- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Spiraling tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program are undercutting dialogue as a strategy to allay global threats.

Nor is unity among both North Korea’s friends and foes in confronting Pyongyang turning out to be a significant pressure tactic.

All 15 U.N. Security Council members this week joined to condemn North Korea for its April 5 missile test and to threaten new sanctions. That included Russia and Pyongyang’s closest friend, China.

Russia urged North Korea to resume six-party disarmament talks. China, while calling for calm, said it had not lost hope for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

But North Korea responded to the united front not with steps toward patching up the scary scenario, but by moving to expel International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and informing the U.N. watchdog group it is reactivating all its nuclear facilities.

As tensions mounted, the White House called on North Korea to “cease its provocative threats.” Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said North Korea was moving in the wrong direction.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took a more measured stand toward North Korea. “We are viewing this as an unnecessary response to the legitimate statement put out _ of concern _ by the Security Council, and obviously we hope there will be an opportunity to discuss this not only with our partners and allies but also eventually with the North Koreans,” she said.

In nearly three months on the job, President Barack Obama has proposed dialogue and diplomacy _ not to solve all problems, but as a useful strategy.

He has gone far beyond his predecessor, George W. Bush, in proposing U.S. talks with Iran and has taken a conciliatory stance toward the Arab world. He also is pressing to promote diplomacy between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Bush set the now-interrupted course for diplomacy with North Korea. There is no indication Obama intends to change direction.

Through the years, North Korea has followed an erratic course, sometimes raising hopes of compromise, other times taking a hard line.

Two years ago, on the positive side, North Korea agreed to close its main nuclear reactor, at Yongbyon, in exchange for 1 million tons of fuel oil and other concessions. Last year, North Korea agreed to declare its nuclear assets, and the Bush administration responded by removing North Korea from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

A member of Bush’s notorious “axis of evil,” along with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Iran, North Korea appeared to be responsive to dialogue and unity. Joint negotiations with the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan appeared promising _ in sharp contrast to lack of progress in dealing with Iran.

But the situation soured quickly as North Korea refused to agree to a program to verify its declaration, slowed down the dismantling of its nuclear facilities and then ominously on April 5 launched a rocket that Pyongyang said sent a satellite into space but critics say tested long-range missile technology.

The tensions has been rising ever since with six-party negotiations indefinitely shelved by Pyongyang.

John R. Bolton, who was Bush’s U.N. ambassador, said Tuesday in an interview: “North Korea is never going to give up its nuclear weapons program voluntarily. Neither is Iran. And the idea you can talk either of them out of their weapons is not only misguided it is dangerous.”

“The more time you talk, the more time they have to improve their programs,” the former chief of international security at the State Department said.

Another view was taken by Susan Shirk, a professor at the University of California, San Diego. “Let’s not overreact,” the former Clinton administration State Department official said. “The North Koreans have done this before. It’s part of their negotiating strategy.

“It does not mean the end of dialogue and negotiations,” she said in an interview. “The North Korea problem is one of the toughest nuts to crack diplomatically. It is too early to say it is hopeless.”

Shirk has met unofficially for years with North Korean officials and others involved in negotiations.


EDITOR’S NOTE _ Barry Schweid has covered diplomacy for The Associated Press since 1973.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide