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Grand Bargain, Not Five-Party Talks
[Opinion] Obama should extend a firm hand to North Korea
Lee Byung-chul (merrycow)     Print Article 
Published 2009-06-24 10:11 (KST)   
This article is lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
North Korea may be a distant enemy to the United States but to South Korea it is the closest reality in the global community. South Korea is completely exposed and vulnerable to North Korea셲 reckless and belligerent outbursts, as witnessed by Pyongyang셲 second nuclear test and subsequent test-shootings of short-range missiles.

Unquestionably, as a pillar of the 쏿xis of evil the North already became 쐔he most dangerous spot on earth to the democratic regime in the South, although those who view North Korea셲 nuclear-armed status as fait accompli point out that the unpredictable regime will likely need more years to pose a decisive threat to the US.

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It became evident that North Korea has so far betrayed the other member states---South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia. And the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, at age 68, will take the 쁝rduous route designed to reinforce his ideological dispositions, instead of following the 쁡angerous course of reform and openness.

The six-party talks thus cannot function normally any longer in dealing with an erratic North Korea. As North Korea has continually attempted clumsily to legitimate its nuclear weapons program, many conservative political pundits and experts here in Seoul began to consider Kim Jong-il and his barracks regime as hopeless.

They're right.

The Stalinist communist country셲 hostile attitude shows that the stalled nuclear disarmament negotiations have more holes than Swiss cheese and that diplomacy is preferable to sanctions was wrong.

Pyongyang also finds it unnecessary to continue the multilateral talks on its nuclear issues. Instead, it considers it urgent direct talks with Washington to deal with the guarantee of the Kim clan-led regime survival, diplomatic normalization, and economic assistance in return for abandonment of its nuclear weapons program. But different structures serve different functions.

The six-party formula which was launched by the Bush administration in 2003 after North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, is still alive under the Obama administration, even though it overturned many aspects of the Bush administration셲 foreign policy.

Unlike the US, South Korea thinks it셲 time that a new negotiation mechanism be made to focus on North Korea셲 denuclearization.

It is no accident that the pessimism about the multilateral security forum has surfaced even in the mind of the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. A conservative who gradually sped up his assaults on North Korea, President Lee suddenly seems to have found himself drumming up a new five-party framework without North Korea. There are two reasons why his faith in the controversial six-party talks faded.

One reason was that the six-party talks aimed at eliminating the North셲 nuclear cards one by one but it now seems to offer Pyongyang more cards in negotiating with the other countries, especially the US, South Korea and Japan. In absolute terms, the time spent on the talks was the North셲 time. In President Lee셲 point of view, it셲 often forgotten that North Korea has been rapidly adding nuclear arms throughout the talks.

The other reason was that the six-party talks already failed to respond to the speed of the North Korean nuclear development as every member state spent much time coordinating its own different policy position toward the North셲 provocative behavior.

In the South셲 eyes, the North acts like an accused person serving as a juror. The clueless six-party talks became a structure that cannot turn a wolf into a sheep, as long as a continuing lack of trust among the member states persists.

It is pretty clear that North Korea셲 nuclear weapons and relevant technologies are bargaining chips to gain leverage with the US. Pyongyang has learned how to use the multilateral talks to its advantage for a long time, while prevaricating on the agreed-upon conditions imposed by the consensus-oriented forum. Given the complicated structure of the nuclear politics, any kind of talks related to the North Korean issues can셳 proceed without China셲 assistance.

A great many North Korea watchers suspect that China, a reliable guardian of the regime in Pyongyang, will not likely engage North Korea in a substantive way. China prefers to keep the entire Korean peninsula as a status quo, for fear of North Korea falling into the American orbit.

A peaceful Korean unification led by South Korea may be a nightmare to China if US troops in a unified Korea could guard the borderline overlooking Chinese territory. Claims by Seoul and Washington that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a serious threat to China are not plausible, much less strategic, given that China is geographically surrounded by Russia, India and Afghanistan, all of them with nuclear weapons already.

Regarding the nuclear weapons program, North Korea is full of bad memories and thus, it will never be permitted to have nuclear weapons and regime survival. If the North continue in their provocative actions, it will surely become an orphan of the international society.

Pyongyang셲 brinkmanship is no longer strange. Instead, Kim Jong-il should show himself to be more pragmatic in calculating US strategies. In light of this, the sentencing of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling to 12 years of hard labor in a notorious prison camp was surely a fatal error by the ugly regime.

North Korea must be flexible at this juncture, not brinkmanship. For North Korea, there is nothing to outfox or checkmate the US. Freeing the American journalists without preconditions would be a good signal to send Pyongyang셲 flexibility to Washington.

At the same time, Obama셲 outreach policy should apply to North Korea as well, letting Kim Jong-il and his merry-men realize that diplomacy is still the most reliable and effective tool in its US foreign policy.

In the fast-paced environment of global security, the winner is going to be the person with the greatest ability to adapt, not to try to bring about complete success.

The Obama administration should prepare to pull the rug out from under a 쁳ransitional North Korea with a well-structured carrot, demonstrating to the ailing Kim a longer stick that a second Korean war will invite him to the same fateful course as Saddam Hussein faced. Obama셲 쐅rand bargain should apply to North Korea as it does to Iran.

©2009 OhmyNews

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