The North Koreans Are Playing Us for Patsies

The North Koreans Are Playing Us for Patsies

By Jack Kelly - May 31, 2009

On Memorial Day, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon for the second time. President Obama issued a statement describing this as "a matter of grave concern to all nations" and then went off to play a round of golf.

"By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community," the president said.

In an emergency meeting Monday, the Security Council called the test a "clear violation" of a 2006 council resolution forbidding such tests.

The great danger to us from a North Korean bomb is proliferation. The North Koreans, always desperate for money and unscrupulous about how to obtain it, have been assisting Iran and Syria in their pursuit of nuclear weapons and would sell nuclear technology to al-Qaida if their palms were crossed with enough silver. For South Korea and Japan, the stakes are higher.

North Korea responded Tuesday to the torrent of words from world leaders by firing two short-range ballistic missiles into international waters. I suspect the North Koreans continue to defy the "international community" because they expect the torrent of words to be followed by ... more words.

Mr. Obama's statement, and that of the U.N. Security Council, suggest this is the case.

"The danger posed by North Korea's threatening activity warrants action by the international community," the president said.

What kind of action?

"We have been and will continue working with our allies and partners in the six-party talks as well as other members of the Security Council in the days ahead."

For its part, the Security Council said it was considering another resolution. These are not threats which make dictators quake in their boots.

The North Koreans' defiance of the United States and United Nations is nothing new. They have been a thorn in the side of every U.S. president from Harry Truman on. What is new -- or was -- was Mr. Obama's naive and egotistical belief he could change North Korean behavior by reaching out to them.

"The new nuclear test carried out by North Korea demonstates the complete failure, so far, of U.S. President Barack Obama's softly, softly diplomacy and willingness to start afresh with old enemies," wrote Australian journalist Greg Sheridan.

Defiance has worked well for the North Koreans because the typical response has been to try to bribe them into better behavior. Bribery reached its height during the Clinton administration, when President Bill Clinton offered them free food and fuel oil, and to build two nuclear electric generating plants, if they would shutter their nuclear weapons plant at Yongbyon.

The North Koreans agreed, but began cheating right away. President George W. Bush cut off the subsidies when the cheating became too obvious to ignore, but restored them after North Korea's fizzled bomb test in 2006.

"Pyongyang may well be able to sell its Yongbyon reactor to the Americans for a third time, only to continue with nuclear activities at other sites and to re-open Yongbyon when the new agreement inevitably collapses," Mr. Sheridan wrote. "If events follow that pattern, Pyongyang's actions will not only have been rational, but also remarkably effective as state policy."

The North Koreans have to be encouraged by President Obama's apparent commitment to continue in the six-party talks (Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, the United States) despite the test.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal May 20, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton predicted the nuclear test, which appears to have caught the Obama administration somewhat by surprise.

"If the next nuclear explosion doesn't derail the six party-talks, [North Korean dictator] Kim [Jong Il] will rightly conclude that he faces no real danger of ever having to dismantle his weapons program," Mr. Bolton said. "Negotiations like the six-party talks are a charade and reflect a continuing collapse of American resolve."

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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