N Korea Negociations Sought

October 19, 2006

As expected, the negotiations process has begun in North Korea. On her swiftly organized Asian tour, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said the US is open to negotiations. At the same time, Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan met Kim Jong Il to discuss the Chinese position.

Caught by surprise, the US has few other options but to negotiate with its ideological opponent. China, a long time ally of North Korea, has been careful in its rhetoric saying that “Sanctions are a signal, not a goal.”

The Chinese, though, have reason to be alarmed: their regional nuclear dominance is directly threatened by North Korea’s potential nuclear arsenal. N Korea is also engaged in old-school politics, which the modernized China has long left behind. If N Korea is too assert any influence in world politics, it must start talking and stop its self-isolation. The nuclear test was an initial political victory, but one that needs to be capitalized on properly. This is probably the message carried by the Chinese to their N Korean neighbor.

If N Korea acts with prudence, we can expect the kind of deal that Clinton had negotiated during his stay in power. A deal that will halt N Korean nuclear development, in return for American technology and aid.

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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is off on an Asian tour as a response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test. It is contended that a second test is possible and it is necessary to discuss all the sanctions put into place. (Cf: “Rice to rally Asians on N Korea”.)

The move, along with recent US activity at the UN Security Council, is a bold departure from some initial perceptions of the test being a bluff. This indicates a big political victory for the leadership of North Korea — with attention currently on Iran and it’s uranium enrichment program, the Koreans have surprised everyone. And everyone has been caught without a clear or definitive plan.

The Koreans now have a lot of leverage and can expect negotiations, because sanctions might not be effective for a country which has long been isolated diplomatically (cf: “Negotiations Must Follow UN’s North Korea Action, Analysts Say”). This is not new — under Clinton, a lot had been generated with similar threats, but this time the weapons are actually there. (For a detailed article on the Clinton negotiations, cf: “Appeasing North Korea: the Clinton Legacy”)

No matter the rhetoric, these weapons are unlikely to be used. Once, the Soviet Union matched the United States in its nuclear capability, the lure of the atom bomb, was no longer the same. With other world powers acquiring similar capabilities, nuclear war became unlikely, because it would lead to global annihilation, and the weapons became a status symbol. While the victors of WWII seat the permanent seats on the UN Security Council, it is not a coincidence that all these powers came to acquire nuclear weapons technology. Some would argue that a declining France needed those weapons to remain on its prestigious post.

Why is North Korea acquiring these weapons? The prestige, the threat to its southern neighbor (similar to Israel’s undeclared, but widely publicized Nuclear capability), and the negotiating advantage.

It is a political victory, for now. Because the sanctions that it received are non-effective, and the government now looks stronger than ever on the domestic political scene. For a country that bases a lot of its raison d’etre on its opposition to America, this is a perfect distraction from any internal problems and instabilities.