Friday, December 7, 2007
Could it be that President Bush is considering using Pyongyang for a Nixonian "Peking Moment" before the end of his term? There's a lot of row left to hoe, but that's the direction that South Korea would like to see things go in. And the announcement that Bush had sent a personal note to "Chairman" Kim via Chris Hill has led to a certain amount of speculation.
...The US still wants to know about North Korea's program for developing warheads with highly enriched uranium, separately and secretly from the plutonium that everyone knows about at Yongbyon, and also wants to know what North Korea has been doing to "proliferate" its nuclear expertise elsewhere, notably to Syria and Iran.
The rewards for North Korea, as far as the Americans are concerned, are completely clear. If only Kim Jong-il will come through as desired, the US will surely remove the North from its list of countries sponsoring terrorism, will take away the embargo on most forms of trade with North Korea, will even normalize diplomatic relations and asset to a peace treaty.
The easy criticism to make is that the Bush administration, once again, has gotten its priorities mixed up in terms of nuclear non-proliferation. By fully engaging with a nuclearized North Korea, even in return for total transparency, it will only reinforce the idea that nuclear weapons capacity is the only guarantee against the interventionist doctrine of regime change. Obviously Tehran will be paying close attention to how things evolve.
But I think the more productive analysis is that engagement in this case is the lesser of two evils and the best hope for a stable outcome. After initially exacerbating the already challenging North Korean nuclear standoff, the Bush administration has managed to correct course and arrive at the cusp of a satisfactory resolution. A lot depends on how committed Kim Jong-il is to actually arriving at and respecting a final agreement. But if the promise of normalized diplomatic ties proves to be determinant, the argument for a broad diplomatic intitiative towards Tehran is only strengthened.
Again, there's a lot of row left to hoe. If the Annapolis summit caused Dick Cheney's pacemaker to sputter and blink, a Pyongyang summit between Bush and Kim would make it light up like a pinball machine. And Bush's notoriously bad judgment about foreign leaders' souls immediately de-legitimizes even his most promising foreign policy initiatives. But just like it took Nixon to go to Peking, it would be hard to roll back a Bush administration imprimatur on a lasting engagement with North Korea. And even harder to deny the logic of applying the same approach to Iran.