Well, wouldn't you know it!
North Korea's Dear Leader Kim
Jong-il seems to be in a peculiar ebullient
show-and-tell mood. Last month he admitted to a visiting
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that North
Korean intelligence agents had indeed kidnapped more
than a dozen Japanese citizens, as long suspected. Some
time between October 3 and 5 one of Kim's officials
confessed to visiting US assistant secretary of state
James Kelly that North Korea, in material breach of a
1994 agreement, had an active nuclear-weapons program.
So what's next? Kim's professing that he's indeed a
major missile-technology proliferator and proud of
membership in George W Bush's axis-of-evil threesome?
North Korea's secret nuclear program not only
violates a 1994 accord under which the country undertook
to dismantle all such work in return for receiving two
light-water nuclear reactors; it also is in
contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the
International Atomic Energy Agency safeguard agreement,
and the Joint North-South Declaration on the
Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The US Central
Intelligence Agency believes that North Korea has
produced enough plutonium for at least one, quite
possibly two or three nukes. And, of course, it has the
proven ballistic-missile capability to deliver them to
Japan, even Alaska. What to do about it all will - among
other things - be discussed by James Kelly with South
Korea on Saturday and by Kelly and US undersecretary of
state for arms control and international security John
Bolton with Japan on Sunday and Monday.
most curious about the affair is why the United States -
and Japan, which was informed by Kelly on his way back
from Pyongyang - have waited nearly two weeks before
making the Pyongyang story public. The Tokyo side is
easy: the US requested secrecy. Moreover, that will have
suited Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is
preparing for meetings on October 29-30 in Kuala Lumpur
between North Korean and Japanese officials to further
the rapprochement process. Japan wants to go ahead with
the KL confab and early publicity on the North Korean
nuclear violations might have scuttled it.
Washington? Not that difficult either. The Bush
administration wanted the Iraq war authorization from
Congress signed, sealed and delivered before having to
face nasty questions on why it is prepared to continue
talking to a nuclear-armed Pyongyang but not to Saddam
Hussein, who - at least in plain material capability -
would appear to pose a lesser threat.
reasonable is that approach? This past summer, Bush
administration officials spent a good deal of time
mapping out a comprehensive approach for improved
relations with North Korea. The US is fighting one war
against al-Qaeda. Plans were being made for a second one
with Iraq. Better by far to keep the Northeast Asian
flank calm instead of risking simultaneous confrontation
there. Moreover, improved US relations with China, a
quasi-ally of North Korea, were seen to offer an
opportunity for tackling the issue with Chinese support.
The successful Koizumi trip to Pyongyang confirmed that
a window of opportunity for neutralizing the Korean
President Bush will now
undoubtedly face any number of questions on his
motivation if he pursues the campaign against Saddam
Hussein while acquiescing on the Kim Jong-il threat.
Acquiesce nonetheless he will - and not unreasonably so.
There will be some hollering, but no tangible action.
Indeed, there is behind-the-scenes talk in Washington
that Kim's owning up to having a weapons program might
be viewed as a positive, that the cards are now on the
table, that - with Chinese, Japanese and Russian
assistance - the threat can be contained, and that
serious negotiations to eliminate it can ensue.
Bush has only himself to blame if he now might
be called a hypocrite for negotiating with Kim but not
Saddam. It was he who lumped them together. But in
strategic terms, a Middle East without Saddam is vastly
more important than a North Korea without Kim. That
won't be said out loud; it's fact nonetheless. It took
Washington the better part of two weeks to reach that
conclusion. That such a conclusion has in fact been
reached will, however, become evident in coming days and
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