Thursday, September 07, 2006

US on Wrong Path on North Korea?

Excerpt of an op-ed from Donald Gregg (former U.S. ambassador to South Korea) and Don Oberdorfer (chairman of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University):

The Bush administration is preparing to implement a new set of comprehensive sanctions against North Korea in response to its recent ballistic missile tests. This would be a grave mistake, likely to lift the already dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula to a new level of tension.

The only path to success with North Korea is negotiation, which President Bush and others have endorsed on many occasions. What is needed is sustained engagement to persuade Pyongyang to return to the regional talks and cease its confrontational actions -- not new sanctions that will make such a course even more difficult.

Pyongyang's ballistic missile tests of July 4 were a provocative mistake that led to unanimous condemnation by the U.N. Security Council and sharp cutbacks in aid from South Korea. The tests especially angered China [and] Beijing took the remarkable step of voting to condemn its fraternal neighbor. It slowed down but did not stop its crucial food and energy assistance.

Recent U.S. financial sanctions based on North Korea's money-laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. currency have been painful for Pyongyang's free-spending leadership. But neither these sanctions nor the impending comprehensive sanctions are likely to lead to the demise of the 60-year-old North Korean regime or to a positive shift away from its militaristic actions.

In June 2005 Kim Jong Il told a South Korean emissary that his country possesses nuclear weapons but that it does not need to test them. Semi-official U.S. estimates are that Pyongyang has sufficient nuclear material for six to 12 nuclear weapons, though the status of bomb assembly is unknown. Why, at such a time, choose sanctions, a policy option whose historical record is overwhelmingly one of failure?

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