- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Oh, how we love diplomatic analogies. Now, with the new announcement that Washington will resume dialogue with North Korea, key spokesmen in the White House and State Department are saying that "the ball is now in North Korea's court." Good grief; to say that the United States is ready to resume talking again means only that we are ready to return to the tennis court together. We have not yet even been served with concrete Bush administration proposals. The leaders in Pyongyang can only guess about the possible spins on the first ball served.

The four-month hiatus in U.S. policy toward North Korea, kindly called "a three-month policy review," which has seriously set back almost four years of progress toward South-North reconciliation, is over. And surprise, the conclusion is that there is no safe or sane alternative to the basic policies pursued by the Clinton administration in concert with our allies in Seoul and Tokyo. However, the Bush administration evidently has some new twists for "comprehensive talks." It's our serve.

Before those of us who have long believed that engaging North Korea across the board is the proper path sit back and rejoice, we had better consider the diplomatic nuances of how our government should now approach the leaders in North Korea. What should our first serve be? While saving for subsequent serves the various techniques of "engagement" backed up by a strong defense pursued by the Clinton administration, the first should be a totally unexpected shot delivered from a position of strength. That is, issue a public statement that the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea has been removed from the U.S. list of terrorist states, that we support loans to the DPRK from the International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank, that we will remove economic sanctions and that it is our intention to normalize relations.

Subsequent serves take us back into the tough negotiations over North Korea's missile programs, proliferation of missiles and missile technology, the status of nuclear capabilities and conventional arms control measures all to be underpinned by verification measures. All of these complex negotiations will take time and will involve heavy financial costs. But that first crucial serve, with no financial costs to "the World's Sole Superpower" (the undisputed world class tennis player) would set the psychological environment for the rest of the match.

We are talking here about the psychology of diplomacy with the leadership in Pyongyang. Having spent literally hundreds of hours with their senior leaders, including the Great Leader" Kim Il-sung before he died; having read deeply into English translations of "The Juche Idea," the basic philosophy of self-reliance behind the DPRK political and social system, and having traveled extensively in North Korea during four week-long trips, I am suggesting that "pressuring" them is a dangerous exercise in futility.

The extent and depth of North Korea's search for international "respect" and "dignity" cannot be exaggerated. A foreign visitor's first mandatory stops in Pyongyang include a visit to the Tower of Juche, which is emblazoned with hundreds of little plaques bearing respectful messages from leaders of "Juche societies" from many parts of the world. Paying homage to an enormous bronze statue of Kim Il-sung and, if staying in a VIP villa, watching extravaganza films about the greatness of North Korean history since the inception of Juche are other "must do's." Then, if the visitor's trip is long enough, an overnight train ride north to Mount Myohyang is in order to tour two enormous buildings, one dedicated to the Great Leader and one to his son, the Dear Leader, now ruler, General Secretary Kim Jong-Il. Inside are rows-upon-rows of valuable gifts ivory tusks, gold and silver gifts and works of art hermetically sealed in glass cases bearing inscriptions of respect mainly from Third World leaders.

The emphasis on foreign respect also punctuated the many high-level, private discussions I have held with North Korean leaders on international security, trade and aid issues. For example, from my meeting notes: "Dr. Taylor, assure your friends in Washington that we never respond positively to outside pressure" (President Kim Il-sung) or "Dr. Taylor, your government speaks of 'carrots and sticks' diplomacy toward us; one uses that on mules, and we are not mules (Central Committee Secretary Kim, Yong-sun), or "Col. Taylor, do not use with us the Gulf war as a sign of your military strength; Iraqis can not fight, but we can (Gen. Kim Young-chul).

Pyongyang's response to President Bush's statements at the March summit with South Korea's president that he does not trust the North's leadership and would end dialogue pending a policy review was predictable stony silence relieved only by inflammatory anti-American rhetoric and cessation of progress in the North-South Korean dialogue.

We have nothing of significance to lose by the diplomatic approach I suggest, an approach that has been adopted by most of the international community. This approach is also consistent with a policy of pursuing arms-control objectives while moving simultaneously toward missile defense. We have much to gain if the psychology involved leads to recognized greater "internationalism" in our approach, lessened North Korean suspicions of U.S. motives, greater willingness to enter verifiable agreements and diminished tensions on the Korean Peninsula as progress resumes in the North-South dialogue aimed at peaceful coexistence.

Historically, wars often start by accident or miscalculation at times of high tension. The U.S.-South Korean combined forces would win a war quickly, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory in which hundreds of thousands of Americans and our allies in Japan and South Korea would perish.

Now, let's get in the right first serve. Our Asian allies, along with most others worldwide, would applaud loudly at a time when the United States can use a little positive foreign. public relations.

William J. Taylor, a retired Army colonel and former senior executive with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

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