Embassy Row: Obama’s diplomacy

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President Obama defined his approach to dealing with dictators in his first inaugural address, telling tyrants he would “extend a hand” if they unclench their fists.

No matter how many times the mad mullahs of Iran or the ruthless rulers of North Korea slap back that hand, the metaphor remains central to White House foreign policy.

The latest administration official to expound one-handed diplomacy is the U.S. ambassador in South Korea — only two weeks after North Korea threatened to launch a nuclear missile at the U.S.

“The United States is still open to authentic and credible negotiations,” Ambassador Sung Kim said Wednesday. “We are willing to extend our hand, but we need a willing partner.”

The day after Mr. Kim spoke of reconciliation with the Stalinist government in Pyongyang, North Korea threatened to attack U.S. military bases in Japan and on the Pacific island of Guam.

Two weeks earlier, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry threatened a “pre-emptive nuclear attack” against the U.S.

Mr. Kim, a career Foreign Service officer born in Seoul and raised in Los Angeles, delivered his remarks at a breakfast meeting of the Dosan Academy, named for Korean independence leader Ahn Chang-ho. Ahn, who wrote under the pen-name Dosan, opposed the Japanese occupation of Korea.

In his speech, Mr. Kim emphasized the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea and cited the “importance of robust deterrence” against the communist North. He noted “provocative” acts by Pyongyang, such as February’s nuclear test, December’s launch of a long-range rocket, and the sinking of a South Korean warship and the shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in 2010.

“Every time [North Korea] carries out another provocative act, it further isolates itself and impedes trust-building,” he said.

MAYHEM IN MYANMAR

The United States is worried that a fresh outbreak of religious violence in central Myanmar could spread and undermine the fragile civilian government that replaced a military dictatorship in 2011.

“The embassy is monitoring events closely,” U.S. Ambassador Derek J. Mitchell said Thursday, after receiving reports of deadly Buddhist-Muslim clashes in the Mandalay region.

As many as 10 people have been killed since a dispute between a Buddhist shopkeeper and a Muslim customer in the town of Meikhtila on Wednesday sparked the worst religious clashes since 200 people died in communal violence last year. Rioters also burned the biggest mosque in the town.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and property in the violence,” Mr. Mitchell said.

Buddhists make up 89 percent of the population of about 55 million, while Muslims comprise about 4 percent of the population.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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