scaled back its power production from a nuclear reactor at its main weapons complex, raising the possibility that the NoKos will harvest more plutonium to make more weapons. It also could be nothing more than a bluff intended to make the US back down and engage in the same kind of bilateral talks that wound up going nowhere during the Clinton administration:

The suspected shutdown of a reactor at North Korea’s main nuclear weapons complex has raised concern at the White House that the country could be preparing to make good on its recent threat to harvest a new load of nuclear fuel, potentially increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal.
The White House’s concern over the past week arises from two developments. An American scholar with unusual access to North Korea’s leaders, Selig S. Harrison, a longtime specialist on North Korea at the Center for International Policy in Washington, said after visiting the country two weeks ago that he was told by a very senior North Korean that there were plans “to unload the reactor to create a situation” to force President Bush to negotiate on terms more favorable to North Korea.
That focused new attention on spy satellite photographs of the reactor, which has been watched intensively in recent months. While American officials would not discuss what the spy satellites had seen, commercial satellite photographs of the plant, taken by DigitalGlobe and interpreted by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, show that the plant was apparently shut down or shifted to a very low power level at least 10 days ago, around the time of Mr. Harrison’s visit.
Mr. Harrison’s message and the satellite photographs present a mystery that has underscored how difficult it is for intelligence officials to decipher the state of the nuclear program in North Korea. The signs could mean that preparations are beginning to extract fuel rods from the aging five-megawatt reactor, the first step in the elaborate process of reprocessing the rods into weapons-grade plutonium. But there could also be more innocent explanations, among them maintenance – or a diplomatic bluff.

The Times mentions that Harrison isn’t exactly a neutral analyst in this issue, either. He has frequently criticized the Bush policy on North Korea and favored bilateral negotiations instead of applying regional pressures on the Kim regime:

Though administration officials strike a public pose of little concern about North Korea’s threats, the message brought back by Mr. Harrison has seized the attention of senior American officials as they are debating internally whether the diplomatic approach they have taken for the past two years should be declared a failure. White House officials are a bit skeptical of Mr. Harrison, who has been critical of Mr. Bush’s refusal to negotiate one on one with North Korea, and who is often warmly received in Pyongyang, the capital.

In other words, this appears to be a bluff. How convenient that a Bush critic, one “often warmly received” by North Korea’s tyrant, shows up at the same time as this rather ostentatious power fluctuation. Kim has tried everything to unbox himself from the regional stranglehold that Bush is using to pin Kim down to an agreement on disarmament. Now he wants to rattle regional nerves by appearing to add to his arsenal.
Unfortunately, the size of the arsenal is not especially relevant, at least not on this scale. The only relevant point is that Kim has nukes, not whether he has eight or sixteen. Predictably, the NY Times fails to consider this in its analysis, but I suspect that the Bush administration will show considerably less panic than Pinch Sulzberger’s crew.

We’re Rubber And You’re Glue

The North Korean government issued one of its silly contradictions today, backing away from multilateral talks after agreeing to them earlier because Condoleezza Rice won’t take back her description of the Kim regime as an “outpost of tyranny”:

“It is quite illogical for the U.S. to intend to negotiate with the DPRK without retracting its remarks listing its dialogue partner as an outpost of tyranny,” the spokesman said in comments published by the North’s official KCNA news agency. …
“This is, in the final analysis, little short of indicating it will not to hold the six-party talks. She can make nothing but such outcries as she is no more than an official of the most tyrannical dictatorial state in the world,” he added.

