North Korea Update

NORTH KOREA UPDATE….Some hopeful news on the North Korea front. Apparently the North Koreans have finally given in to U.S. demands that negotiations be multilateral, not bilateral:

North Korea appears to have accepted a plan to engage in multilateral talks over its nuclear weapons programs, clearing the way for the administration to formally provide its solution for ending the crisis, U.S. officials said yesterday.

….The prospect of new talks will require U.S. officials to settle on a strategy for persuading the North Koreans to give up their effort to produce nuclear weapons. The issue has deeply split the administration, with some officials urging an aggressive approach that offers North Korea few incentives to give up its weapons while others are pushing to offer a multilateral guarantee that North Korea, if it agrees to back down, will not face an unprovoked attack.

….One approach under consideration would promise North Korea that all the other nations at the table could jointly provide assurances of nonaggression, as the first stage of a larger discussion on future economic and political relations. North Korea has long demanded that the United States sign a nonaggression pact, but appearing to give in to that demand is opposed by some key members of the administration.

Another proposal, circulating among National Security Council staff members, would call on North Korea to take the first step in terms of declaring what weapon programs it has and then offering to eliminate them.

Some officials believe the administration should also dangle carrots, which could include energy assistance, development aid, participation in international financial institutions, removal of sanctions and normalization of relations. But those incentives would also be tied to specific progress by North Korea on other issues, such as human rights.

This is a positive step, even though multilateral negotiations are almost certain to be slower and more cumbersome than bilateral ones. Any talks are better than no talks.

This is also going to be a real showcase for differences between the administration’s hawks and realists. In the end, however, I have to figure that if the realists can cut a halfway decent deal Bush will take it. Letting this crisis linger can only be bad news for him.

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