- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

South Korea, Israel, and Taiwan are far apart, but face the same problem: Their closest ally is cozying up to their bitterest enemy. President Clinton has tried to accommodate every despot in sight, often at the expense of longtime friends and allies. He wooed Yasser Arafat while pressuring Israel to make concessions that could lead to the destruction of the state of Israel.

On the other side of the world, he has done Beijing's bidding while slighting Japan and the freely elected democracy on Taiwan. He has made concessions to the communist rulers of Vietnam and plans to honor them with a visit. Only Florida's Cuban exile vote has kept him from establishing relations with Fidel Castro.

Now the lame duck president wants to visit North Korea and pay tribute to Kim Jong-il, ruler of the world's last Stalinist state. This undercuts America's South Korean ally and follows the pattern of Mr. Clinton's other efforts to find a legacy, which have included highly risky concessions to the PLA and communist China.

His ego-driven desire to visit North Korea could undo the progress made by South Korea's President Kim Dae-jung in improving relations with the North. President Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize for sparking a dialogue with the Stalinist regime, but instead of standing behind and supporting his South Korean ally, Mr. Clinton has barged in and given North Korea what it wanted most, direct high-level contacts with Washington.

The communist North has always wanted to deal directly with Washington, while calling the prosperous and successful democracy in South Korea a U.S. puppet. Now, just as South Korea was beginning to draw the North into improved relations with visits of separated families, plans to open a rail line, economic cooperation and a lessening of military tensions, Mr. Clinton has hogged the show.

Pyongyang, eager for the visit of a U.S. president, has put its relations with South Korea back on ice. There have been no more family visits or progress on the other things the North promised just a few weeks ago. On Nov. 1, the South Korean Defense Ministry said North Korea has not replied to "repeated offers" to arrange a meeting of defense ministers it had promised, apparently because the North is preoccupied with its discussions with the United States.

Most important, there has been no reduction in North Korea's military deployments, including the forward-based artillery that threatens Seoul. Nor has a date been set for Kim Jong-il's promised visit to the South. After all, why should he go anywhere when he can sit in the North like a potentate and the president of the U.S. will call on him?

The North Korean ruler says he may suspend development of long-range missiles and missile exports for at least $1 billion a year and the launch of North Korean satellites by the United States, at U.S. expense. Mr. Clinton's negotiating team has offered both food aid and billions in cash, which would be laundered through the World Bank and other international institutions, in addition to the legitimacy a presidential visit would bestow on the regime in the North.

Besides the high cost, submission to blackmail, and unreliability of North Korean promises, there is also a technical risk. As pointed out recently by Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Center in Washington, the information needed to separate satellites from a rocket's upper stage is similar to that needed to separate warheads from missiles. Launching satellites for the North could actually help Pyongyang obtain the technology it needs to perfect its long-range missiles. And the North is insisting its missile engineers take part in any U.S. launches of North Korean satellites.

As the North snubs the South to do business directly with Washington, Seoul is losing its leverage to induce the North to do what is most important for South Korea, indeed for the world: improve relations and reduce the threat of war. There is concern in South Korea that Mr. Clinton will expect the South to pay part of the blackmail the North is demanding for the missile restraint Washington wants. And in Tokyo there is worry Mr. Clinton may cut a deal on long-range missiles that threaten the U.S., while leaving North Korea with medium-range missiles that threaten Japan.

Establishing peace in Korea and moderating the radical Stalinist regime are important goals, but they should be pursued in close collaboration with South Korea and Japan, America's most valued Asian allies, taking care to address their concerns as well as those of the United States. Before making new concessions or honoring Kim Jong-il with the prestige of a presidential visit, there should be solid evidence of major reductions in the North Korean military, which continues to threaten both South Korea and U.S. troops there, and a firm commitment by the North to stop developing and exporting missiles.

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