'Barack Obama & Kim Jong Il (Getty Images; AP Photo)'
* Text thankfully forwarded by Steve Zeltzer and Lotus Fong from Dec. 1 to 2, 2010
The Daily Beast
Obama's Only Choice on North Korea
Nov. 24, 2010
As the U.S. dispatches a carrier to the region, experts who have recently visited Pyongyang warn the Obama administration that the only choice to resolve the conflict is direct negotiations.
As the Obama administration dispatches an aircraft carrier to the region, following North Korea’s deadly and unprovoked shelling of South Korea, experts warn that the United States only has one choice in dealing with Kim Jong Il’s regime: direct negotiations.
That’s the message from several American Korea experts who have recently visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and talked to its leaders.
Barack Obama & Kim Jong Il (Getty Images; AP Photo) Contrary to what has been advocated by the Pentagon, the Obama administration, and members of the Republican party, these experts say that direct negotiations are the only way to end Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, and eventually move toward a peace agreement to formally end the conflict.
“The only way out of this box is to negotiate,” Leon V. Sigal, the director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York, told The Daily Beast. Sigal, who visited Pyongyang last week with two former State department officials, added: “North Korea is prepared in detail to do things advantageous to the United States that are not impossible to do.”
“I know it’s very hard to talk to these guys, but there’s no other way.”
The Obama administration, however, has made it clear that no talks with the North Korean government of Kim Jong Il are possible until the regime abandons its nuclear weapons program. In the wake of the shelling incident, President Obama announced that U.S. and South Korean forces will hold joint military exercises in the region that will include the aircraft carrier George Washington and other U.S. Navy warships. "We've had an underlying philosophy of not rewarding bad behavior with concessions," a senior administration official told reporters.
In recent days, however, North Korea has opened the door for a possible shift in policy. In their meetings with North Koreans, Sigal and former U.S. officials Joel Wit and Morton Abramowitz were told that Pyongyang is prepared to ship out all of its nuclear fuel rods, the key ingredient for producing weapons-grade plutonium, to a third country in exchange for a U.S. commitment to pledge that it has “no hostile intent” toward the DPRK.
Such a pact could set the stage for reopening the Six Party talks, which were initiated during the Bush administration by the United States and South Korea to end the nuclear standoff. Those talks, which also involve Japan, China, and Russia, have faltered over questions of verification and compliance. They have also been complicated by a series of reckless military actions on the part of North Korea, which is widely considered to be one of the world’s most repressive police states where at least a million people have died from starvation over the last 15 years.
• Leslie H. Gelb: The Next Korean War?North Korea, in turn, has accused Washington and Seoul of reneging on earlier agreements, including a promise to supply energy for North Korea’s moribund economy in return for shutting down its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. (It remains closed). Pyongyang was also disappointed when President Obama broke a campaign pledge to talk directly with Pyongyang and, instead, intensified U.S. sanctions.
This week’s news that North Korea has built a new facility to enrich uranium and is building another reactor is a sign that those sanctions have failed, asserted Sigal. Without direct negotiations, he said, North Korea was likely to keep enriching uranium, restart its reactor at Yongbyon, conduct another nuclear test as it did in 2006, and test more missiles. “I know it’s very hard to talk to these guys, but there’s no other way,” he said.
Sigal’s views were supported by the three Americans who were shown North Korea’s new uranium enrichment plant earlier this month. "You have to address the fundamentals of North Korean security," Siegfried Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, told an audience in Washington on Tuesday. Stanford Professors Robert Carlin and John W. Lewis, who accompanied Hecker to North Korea, wrote in The Washington Post that “being realistic about the North makes no moral judgment about its systems or policies.” The United States must start by “accepting the existence of North Korea as it is, a sovereign state with its own interests,” they argued.