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Pulling the Plug on Pyongyang By: James T. Hackett
The Washington Times | Tuesday, February 05, 2008


In 2005, the president changed policy toward North Korea. After years of withholding tribute and applying pressure, he switched to accommodation. It has not worked. He should revitalize the alliance with Japan and the new South Korean government, and return to a policy of containment.

The failure of the current policy was spelled out by Jay Lefkowitz, a New York lawyer and former deputy assistant in the Bush White House, and since 2005 the President's Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea. In remarks at the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Lefkowitz suggested the six-party talks have failed and now North Korea is merely awaiting the end of the Bush administration. He deserves a medal for telling the truth.

For decades the Kim dynasty that rules the North made trouble by assassinating enemies in foreign lands, kidnapping Japanese citizens, launching missiles of increasing range, selling missiles to countries in the Middle East, maintaining a million-man army, and developing nuclear weapons. The North's antics concern this country mainly because thousands of U.S. troops are still in South Korea, but its behavior also should concern the North's neighbors.

The communist regime in North Korea was saved from elimination by the massive intervention of Chinese troops in December 1950 and since then North Korea has depended on China to sustain its failed economy. Thus, the six-party talks between the United States, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and North Korea made sense. It was hoped that the five interested countries would join to apply pressure on the North.

It did not work out that way. China and the South Korean government of President Roh Moo-hyun supported the talks but continued economic assistance to North Korea. And Beijing wanted concessions from Washington, mainly for the United States to oppose the independence movement on Taiwan. The United States did not have an effective way to pressure North Korea. So in 2005, the concessions began with bilateral talks with the North, meeting one of Pyongyang's main demands.

State Department diplomacy achieved little, but Treasury Department sanctions succeeded. The Treasury accused North Korea of sponsoring international criminal activity, froze its assets in the Banco Delta Asia in Macau, and put the North on a blacklist that shut it out of the international banking system. This hit the leadership in the pocketbook and the North refused to return to the six-party talks until its money in Macau was released. Finally, Washington had leverage over North Korea.

But instead of pressuring the North to end its nuclear weapons program before getting its money, the administration made a major mistake. It bowed to Pyongyang's demand to release the frozen funds and remove the blacklist in exchange for the North's promise to fully disclose its nuclear activities and disable its nuclear facilities by the end of 2007.

Chris Hill, the State Department's designated appeaser, worked hard to get the frozen assets in Macau transferred to Pyongyang and to remove North Korea from the Treasury's blacklist. All last year Mr. Hill kept saying the North would meet an April deadline, and then a December deadline, "to make a final declaration of their entire nuclear program."

Of course, North Korea met neither deadline and as Mr. Lefkowitz and former Ambassador John Bolton have said, there is little chance it will before the end of the Bush administration. Anticipating another Clinton in the White House, Kim Jong-il looks forward to a visit from the first husband, who was trying to schedule a trip to North Korea before he left office.

President Bush changed policy on North Korea when things were going badly in Iraq and he needed a victory. He was not well-served by those who suggested he could find his legacy in North Korea. But now there is a chance tomake amends. Tokyo has been tougher than Washington on North Korea, and for the first time in eight years a South Korean government is realistic about the North. President-elect Lee Myung-bak, who will take office in February, will strengthen the effort.

The following steps should be taken:

• Reinvigorate the alliance with South Korea and Japan.

• Suspend the six-party talks and stop all allied support for the North.

• Improve and increase ground-based missile defenses in Alaska, Japan and South Korea, and on U.S. and allied ships in the Pacific.

• Use the Proliferation Security Initiative, which the new South Korean government may join, to prevent North Korea from shipping missiles and nuclear technology abroad.




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