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Don't Save Kim Jong-Il By: Frank J Gaffney Jr.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 19, 2003


Diplomats are frantically laying the groundwork for the six-party talks that will shortly convene in Beijing aimed at ending North Korea’s illegal nuclear weapons program. The question is not whether that goal will be achieved. As long as the totalitarian Kim Jong-Il regime remains in place, it seems no more likely in the future to abandon his nuclear ambitions than was the case in the past, the dictator’s myriad solemn promises and international obligations notwithstanding.

Rather, the question is: What price will Kim extract from his interlocutors, especially the nations Pyongyang regards as hostile (namely, the United States, South Korea and Japan; the other two -- Communist China and the Russian Federation -- being longstanding allies of the North)?

The North Koreans have made clear their irreducible demand: An agreement signed by the United States which provides security guarantees to the Stalinist regime.

As of this writing, the smart money suggests that Kim will get his price. To be sure, there is haggling to be done about what form the agreement takes. The North wants a treaty (presumably because past experience indicates that the United States will feel bound to abide by it even if the other party or parties do not). Secretary of State Colin Powell has floated the idea of a more informal means of communicating such guarantees (presumably because he is not sanguine that such a treaty would secure the necessary two-thirds approval from a U.S. Senate deeply skeptical about Pyongyang’s intentions and reliability).

There is also the natty question of when such assurances will be provided. North Korea naturally wants them up front, before it goes through the motions of once again giving up its nuclear weapons programs. The Bush Administration’s opening position insists that the complete dismantling of the program precede the security guarantees.

The tendency of democracies dealing with intractable dictators is usually to try to split the difference and hope that further erosion in their position can be avoided in the end-game. In practice, that is rarely the case. Usually the Western powers are willing largely to gut an agreement (notably with respect to its verifiability and effectiveness) at the insistence of their authoritarian interlocutors, rather than miss the opportunity to get a deal, however flawed.

The present set of circumstances make such an unsavory outcome highly likely. The Chinese and Russians are determined to save their client’s bacon. The South Koreans and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the Japanese are terrified that a renewed outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula will be highly detrimental to their respective security and other interests. And the U.S. State Department has, evidently, been informed that the President and his political team want the North Korean problem to go away at least until after the election.

These conditions suggest that the six-power talks will, later if not sooner, produce an agreement in some form that assures the North Koreans that the United States will not work to effect regime change in Pyongyang. This pledge, which will be witnessed and endorsed by the other four parties, will be conferred even in the absence of arrangements assuring that the North will get -- and stay -- out of the business of building, brandishing and possibly selling nuclear weapons.

The irony is, as former CIA Director R. James Woolsey and former Assistant Air Force Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Thomas McInerny wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, the only prospect that North Korea will actually abide by such a commitment is if the Kim regime were to fall from power. By committing to its perpetuation, the United States is essentially foreclosing the one course of action that could conceivably result in a permanently nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

If this unsavory scenario eventuates, the Bush Administration will add North Korea to the list of terrorist-sponsoring nations that are allowed to be "with us" in the war on terror. Sudan was so identified shortly after 9/11. Syria got its pass shortly after "major combat operations" ended in Iraq. More recently, Castro’s Cuba was shown to be a country we can do business with (witness the forcible return of several Cubans who commandeered a ferry in the hope of reaching freedom in America).

Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership has begun to get direct cash infusions from the United States Treasury, despite its refusal to meet Mr. Bush’s requirement that it "end terror and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure." Libya is poised to be taken off the terrorist list, or at least have related international and U.S. sanctions lifted, after it agreed to pay nearly $3 billion in blood money to families of victims of Pan Am 103. And, far from being added to the official U.S. list of state-sponsors of terror, Saudi Arabia is routinely given the State Department equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, despite mounting evidence that it bankrolls most Islamist terror operations around the world.

That pretty much leaves Iran. And once the United States has done a deal with North Korea, it is hard to believe that it would be unwilling to promise to refrain from helping the Iranian people change their so-called "democratic" government in exchange for the mullaocracy’s promises to remain nuclear free, promise that will be no less hollow than Kim Jong-Il’s.

Those of us who have strongly supported George W. Bush for his moral clarity, courage and resoluteness in waging war against terror organizations and those who are "with the terrorists," can only hope that the President will not succumb to the temptation to paper-over real and abiding threats to this country. Whether done in the naive belief that this time negotiations with dictators will come out better than they have every time before, or in the expedient hope that temporary acts of appeasement will keep a lid on dangerous situations in the run-up to a closely contested national election, the strategy is doomed to fail.

There are few attractive options vis a vis North Korea or, for that matter, most of the world’s other terrorist-sponsors. The worst of those, however, is to agree to preserve and perpetuate the regimes engaged in such sponsorship and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that threaten to make the threat of terrorism infinitely greater in the future.


Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the founder, president, and CEO of The Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, and a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas). He is a columnist for The Washington Times, Jewish World Review, and Townhall.com and has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.


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