- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

North Korea is at it again. After revealing that the North’s leadership has no intention of abandoning nuclear weapons and then severing all cooperation agreements with South Korea, the North now appears to be preparing to launch a Taepodong-2 missile, the type that may be able to reach the western United States.

There have been numerous reports that the North is conducting pre-launch preparations at the Musudan-ri complex, from which earlier Taepodong tests were launched. A train carrying large missile containers of Taepodong-2 size was tracked to the launch site. Then on Feb. 16 the North denied it was preparing a missile launch, implying it may be an attempt to orbit a satellite, as Iran just did. But missile tests are often disguised as space launches, since the rockets used are essentially the same.

Like a child having a temper tantrum, the North craves attention. It also wants respect, fuel oil, food and money. Prospects for the Obama administration to deal with this effectively are slim. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already has made the first concession. By revealing that she intends to continue bilateral negotiations with the North, she gave Pyongyang one of its major goals.

Last week she also promised to establish diplomatic relations and send lots of free oil and money if North Korea will only end its nuclear weapons program. But that was the policy of the Bush administration for years. Mrs. Clinton is ignoring both the failure of that policy and the Jan. 17 statement by the North’s Foreign Ministry that it cannot live without nuclear weapons. It is a triumph of hope over reality.

The North wants bilateral talks with the United States because it raises the North’s international stature and our negotiators give away things that our allies, Japan and South Korea, will not. One of the main goals of the six-party talks was to present the North with a united allied front. But Ambassador Chris Hill met frequently in private with North Korean officials and made concessions that undercut our allies. The good news is that Mr. Hill is moving on to be ambassador to Iraq. The bad news is that Mrs. Clinton is continuing the failed policy.

It made sense when the Bush administration started the six-party talks to engage China in pressuring North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program and stop threatening with ballistic missiles. Beijing is the North’s lifeline, providing most of its food and fuel, while callously sending defectors back to torture and death. Only China can cut that lifeline and apply significant pressure on the North.

But after years of U.S. cooperation with China, it is now clear that Beijing is not willing to cut off the North. China fought a long and bloody war, with nearly 400,000 casualties, to save that regime and wants to keep it in power. The authoritarian government in Beijing does not want a democratic Korea on its border. It has used its role in the six-party talks more to lean on Washington to abandon Taiwan than to apply real pressure on North Korea.

Talking to North Korea, with or without the “help” of China, has been futile. Let’s face facts. The present government of China will not abandon North Korea. The puppet buffer state keeps South Korea’s democracy far from China’s border. North Korea cannot be liberated until a government is in power in China that will accept democracy on its doorstep. The future of North Korea is tied to the future of China.

Beijing withdrew its forces from Korea years ago and turned responsibility over to the North. But we are still there with 28,500 U.S. military personnel, including some at the demilitarized zone. As Bruce Fein asked in his Feb. 10 article on these pages, “Is an empire necessary?” If nearly 60 years of the U.S. military in Korea is not an empire, it sure looks like one.

We should talk with the North only jointly with our allies, turn the U.N. Military Armistice Commission over to South Korea, and gradually move U.S. ground troops, whose presence is not popular with many South Koreans, to Guam and Hawaii. But we must continue our commitment to defend the South if attacked, maintain air and sea forces in and around the South, and turn over to the vibrant South Korean democracy the lead responsibility for both defending itself and dealing with the North.

Just as the unification of Germany had to await the collapse of the Soviet Union, the unification of Korea requires a more democratic government in China. Giving South Korea full responsibility for the North would free Washington from the angst of the North’s constant antics. Then we could concentrate on the big problem of how best to move China toward democracy and human rights.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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