- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Talk about gall. This week, the government of North Korea demanded that the United States pony up compensation for economic losses suffered by the impoverished communist country. North Korea, which shocked the world by withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty in 1994, says it hasnt received all the bribes it was promised for not going nuclear on its own, specifically two harmless power-generating nuclear light water reactors.
The demands are par for the course with Pyongyang, and come after the Bush administration agreed on June 8 to resume talks. "Our approach will offer North Korea the opportunity to demonstrate the seriousness of its desire for improved relations," Mr. Bush said. "If North Korea responds affirmatively and takes appropriate action, we will expand our efforts to help the North Korean people, ease sanctions, and take other political steps." The present response from North Korea is very much in character.
While the Clinton White House made the dictatorial regime the top recipient of U.S. aid in Asia, North Korea responded with often belligerent rhetoric and very limited steps toward tension reduction. Mr. Bush, on the other hand, has made clear that U.S. dialogue with North Korea depends on the regimes demonstrations of goodwill. Any concessions must be connected to verification that North Korea is living up to any nonproliferation commitments. Mr. Bush has also been astute in highlighting the importance of North-South Korean negotiations. Although Bill Clinton was fond of having U.S. officials take the lead in talks, and photo-ops, with North Korea, Mr. Bush is aware that the future of long-term tension reduction lies with the North-South nexus.
Our interest in containing the North Korean threat is difficult to exaggerate. The border between North and South is the most militarized area in the world. The United States keeps about 37,000 troops in the region. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency found in 1993 that North Korea was hiding weapons grade plutonium, despite having signed onto the NPT in 1985. And although the Clinton administration delivered about $600 million in aid to North Korea since 1994, we have not been able as promised to inspect the two sites believed to store the plutonium.
Since the Clinton administration failed to strike any substantive agreements with the North to reduce the number of troops at the border, or to discontinue its nuclear and missile programs and arms exports, the Bush administration was correct in forging a new policy, which it articulated only after completing a three-month policy review. Engaging North Korea appropriately will surely be a considerable challenge for the United States in years to come as the most recent set of demands so clearly demonstrates.

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