Acting sensibly over North Korea is clearly not in the playbook of Washington. War games beckon.
As the Obama administration dispatches an aircraft carrier to the region, following North Korea’s deadly and unprovoked shelling of South Korea, experts warn that the United States only has one choice in dealing with Kim Jong Il’s regime: direct negotiations.
That’s the message from several American Korea experts who have recently visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and talked to its leaders.
Contrary to what has been advocated by the Pentagon, the Obama administration, and members of the Republican party, these experts say that direct negotiations are the only way to end Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, and eventually move toward a peace agreement to formally end the conflict.
“The only way out of this box is to negotiate,” Leon V. Sigal, the director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York, told The Daily Beast. Sigal, who visited Pyongyang last week with two former State department officials, added: “North Korea is prepared in detail to do things advantageous to the United States that are not impossible to do.”
The Obama administration, however, has made it clear that no talks with the North Korean government of Kim Jong Il are possible until the regime abandons its nuclear weapons program. In the wake of the shelling incident, President Obama announced that U.S. and South Korean forces will hold joint military exercises in the region that will include the aircraft carrier George Washington and other U.S. Navy warships. “We’ve had an underlying philosophy of not rewarding bad behavior with concessions,” a senior administration official told reporters.
In recent days, however, North Korea has opened the door for a possible shift in policy. In their meetings with North Koreans, Sigal and former U.S. officials Joel Wit and Morton Abramowitz were told that Pyongyang is prepared to ship out all of its nuclear fuel rods, the key ingredient for producing weapons-grade plutonium, to a third country in exchange for a U.S. commitment to pledge that it has “no hostile intent” toward the DPRK.