- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 30, 2005

Buried in a New York Times dispatch a few days ago was the disclosure of a new U.S. strategy in the renewed negotiations intended to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and the facilities producing them.

“We’re determined to make sure it’s different this time,” a senior administration official told a Times reporter. “We want to force the North Koreans to make a choice: Either to show that they are serious, or to make clear to everyone else that they are fundamentally not prepared to give up their weapons.”

At last, a modicum of common sense seems to have been injected into dealings with Pyongyang regime, whose international relations have been filled with attempted assassinations, abductions, terrorist bombings, broken agreements, subversion, illicit drug smuggling, blackmail, brinkmanship and outrageous propaganda.

After a year’s pause, the Six-Party Talks resumed last week in Beijing among delegations from the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and North Korea. The early sessions yielded mostly restatements of known positions. That has generated two schools of thought about where the talks might lead.

The optimists are reflected by Brent Choi, who covers North Korea for the newspaper JoongAng Ilbo in Seoul and says the forecast is “mostly sunny with some clouds.” He sees a new U.S. attitude toward North Korea, more flexibility in the U.S. negotiating position, and South Korea’s offer to furnish electricity to North Korea as soon as an agreement is signed.

A skeptic is Brad Glosserman, research director of the Pacific Forum, a Honolulu policy institute, who argues “Pyongyang will do everything possible to preserve some nuclear weapons capability.” He asserts neither China, South Korea nor Russia will insist on the “strict verification” demanded by the United States to ensure North Korea sheds its nuclear weapons.

The skeptics, including this writer, doubt the United States will agree to North Korea’s price for dismantling its nuclear program. Pieced together from Pyongyang’s pronouncements and stripped of diplomatic code, the North Koreans want:

• All U.S. military forces withdrawn from South Korea and abrogation of the U.S.-South Korean mutual security treaty.

• A guarantee the U.S. will not attack North Korea and withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea.

• Diplomatic recognition by the U.S. and a peace treaty to replace the armistice ending the Korean War of 1950-1953.

• An end to U.S. economic sanctions and compensation for the loss of missile sales and earnings from other arms exports that might come under an agreement.

Perhaps the most difficult of those demands to effect, even if the U.S. were willing to do so, would be verifying withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. That umbrella seeks to deter a nuclear attack on South Korea by asserting the U.S. would respond to such an attack with its own nuclear arms.

U.S. nuclear-tipped missiles based on land in the upper Middle West states or submarines deep in the Pacific Ocean may be aimed at harmless holes in the sea today. But they could be shifted to North Korean targets in a few minutes by typing new coordinates into computers controlling missile launches.

Therefore, Pyongyang would have only the United States’ word that their nation was no longer a target for U.S. nuclear missiles, a promise the North Koreans are unlikely to accept.

The North Koreans may have another demand they have not yet brought up: that the U.S. withdraw its military forces from Japan, abrogate the security treaty with Japan, and largely retire from the Western Pacific.

In U.S. military terms, South Korea and Japan are an indivisible operations area, with U.S. forces in one supporting those in the other. Indeed, the U.S. forces in Japan, notably Okinawa, pose an even greater peril to North Korea than those in South Korea.

North Korean logic dictates if the Dear Leader in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il, wants to eliminate what he sees as a military danger from the U.S., he would seek to drive the Americans out of both South Korea and Japan.

Since neither the Japanese nor the Americans will agree, Kim Jong-il will not give up his nuclear arms and the Six Party Talks will founder sooner or later.

Richard Halloran is a free-lance writer and former New York Times correspondent based in Honolulu.

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