Yes, when we have multiparty elections, the Dictatorial Party always ensures the same outcome. This schizophrenic break from reality typifies the response one gets from tyrannies once they get challenged by democracies willing to stand up to their thugs-in-chief. Plain speaking inevitably leads to shaming the tyrants and exposing the weak-kneed among ourselves and our allies. We saw it when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire,” a description that caused the Western Left to moan and gnash their teeth but gave hope to the victims of Soviet oppression that America meant to do something to help, after forty years.
The same has held true for plain speaking in the Bush administration. Bush called Iran, Iraq, and North Korea the “axis of evil” early in his first term, and moral relativists the world over professed their scorn for such simple-minded terms like “evil”. They would rather avoid such terminology, because evil identified becomes either evil opposed or evil embraced. In Kim’s case, after having starved ten percent of his country’s population to death, the shoe fits, and the world needs to choose whether it embraces Kim’s rule or opposes it.
Words matter, and tyranny means something rather specific. Kim’s playground games with Rice only shows the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the DPRK. Her statements reflect the reality of Pyongyang and the need for North Korea’s neighbors to hold the Kim regime to account.

North Korea To Return To The Bargaining Table

North Korea has apparently ended its tantrum, noticed that no one got very unnerved by their antics, and has decided to return to the six-party talks. Not only that, but Pyongyang apparently has committed to reaching an accord with the US by October:

North Korea has told officials in South Korea it is willing to take part in six-party talks on its nuclear arms program in June, a Japanese newspaper reported.
Pyongyang also said in its message, which was conveyed to South Korea by unofficial routes and then to Japan by Seoul, that it was willing to sign a treaty with the United States by October, the conservative Sankei Shimbun said on Monday.
North Korea declared on Feb. 10 that it had nuclear weapons and that it was pulling out of the talks, which include Japan, Russia, China and the United States as well as the two Koreas.

The Kim regime had apparently hoped to scare up enough defeatism in the United States to allow the North Koreans to force Bush into bilateral talks, the kind of negotiating the Democrats wanted to promote during the presidential campaign. However, Bush wants North Korea’s neighbors to have stakes in the process and outcome, and also want to impress upon the Chinese that if Pyongyang goes nuclear, the US can arrange for Japan and Seoul to do the same.
So once again the grown-ups at the Bush White House have won another round of diplomacy where the Democrats wouldn’t have had the nerve to play. It’s yet another reason why we’re better off with Bush serving a second term than having John Kerry bringing back Madeline Albright for an encore.

North Korea Backing Down Again?

North Korea has a history of making provocative and disruptive statements and then retreating when their opponents refuse to back down. After declaring itself a nuclear power earlier, despite never having conducted an N-weapon test, North Korea outright rejected any notion of returning to the six-nation talks that the US demands. However, faced with US adamance on multination diplomacy and a diplomatic shrug on its nuclear declaration, North Korea tonight suddenly retreated on diplomacy:

North Korea will return to six-party talks on its nuclear program if the United States pledges to stay out of Pyongyang’s “domestic affairs” — a prospect that could lead to the two nations becoming “friends,” North Korea’s envoy to the United Nations told a South Korean newspaper for Saturday’s editions.
Last week, North Korea said it had no intention of returning to the negotiating table and declared that the nation already has nuclear weapons and is prepared to build more.
That earlier statement was met by strong comments in Washington, which has refused to offer concessions to North Korea and has rejected Pyongyang’s calls for direct talks with the United States.

The Kim regime has pulled this play out of its notebook on several occasions during the Bush administration. Kim plays a none-too-subtle game of cat and mouse, trying to embarass the Bush administration into backing down and caving in to its demands for bilateral talks and concessions. Such tactics worked with the Clinton administration, and gauging from the reaction of Democrats last week to Kim’s pronouncement of N-weapons development, it would have worked with a Kerry administration as well.
China, meanwhile, had already picked up signals from the Bush administration that the stalled talks would not allow the Chinese off the hook. Bush continues to press Beijing diplomatically to impose economic sanctions on the Kim regime, which they have not yet done. However, the Chinese have decided to go to Pyongyang to tell Kim that his gambit hasn’t worked:

Wang Jiarui, head of the international department of the Chinese Communist Party, was flying to Pyongyang. He was expected to try and persuade North Korea to return to the negotiating table. …
China will likely use “patient diplomacy, plus some persuasion, plus some economic incentives, plus some political concessions from the United States and South Korea” to lure the North back to the six-country talks, Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, said earlier.

