Sunday, August 10, 2008

A blunt Bush changes North Korean tune

[Prior to rebuking China for its dismal human rights record], President George W Bush resurrected the issue of North Korea's record on human rights at a time when he had appeared to have completely reversed the hard line of his first term toward Pyongyang.

When Bush stopped off in Seoul en route to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, he unexpectedly introduced the human rights factor into the equation of bargaining with North Korea after years of avoidance of the issue in six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

And in July, with uncharacteristic bluntness, Christopher Hill [labeled] North Korea's human rights record as "abysmal", and the daily suffering of the North Korean people was "an unacceptable continuation of oppression". It was against this background that Bush, after meeting South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak, observed that "human rights abuses inside the country still exist and persist".

While in Beijing, Bush is likely to press for China's cooperation in demanding full verification of whatever North Korea says it is doing to comply with agreements reached in six-party talks on its nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, in North Korea , hunger is worsening. It would doubtless be too optimistic to say that North Korea is so deeply in need of relief for its starving people as to want to give in to demands for verification as a guarantee of removal from the US list of terrorist nations and lifting of US trade sanctions.

However, the allusion to the North's human rights record reinforces what appears to have been a conscious US decision to raise the stakes in the great bargaining game over North Korea.

[Excerpt of an article by Donald Kirk, Asia Times]

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