Talking Nuclear

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While it’s certainly good news that the Bush administration is approaching North Korea via the negotiation table and not at gunpoint, it remains to be seen what the current multilateral talks will achieve.

On Wednesday, China hosted both the Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia in the first day of talks regarding Kim Jong Il’s nuclear status. Tensions have been running high since UN inspectors were kicked out of North Korea in December. Since then Jong Il’s administration claims to be busy reprocessing fuel rods, but American intelligence officials have not publicly confirmed such claims.

The message for North Korea was clear: stop making nukes and comply with international protocals. While the parties were essentially unified in their message for Jong Il, it’s not clear how North Korea can be first North Korean nuclear crisis in 1993.

Jang Sun-min writes in Asia Times that part of the problem is that North Korea see the talks as serving foreign interests:

“North Korea doesn’t perceive the US-led multilateral negotiation framework as a cooperative effort to resolve its nuclear issue, but as a mechanism to force the abandonment of its nuclear program.

North Korea and the US are fighting their own fierce battles with time, to avoid economic isolation in the international community and to prevent North Korea from developing nukes, respectively. If Pyongyang should fail in its nuclear negotiations and Bush wins the US presidency again in next year’s election, North Korea would be in more danger of military strikes from the US. For North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, this would mean the collapse of his regime. Conversely, if the US should fail in its negotiations and North Korea should declare the completion of its nuclear development prior to the US presidential election, the Bush administration would be chastised for failing to solve the nuclear crisis, and this would have an impact on Bush’s re-election campaign. However, if the Bush administration should suggest a roadmap to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and thus successfully prohibit North Korea from developing nukes, history would appreciate the incumbent administration differently than otherwise.”

With no promises from the United States, Jong Il is in a precarious situation. The Christian Science Monitor points out that even with complying to inspections, North Korea has no guarantee that the US army won’t show up on their doorstep:

“[T]he North saw in Iraq how the US abandoned inspections in favor of invasion. North Korea realizes that no matter how much it opens its closed society to inspections, the US could suspect a nuclear bomb under every rock.

The US certainly should be suspicious. North Korea’s diplomatic history is rife with deception. Only with continuing pressure from its only patron, China, will the North see the futility of throwing Northeast Asia, and perhaps the world, into a dangerous nuclear confrontation.”

Evidence that North Korea has limited nuclear capabilities is strong, but the nation has not come out and admitted or denied their capabilities. But despite the lack of transparency, Claudia Rosett of the Wall Street Journal encourages negotiators to go slowly, and remember who they’re dealing with.

“[W]hatever talks may now in reality take place, it would be of considerable value for our talkers to keep in mind–even beyond North Korea’s huge, horrendous record of lies, and broken promises about its nuclear bomb program–that regimes which routinely betray, brutalize and butcher their own people are unlikely to deal in good faith with others. It is a rather different set of values they have signed onto.”

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