Where the NoKos stated last week that six-party talks were dead, now they just have two preconditions to their restart. They want a guarantee of peaceful coexistence from the US and some sort of assurance of “concrete results” from nuclear disarmament. The concreete results they want — that they desperately need — is financial support for the tottering Kim tyranny. Their people starve by the millions, and the demonization of America will hold their loyalty for only so long before someone gets a sense of how tenuous his grip on power really is.
That probably has been the game all along, and the nuclear weapons (if they truly exist) are only the fodder for his extortion racket. They also provided extra benefit as a scare tactic to undermine American resolve and get the best deal he could get, without having to answer to his Chinese allies/masters. Now Kim has been forced back to the table on Bush’s terms. It looks like the grown-ups in the White House have learned from Kim’s history.

North Koreans Admit Having Nukes

In an announcement that surprises no one, the North Koreans told the world that they have built nuclear weapons and plan on keeping them, on order to keep the “freedom and democracy” that their subject have “chosen” alive from the dangers of the Bush administration:

“We … have manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration’s ever more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the (North),” the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. … North Korea’s “nuclear weapons will remain (a) nuclear deterrent for self-defense under any circumstances,” the ministry said. It said Washington’s alleged attempt to topple the North’s regime “compels us to take a measure to bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal in order to protect the ideology, system, freedom and democracy chosen by its people.”

The AP reports that the Kim regime had admitted in private talks much earlier on that they had nukes, but the North Koreans kept it from public consumption, presumably hoping that the West could be extorted into keeping it quiet. The knowledge of their work and capacity goes back to 2002, when North Korea announced it had cheated on the Agreed Framework nonsense that the Clinton administration arranged with Kim, where Kim promised not to build nuclear weapons and we built nuclear power plants in exchange.
All this proves is the folly of appeasement, an option unfortunately forced on the Clintons by their friend Jimmy Carter, who sailed into the North Korean negotiations uninvited and dropped this Munich descendant onto the table. Tyrants do not willingly disarm; they need all the weapons which they can get in order to protect themselves from the people around them, including (and especially) their own subjects. To believe otherwise is folly, and as shown in North Korea, catastrophically deadly folly.
Hopefully, the EU-3 can take a lesson from this in their dealings with Iran. So far, though, it looks like they’re trying to run the Jimmy Carter playbook as well.

Dissent In North Korea: AP

The AP reports that they have video of unprecedented demonstrations against the Kim regime in North Korea, one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world. The demonstration calls for the removal of Kim Jong-Il and follows several signs over the past few months that Kim’s grip may be slipping:

A human rights group claimed Tuesday that it has obtained video footage showing dissident activities in North Korea, with demands for freedom and democracy written over a poster of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il.
If authentic, it would be the first time images of dissent in the highly secretive North have come to light. But there was no way to independently confirm the validity of the footage.
The 35-minute videotape, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, shows written statements posted on a wall, urging North Koreans to fight to retrieve freedom and democracy.
A man is heard, but not seen, reading a statement, demanding Kim Jong Il be removed from his post. “The North Korean people are suffering from hunger and poverty because of Kim Jong Il’s dictatorship and dogmatic politics,” the man says.

No one doubts that the Kim regime has suffered some level of strain this past year, from large explosions in its railroad system to the unusual retirement of some public portraits of the Dear Leader in the capitol. The North Koreans have starved for years, with thousands fleeing into an increasingly unhappy China. Now it looks like some North Koreans are either unwilling to abandon their homeland to the Kim regime or simply haven’t the means to leave. And if they have to starve anyway, in the last gasp some will stand and fight.
Hopefully the regime will pass from the scene quietly. The cracks have lengthened and deepened, and if the North Koreans have decided to stand up and demand change, it won’t take much to start a collapse.
UPDATE: Tomorrow’s London Telegraph has more:

The 35-minute video clip, said to have been taken in November, was posted on the website of an opposition group based in South Korea. It shows a poster of Kim scrawled over with the words: “Down with Kim Jong-il. Let’s all rise to drive out the dictatorial regime.” …
Such an act would be considered a grave crime in the North and would mean a death sentence without trial for the perpetrator, said Do Hee-youn, who heads the group. “It’s no ordinary group of people who took this video,” he told Reuters news agency.

