Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has given up hope for setting up a security alliance in Northeast Asia before she leaves office, mainly because of the unresolved North Korea nuclear issue and lingering disputes between some of the countries in the region.
Miss Rice, who has been advocating the idea for two years, initially envisioned an organization that would address common threats - without coming even close to NATO’s integrated political and military structures - possibly growing out of a six-nation forum dealing with Pyongyang.
On Thursday, she said that those six countries - the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and North Korea - have developed “patterns of cooperation,” but an organization can only be established “at an appropriate time,” which is diplomatic speak for not anytime soon.
“To have a forum that has become a reason for cooperation rather than for conflict is pretty rare,” she said of the six-party process. “So I think we will want to build on that, but it’s going to have to come at an appropriate time.”
During a visit to Beijing in October 2006 following North Korea’s testing of a nuclear device, Miss Rice said it was a “problem” that the countries in the region “had no way to even have conversations about common security threats.”
“Mechanisms” to do that “are going to need to come into being,” she said at the time.
Michael J. Green, who was senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council until 2005 and worked for Miss Rice when she was President Bush’s national security adviser, said that she “had wanted to leave office with that institution firmly in place.”
However, the secretary said on Thursday that, “right now, the work of denuclearization takes precedence, and certainly it’s the most urgent work,” referring to the ongoing efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons programs.
Miss Rice, who spoke to reporters during a visit to Singapore for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), also said Wednesday that the “various parties” should have “better relations,” an apparent reference to a recent diplomatic dispute between Japan and South Korea, as well as an earlier one between Japan and China.
Mr. Green, who is now senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Bush administration “also came to realize that overplaying this idea would make it look like we can trust North Korea, which would not have played well in Tokyo or Seoul.”
Evans Revere, president of the Korea Society in New York, said the administration “does not have enough time to pursue and resolve the complex issues that would have to be resolved in order to create a new security system in Northeast Asia.”
“Had the administration not decided to adopt a more confrontational approach on the North Korea nuclear issue during its first five years in office, we might be in a very different situation today,” said Mr. Revere, a former U.S. diplomat with extensive experience in Asia.
Jack Pritchard, who was the State Department’s envoy for North Korea under Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, said that a security organization should not initially include the North and should not emerge from the six-party process.
Gary Samore, vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that if Pyongyang were to participate in any such grouping, “we first have to negotiate a formal end of the Korean War.” He also said that the “most difficult issues” of the North’s disarming have not been negotiated.
He cited verifying Pyongyang’s recent declaration of its nuclear activities and a document meant to be the basis for that, which Miss Rice urged North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun Wednesday to accept as soon as possible.
The two met during a session with the top diplomats of the six countries involved in the nuclear talks.