Feature

Washington’s Search for a Response to North Korea

Kim Jong Il’s launch of test missiles has spurred the debate.

What happened
The Bush administration this week scrambled to organize a unified international response to North Korea's July 4 test-firing of seven ballistic missiles, including a multistage rocket theoretically capable of reaching the U.S. That rocket, called the Taepodong-2, broke up moments after it was launched. The other missiles landed off the coast of Japan. The outraged Japanese drafted a binding United Nations resolution that would condemn North Korea and authorize sanctions or even military action. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill called the draft 'œa very good resolution,' but offered North Korea a way out if it agreed to restart six-party negotiations with the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan. But South Korea, China, and Russia dismissed Japan's draft as an overreaction, and it appeared certain to be vetoed if voted on by the U.N.

Pyongyang rejected the call to restart the six-party meetings, demanding instead one-on-one talks with Washington. Ambassador Hill called that response 'œa little discouraging,' and insisted that there would be no direct talks with North Korea. Several Japanese political leaders, meanwhile, said that if the international community fails to act, Japan should consider acquiring the means to launch pre-emptive strikes on missile bases in North Korea.

What the editorials said
The key question, said The Wall Street Journal, is, What does North Korean leader Kim Jong Il want? He shot off those missiles because he knows from experience it's the surest route to winning concessions from Washington. During the Clinton administration, Kim provocatively refused to permit international inspections, and test-fired a missile over Japan. The Clinton administration responded by giving him financing for two light-water reactors, oil, and food, in return for promises Kim quickly violated. There are no easy answers for dealing with this rogue state, but 'œthe last thing the U.S. should do is reward North Korea's missile provocation with direct talks.'

The U.S. can also forget about the six-party talks, said the Taipei, Taiwan, Times. China will never let them succeed. Beijing pretends to be annoyed by Kim's erratic behavior, but it is using him 'œas a tool to serve its own ends.' His periodic threats undermine the U.S.'s role as a guarantor of security to its Asian allies, and helps Beijing become the critical power in the region. 'œExactly when will the international community recognize that the key to solving the North Korea problem is to bring pressure to bear on Beijing, not Pyongyang?'

What the commentators said
Kim's intentions aren't hard to discern, said Bruce Cumings and Meredith Jung-En Woo in The New York Times. 'œNorth Korea's missile brinkmanship is not intended to scare us. Rather, in the ham-handed way that is Pyongyang's specialty, it is meant to invite Washington to make a deal.' Kim is well aware that President Bush in May offered to talk directly with Tehran about its nuclear aims. Kim thinks Bush will respond to his missile display with a similar offer.

Instead, Bush should make him pay a steep price, said William Kristol in The Weekly Standard. After the missile test, Bush said that Kim had crossed some 'œred lines.' But the president who once made pre-emption the cornerstone of his foreign policy seems to have lost his nerve, and 'œtaken a Clintonian turn.' Talks and international agencies won't deter Kim. Only bold action will.

Los Angeles Times

What next?

The New York Times

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