Let Asia Foundation representative in Seoul Peter Beck talk: ‘After various governments finish beating their chests [to protest the launch of a satellite by North Korea as part of its gala celebrations of Kim Il Sung’s centenary], we have to find a way to talk to North Korea.
The US can devise as many sanctions as it wants, yet the Obama administration has managed to craft many more, without much success. Washington has little wiggle room to manoeuvre, the more especially since it has given the revanchist Lee Myung bak regime in South Korea the lead in mapping out North Korea policy.
And Lee’s tactics almost fired up the Korean War in November 2010 when South Korean shells fell in North Korean waters and Pyongyang riposted. A nervous US stayed its South Korean ally’s hand, so as to not start up a third war in Asia it could not possibly fight and win.
Nonetheless, US North Korea policy is being influenced by a hawkish clerisy which wants nothing other that the collapse of the DPRK–a policy of ‘rollback’ [shades of the early Cold War] or a more felicitous sounding synonym, ‘patient restraint’, which, when translated means, we don’t talk with North Korea unless they give into our demands.
The 29 February agreement is a case study of snookering North Korea; the US knew before hand–from July 2011 at least–that Pyongyang was going to launch a satellite to honour Kim Il Sung on the centenary of his birth in April 2012. So, even though Kim Jung eun’s negotiators agreed to powdered milk and energy bars in exchange for a shut down of nuclear programmes and long range missile testing for military purposes, the Obama administration attacked it for violating the agreement.
Yet, the Leap Year document does not mention satellites, but no launch can be made except on a long range missile, the US propaganda went at Pyongyang hammer and tong: banzinga, Obama seemed to say, we caught you. Score one for us. And it went back on delivering food aid that it regards as a political weapon. What a twist on the spokesman of democracy!
Nonetheless, the launch will take place: Washington can lump it, North Korea seems to say. And the US giant remains helpless to do anything about it short of floating rumours of a ‘nuclear test’ to frighten the world.
It is time for Obama & co. to take Beck’s words to heart. You cannot save a bad North Korean policy by refusing to negotiate with North Korea.