In a Freedom House sponsored conference in Washington, DC two weeks ago, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Deputy Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, strode to the podium carrying an empty chair. He placed the chair down firmly and declared that it was the symbolic seat for the “seventh participant at the Six Party talks, the voiceless people of North Korea.” At the first formal meeting of the Six Party talks in more than a year, held on July 26 in Beijing, the participants not only ignored the chair, they tipped it over. In a display of cynical cruelty both American and South Korea diplomats – who supposedly have the moral foundation and fortitude needed to stand up for the downtrodden – not only disregarded the wellbeing of the starving, imprisoned people of North Korea but had the audacity to behave as if the meeting was a huge success.
Stunningly, any reference to human rights was intentionally kept off the agenda, but even worse, the South Korean representative, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min Soon, had the gall to lay down the law to Japan. The Japanese people have been especially upset about North Korean admissions that its agents have kidnapped scores – perhaps hundreds – of innocent civilians from Japan over the past few decades. Many of the abductees are women and children who are used to train North Korean agents. These agents are either dispatched to conduct espionage within Japan or are used in active terrorist operations and fall back on a Japanese “cover” if apprehended. This issue has raised such a firestorm within Japan that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi refused to eat with Kim Jong Il at their last meeting, and instead brought his own food as a protest against the intransigence of the North Korean regime.
So for a South Korean foreign ministry official to warn Japan that “it would definitely not be desirable to take up issues that would disintegrate the focus of the talks,” was an arrogant statement that reaffirmed what analysts suspected all along: that strategic weapons issues and economics would once again overrule human rights in the mendacious atmosphere of the Six Party talks. Naturally the US representative, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, went along with the flow. All of his comments dealt with delusional “progress.” Tellingly, Hill abjectly conceded the initiative to the North when he said “we do not have the option of walking away from this problem [of North Korean nuclear disarmament].”
Not that America has ever had the initiative in these talks. For years Kim Jong Il has been yanking the US chain harder than a model in a Bow Flex commercial. US representatives to the Six Party talks make public pronouncements as if they are in control. But whenever Kim Jong Il is pressured and needs to delay, he feigns a fit of pique and boycotts the talks. If his hollow economy squeezes too hard and he needs some material support he grandiosely announces he will attend “in return for security concessions by the imperialists.” US officials waffle like a sine wave in reaction to Kim’s calculated mood swings. They cling to the delusion that while Kim turns the crank on the organ, and they beg pennies with a cup, that somehow the monkey is in control of the operation. What is extraordinarily reprehensible is the State Department’s inability to do what it is supposed to do best: control diplomatic negotiations.
Meanwhile, the bureaucracy disregards explicit policy guidance. Late last year both houses of Congress unanimously passed the North Korean Human Rights Act. It was immediately signed into law by President Bush. The law demands that in all dealings with the North Koreans that human rights for the long-suffering people of North Korea be placed on the table for discussion along with any other issues, nuclear, chemical, or missile. This is not mere policy or guidance – either of which would demand obedience from a loyal staff - but is the law of the land, duly filed and recorded.
The flagrant, offhanded disregard for this law is stunning but not unusual. Readers know that I am consistently critical of the State Department (closely followed by the CIA and FBI) as being the most dysfunctional of all Executive Branch agencies. Officer selection is anachronistic, training is incestuous, arrogance is consummate, and the union flies top cover for all FSOs deflecting criticism and threats of dismissal. Nevertheless, a great deal of responsibility for the behavior of the middle managers lies with a leadership failure at the top, at the levels appointed by the President. This includes, to my acute disappointment, Secretary Rice and her appointed staff. To be fair it is terribly difficult to be a cabinet secretary and conduct a top-to-bottom house cleaning of such a key department. Nevertheless, someone must eventually say that enough is enough and take on the challenge for reform.
Meanwhile, those of us who read reports that North Korean people have had their meager government food ration cut to 200 g daily (520 g is the world standard for survival), while well-fed diplomats preen around conference tables and pose for grip-and-grin photo ops, grind our teeth in frustration. As long as the Six Party talks continue on a flawed policy of separation of strategic arms discussion from human rights issues – which are catastrophic in North Korea – then the outcome of the talks is predestined to failure. Such luminaries as Natan Sharansky, who has through his own experience seen what happens in such a case, call for a gathering of nations to produce a policy similar to the Helsinki Accords that linked human rights to strategic issues and in so doing finally brought about freedom for Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Such an accord would be incredibly more productive that the current failed Six Party talks and would recognize our moral responsibility to free the people of North Korea.