- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2005

Everyone engaged in the six-party talks in Beijing to persuade the North Koreans to give up their nuclear ambitions should see that Pyongyang’s latest shenanigans have made two conclusions patently clear:

(1) The North Koreans once again have shown they cannot be trusted because they say one thing Monday and something quite different on Tuesday. This evasion is not a new tactic but goes back 50 years to the end of the Korean War.

(2) North Korean leader Kim Jong-il does not intend to dismantle his nuclear programs no matter what the United States and the other nations offer. The Bush administration and other negotiators should accept this as hard fact and move on.

A summary of how the Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Russians and South Koreans got to this point with the North Koreans:

Late last month, the six nations issued a statement that said, in part: “The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea] committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date to the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons [NPT].”

They also “agreed to discuss, at an appropriate time, the subject of the provision of light water reactor to the DPRK.” Light-water reactors (LWR) generate electricity but it is difficult to use their nuclear fuel to make bombs.

The following day, the North Koreans reneged, effectively asserting the “appropriate time” is now. “The U.S. should not even dream of the issue of the DPRK’s dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing LWRs,” they declared. A day later, they declared they were “fully ready to decisively control a pre-emptive [U.S.] nuclear attack with a strong retaliatory blow.”

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency continued in the same vein in recent days, saying it was “most essential” for the U.S. “to provide light-water reactors to the DPRK as early as possible” as evidence the U.S. recognized North Korea’s right to have nuclear activity for “a peaceful purpose.”

North Korea’s latest ploys involve hinting Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill should visit Pyongyang to be followed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and possibly President Bush or his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

This should be seen for what it really is: a pitch for U.S. leaders to journey to Pyongyang to pay tribute to Mr. Kim, to accord his regime international stature and hold out hope an agreement could be reached down the line if Americans make more concessions.

Maybe Mr. Hill should go to Pyongyang for the sake of diplomatic appearances and to show the Chinese, Japanese, Russians and South Koreans that the U.S. is willing to go an extra mile to get a realistic agreement with the North Koreans. Nothing substantive, however, should be expected.

For Miss Rice or either Presidents Bush even to consider such a venture would border on madness and would only hold out the false hope that somehow, sometime, someplace the North Koreans will suddenly renounce their nuclear plans and actually keep their promises. Anyone who believes that will ever happen will also believe the sun will rise in the West.

What, then, to do?

The time has come to stop trying to cajole the North Koreans into a verifiable agreement and for Mr. Hill and colleagues to pick up their briefcases and walk away. They should thank the Chinese, who hosted the negotiations, for a nice try and give the North Koreans a phone number and an e-mail address and say if they ever want to negotiate in good faith, let us know.

The consequences? North Korea will have a free hand to develop nuclear weapons, but they have that anyway. Walking away will damage the endeavor to prevent more nuclear proliferation, but that has already been damaged.

Iran and possibly others will be encouraged to proceed with plans to acquire nuclear weapons, but the Iranians indicate they intend to go ahead anyway.

China has scored its first big diplomatic success; little the U.S. does will detract from that. South Korea daily moves away from its U.S. alliance. It remains uncertain if China and South Korea will be happy with a nuclear-armed North Korea next door.

So, what’s to lose by saying goodbye to the North Koreans?

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

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