Monday, February 12, 2007

What North Korea Really Wants

Shortly after 9/11, when the description “blowback” was raised as a possible reason for the targeting of the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, I picked up a book by that name written by Chalmers Johnson in 2000. By the time I finished the book, I understood for the first time how the U.S.’s midguided policies planted the seeds of future disaster, including the 9/11 attacks.

Knowing next to nothing about North Korea, I read Blowback’s Chapter 5, “North Korea: Endgame of the Cold War. Johnson described North Korea as a “proud and desperate nation at the end of its tether,” not a “rogue state” with a mad leader.

After Bush took office, earlier efforts to work with the North Koreans were dropped in place of the stated goal of “regime change.” And the U.S. reneged on its agreement to supply fuel oil in exchange for the North Korean’s agreement to stop its nuclear program as provided for in the 1994 Agreed Framework.

How did this happen? In 2003, I picked up a small paperback by John Feffer, North Korea South Korea – U.S. Policy at a Time of Crisis, and by the time I finished it, I had a much clearer picture of why both North Korea and the U.S. find each other such a threat and what each country has done to create so much distrust.

Feffer’s book is densely packed with an explanation of why the current U.S. government’s pursuit of keeping the Korean peninsula divided between north and south is such a disaster. He states: “…the current policy on North Korea was incubating in the conservative policy circles during the 1990’s. Once in power, the Bush administration has used various means to pursue its ultimate goal: regime change in Pyongyang.” This includes refusing to engage in bilateral talks with North Korea since Bush makes it clear that we don’t talk to our "enemies. "

Recently, despite the focus on the war in Iraq and the possibility of an attack on Iran, North Korea is showing up in the news.

The January 27, Washington Post article, What North Korea Really Wants, attempts to answer that question: ”Above all, it wants, and has pursued steadily since 1991, a long-term, strategic relationship with the United States. This has nothing to do with ideology or political philosophy….The North Koreans believe in their gut that they must buffer the heavy influence their neighbors already have, or could soon gain, over their small, weak country….

And that is why the North so doggedly seeks bilateral talks with Washington. It desires not "drive-by" encounters, not a meeting here and there, but serious, sustained talks in which ideas can be explored and solutions, at last, patiently developed.”

This morning, the New York Times reported that Nuclear Talks on North Korea Hit Roadblock, a major disappointment based on the recent reports of the possibility that it would be willing to give up its nuclear weapons program. It appears that North Korea’s demand for fuel oil has increased from the 500,000 tons (promised but only partially delivered under the Agreed Framework) to two million tons. The article goes on to state: “…Furthermore, the proposed agreement sets no dates on nuclear action beyond shutting down the nuclear plant at Yongbyon and allowing inspectors in within 60 days; it leaves unresolved what the North would get in return. The summary was given to The New York Times by a person trying to explain the timing and vagueness of the deal’s elements.”

Perhaps the North Koreans have quadrupled its request for fuel oil since it didn’t receive what it was promised in the earlier agreement. And I wonder what Bush would lose if he agreed to bilateral talks with the North Koreans.

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