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[Op-Ed] Fools vs. North Korea

Posted December. 23, 2008 05:46,   


In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said nobody believes North Korea, adding only a fool would. When she appeared on an NBC program two days ago, she said “yes” without hesitation when asked if she did indeed make the comment. Coming from someone who has led bilateral talks between Washington and Pyongyang as national security adviser and secretary of state over the past eight years, what she said was an utter disappointment to those who felt she was inches away from making an achievement. “Don’t believe North Korea” is the last thing people expect to hear from Rice even if she will leave office in a month.

The Bush administration’s North Korea policy is under fire within the United States as well. The Wall Street Journal defined Pyongyang’s failure to adopt the nuclear verification protocol as “Rice’s final fall” in an editorial, and criticized the administration for bringing misfortune on itself by prioritizing superficial diplomatic progress over real nuclear dismantlement. In other words, Rice and chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill persuaded President Bush to remove the North from the U.S. terrorist blacklist. They naively believed Pyongyang would keep its verbal promise of verification. According to Rice’s logic, both she and Hill are fools.

The Journal said North Korea has failed to keep its promises both in words and paper. Since the North has broken promises on several occasions, it is no exaggeration. In the late 1990s, Pyongyang even ridiculed Washington with false information when the United States believed the North had an underground nuclear facility in Kumchang-ri, which was later confirmed to be a natural cave. The U.S. inspection of the site was a compete embarrassment. Nonetheless Washington was generous enough to give 600,000 tons of food aid worth 300 million dollars to Pyongyang. Perhaps North Korean Kim Jong Il and his entourage might laugh at Rice’s comment by saying, “It took her long enough to figure that out.”

In the 1980s, then U.S. President Ronald Reagan emphatically stressed “trust but verify” when engaging in dialogue with the Soviet Union. His attitude brought a U.S. victory over the opponent. In contrast, the Bush administration paid a hefty price over the past eight years, only to judge that North Korea is untrustworthy. President Bush will step down next month, leaving a shameful legacy. His successor Barack Obama would do well to follow Reagan’s path rather than his predecessor’s.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)