Two months ago, the money was on the falling apart of US policy towards the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea. US foreign policy managed by secretary of state Hillary Clinton had since April 2009 tilted to the hard, if not harsh, line adopted by the ROC [Republic of Korea aka South Korea] and Japan.
But as Guam Diary has kept account, since the "privatisation" of US policy which was made spectacular by Citizen Bill Clinton's 'sudden mission of mercy' to free two US journalists sentenced to 12 years of hard labour in the DPRK, the Barack Obama [BHO] administration has rushed quickly into the breach of its own failed policy of sanctions, threats, and 'I dare Kim Jong il to try something rash' kindergarten threat, to reverse oars, by seeking old fashioned diplomacy with Pyongyang. After another 'surprise mission of mercy' to the North, this time by Mme. Hyun Jeong un, CEO of the powerful Hyundai Group, implacable foe of Kim Jong il, ROC president Lee Myung bak began marching to the beat of the US drum.
Under the cover of the funeral of Kim Dae Jung on 23 August 2009 a thaw began between South and North after a 30 meeting with a high powered delegation of DPRK officials with Mr. Lee. Guam Diary has already pointed out the significance of Mme. Madeleine Albright representing the US at Mr. Kim's funeral, as well as the 'private talks' with New Mexico governor Bill Richardson with senior DPRK diplomats accredited to the UN, in Santa Fe.
The border at the 38 parallel is open again; talks with South Korea's Red Cross and its DPRK counterpart are going on, to begin anew the bringing together of families separated for the last 55 years, owing to the Korean war; it is also worth noting that tourism to 'Kumgang san' [Diamond mountain] will start once more, as will the acceleration of economic activity in the North's Kaesong industrial park, brought to a halt owing to aggressive moves by Seoul.
Thus, the prospects for renewed talks on North Korea's nuclear programme look promising. And relaxation of tensions on the divided Korean peninsula is noticeable.
Nonetheless, it has to be said that the BHO strategy of putting the maximum pressure on the DPRK through sanctions and crippling Pyongyang's access to foreign trade and hard currency, among other things, has borne 'small potatoes', albeit the policy is in its initial stages, one which has, it seems, dull prospects.
Moreover, it should not slip from one's radar that since the US has mounted the steed of sanctions, and rode into the joust of knocking the DPRK off its horse, Kim Jong il has put forth newer demands which the US & co. will have deal with. In brief, the DPRK has for now bailed out for good from the six party talks in Beijing, in favour of direct negotiations with Washington. Not only that Pyongyang has upped the ante by saying that it won't give up its nuclear 'warheads', about which little is known or how large a stockpile it has.
Already South Korea which turned off the spigot of funding, fertilizers, food, funds, etc. at the beginning of Mr. Lee's presidency in 2008, is proposing huge infusions of cash, if North Korea gives up its nuclear programme. Pyongyang has turned a cold shoulder to this suggestion for the time being.
Washington is keeping up the pretense of enforcing sanctions. Its hit man senior state department official Philip Goldberg is currently in Asia, trying to sign on countries to enforce UN resolution 1854. He is politely heard, but his hands remain empty. Sean Lavery at the US treasury has not fared well either, since the DPRK corporations or banks on his hit list are in Iran, which is sure fire signal how poorly the policy is faring.
So, where does all this leave the BHO administration since the logjam broke with DPRK after Citizen Clinton's 'mission of mercy'. Guam Diary would be harsh in saying it leave the US up the creek without a paddle. More to the point, it does point out the fact that Washington has to back pedal quickly, in order to come up with a new approach to discussions with Pyongyang, and ones which aren't all camouflaged as 'private'. What sticks in US foreign policy caw in dealing with the DPRK, it seems, has more to do with opening negotiating directing with North Korea, something the George Bush administration tried doing for 8 years, and with little success. Although Mme. Clinton will push for going back to the green carpeted table in Beijing, Kim Jong il will press for direct negotiations, which in the end the US will have to decide to do.
As Guam Diary in early August 2009 commented, the pooh bahs of expertise on the question of North Korea turn hawkish on allowing the DPRK to keep its 'nuclear weapons'. Senior diplomats and CIA analysts and well known scholars simply cannot see it. And this even before any negotiations are taking place! You wonder at times how the US can negotiate successfully?
The DPRK has a minimum and maximum programmes in negotiation. For it, everything is negotiable. Consider the 'visite eclaire' of Jimmy Carter to Pyongyang in 1993. Warmly welcomed, he broke through supposedly high barriers of discontent with Kim Il Sung. Returning to Washington with an agreement, which the Clinton White House begrudgingly latched on to, which ushered in a 'golden age' of talks with Pyongyang until the Bush administration sabotaged it through ideological blindness and spite.
Commonsense should tell us that at Foggy Bottom [state department], the White House, and the National Security Council, some people are burning the midnight oil, to come up with a strategy to take advantage of opportunities in negotiating with the DPRK. Yet the inertia of received wisdom and intransigence of the people who against the high tide of the Bush White House, might put a drag on any progress. Flexibility and looking at the issues from things on the ground and not in some spaceship thousands of kilometres in outer space, should be a guide. And above all, in the words of Tallyerand, that long lived opportunist, who survived the old regime in France, the Terror, the Republic, Napoleon, and unto the Restoration of Bourbon kings, should and must be a watch word, 'surtout pas de zele' [above all, play down zealousness]!
Finally, will the centre of negotiations hold? Let's wait and see. They should in the short and medium term. A caveat, as Guam Diary has already noted, the fly in the ointment is a hard line Japan in any regional discussions, and South Korea's attempt to put a satellite on long range missile into outer space. North Korea did, but was bitterly attack by the US, who seized the UN security council calling for sanctions; which it got after forceful arm twisting. Pyongyang is as endless commentators have noticed, is watching to see if and when Seoul does, will it too be on the receiving end of sanctions? [See, Guam Diary's 'Sanctions for South Korea. What's good for the goose is good for the gander? dated 17 August 2009]