This is the still frame that might be imperfectly analogous to Luther nailing his theses to the Wittenburg cathedral door:

North Korean Civil Defense Plans: Protect The Portraits!

North Korea issued civil-defense guidelines to its people in anticipation of attack by the United States, with preparations ranging from the mundane to the ridiculous:

North Korea has ordered its people to be ready for a protracted war against the United States, issuing guidelines on evacuating to underground bunkers with weapons, food and portraits of leader Kim Jong Il. …
The manual urged the military to build restaurants, wells, restrooms and air purifiers in underground bunkers where government offices and military units will move in if war breaks out.
When North Koreans evacuate to underground facilities, they should make sure that they take the portraits, plaster busts and bronze statues of Kim and his parents so that they can “protect” them in a special room.

Kim signed the order himself as the chairman of the Central Military Committee, a position that had not been publicly associated with anyone after the death of Kim’s father. It also appears to end speculation on Kim’s status after a series of contradictory impressions over the past few months, with reports of Kim’s pictures being removed from public places. Or it could just as easily be a reaction to pressure coming from within the North Korean military to unseat Kim, which would explain all of the above.
How seriously should people take this order? It’s the first time that any such document has been publicly released by the notoriously clandestine North Koreans, which means that they intend it for political effect. An edict creating special protective rooms in underground shelters for pictures of Kim sounds like a satire in and of itself, although it will certainly stir the domestic population into a temporary unity behind Kim. Kim’s problem will occur when the threatened US invasion never materializes, cutting his credibility even further with his people.
If Kim needs this piece of hysterical propaganda in order to get his restful population into compliance, his regime may well be in danger of crumbling from its own internal rot. The military would be the most likely place for a palace coup to start, and Kim’s sudden and public announcement of his command appears to be some sort of effort to bring them to heel.

South Korea Sells Out

The New York Times reports today on the sudden distaste for asylum-seekers from North Korea with the Russians, but James Brooke’s report talks more about South Korea than the Russian Federation. Defections from Kim Jong-Il’s workers paradise has always neen an issue for the Russians (as well as the Chinese), but one that the Russians had tolerated until now. The change appears driven by North Korea and, surprisingly, South Korea as well:

In a new twist, diplomats from South Korea now work to discourage defectors from North Korea.
Under new rules, South Korea is reducing resettlement payments to North Koreans by two-thirds. Defectors are to be scrupulously investigated. South Korea says that will help weed out criminals, spies and ethnic Koreans from China.
Human rights advocates say South Korea’s stricter policy is intended to curry favor with China and North Korea, and to slow a rising influx of refugees, which hit a record high of 1,850 at the end of 2004.
“The situation in South Korea itself has changed,” said an ethnic Korean-Russian travel agent here who used to help North Koreans get to Seoul. “Now it seems that North Koreans are not welcomed there anymore.”

Seoul appears to be less concerned with security issues than with appeasing and enabling the Stalinist North Korean government. Suddenly now that the two Korean capitols are immersed in nuclear negotiations, the South Koreans have withdrawn the traditional and laudable hospitality they’ve offered to their cousins escaping Kim Jong-Il’s oppression and starvation. Russians have followed suit, if only because they don’t want North Korean refugees staying in Russia permanently due to Seoul’s refusal to accept them.
South Koreans need to ask themselves if they believe in freedom for all Koreans, or just below the 38th Parallel.
UPDATE: Read Tim Worstall’s piece for better perspective on Russian motivations, which appear much more understandable than those of South Korea.