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Saturday, December 11, 2004

Dangling a Carrot ?

U.S. hints at reward to a disarmed North Korea
By Andrew Salmon International Herald Tribune

North Korea can expect a range of benefits if it drops its nuclear arms programs, a U.S. official knowledgeable about talks with the Communist regime said Thursday, as he called for the North to return to nuclear negotiations.
"We are talking permanent, thorough, transparent denuclearization, that is subject to verification," the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said at a meeting with journalists. He ruled out offering any incentives to bring Pyongyang back to the six-party talks, however.
He added that if Pyongyang denuclearizes, it could expect "a rich basket" of "corresponding measures," including energy aid and assistance in joining international financial institutions. The official also said that North Korea would be offered multilateral security assurances and could be removed "very quickly" from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism.
The six-party talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament - involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States - have stalled since Pyongyang refused to attend the fourth round, which had been scheduled to take place in September.
Observers speculated that North Korea had been awaiting the result of the U.S. presidential election in November, but the North denied this. It has insisted as a precondition for talks that Washington drop its "hostile policy." A flurry of multinational diplomatic activity has failed to get the talks back on track.
The chief U.S. envoy on North Korea, Joseph DeTrani, held two meetings in New York last week with North Korean officials attached to the United Nations. DeTrani was in Seoul on Thursday, after having traveled to Beijing, and will travel on to Tokyo to brief officials there on the New York talks.
In New York, the North Koreans had indicated their commitment to the six-party talks, hoping for their success, but had not given a date for the resumption of talks, the U.S. official said.
"They walked away from the table," he said. "We were surprised, because there were three proposals on the table on June 25." In that last round of talks, North Korea, South Korea and the United States had all made proposals to move the talks forward.
On the issue of what Pyongyang charges is Washington's "hostile policy" toward it, the official said: "This is invariably tabled by the DPRK," referring to the acronym for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "To be honest, I've not been able to get a very clear answer on this."
He discounted the Proliferation Security Initiative, a multinational effort designed to interdict dangerous cargoes internationally, saying it was not aimed at North Korea, but was a "very necessary" program which aims to halt proliferation and which involves around 60 countries.
He also would not characterize the North Korean Human Rights Act, a U.S. law earmarking up to $24 million a year for grants to nonprofit groups supporting rights and market reforms, as hostile. "The North Korea human rights bill speaks to the values of the United States," he said. "We hope to have dialogue with the DRPK on human rights. From where I am sitting, it is not a hostile policy."

Okay, the comments come from that usual New York Times/ International Herald Tribune source, “an official speaking on the condition of anonymity.” Plus, the attached media periodical emanates right out of the bowels of France. However, the whole idea is plausible. The concept plays to one of North Korea’s most obvious weaknesses. And, some of you will recall that North Korea, suddenly, had a willingness to sit down to the negotiation table exactly one day after the results of the US General Election showed another four years for President Bush.

If you can put all that aside for a second and concentrate on the message portrayed within this short article, you will notice something rather interesting.

Suppose this is a legitimate report. Suppose that the “official speaking on the condition of anonymity" is providing a choreographed leak that will, undoubtedly, reach the ears of Pyongyang; just like it is supposed to. The same message will, also, be taken in by supporters of the United Nations with their self-proclaimed monopoly on the control of nuclear non-proliferation through the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA).

The message is what’s so peculiar.

The significance is that the United States is not going to rely on the IAEA to do their job. Instead of the tired exchanging of non-enforceable nasty grams as is the IAEA's norm, the US has made clear that the only course for North Korea is “permanent, thorough, transparent denuclearization, which is subject to verification.” This was not an invitation to negotiations. This was an invitation to verifiable action.

So, what’s missing from the equation? That’s not so simple. This “official speaking on a condition of anonymity” dangled the carrot of "a rich basket" of "corresponding measures," including energy aid and assistance in joining international financial institutions. The official also said that North Korea would be offered multilateral security assurances and could be removed "very quickly" from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism.

So who is the carrot for?

Good question. In a country where some villagers have, literally, resorted to eating tree bark to survive, Kim Jong-il could use this opportunity to feed his country, and acquire the perceived strength accompanying that endeavor. That's not likely to occur.

Or, someone close to the Kim Jong-il, interested in the future of North Korea, could use this opportunity to grab the reigns of a country in suffering turmoil by means of a coup d'état. Bolstered by the promise of very necessary aid and future financial growth, there is little doubt that a majority of the country’s citizens would support the undertaking. It’s fascinating that Kim Jong-il makes few public appearances these days.

Perhaps the message is meant for the North Korean citizens themselves, in an effort to further stir the pot of disestablishment. While, on the surface, the North Koreans have been shielded from outside sources, the growing relationship with South Korea provides the means of emissary.

However, the publication is the International World Tribune, which is the foreign voice of the New York Times. So, there’s no real confidence that the “anonymous official” actually exists.

Still, it’s curious.

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