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Hither and Yon

Conflict resolution 101: Here’s how the U.S. should talk with the North Koreans

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, EastAsiaIntel.com
Listen to people talking about the panacea of “dialogue” and “a peace treaty” with North Korea.
They make it seem so simple. We need to talk, they say. We’ll never come to terms with North Korea if we don’t talk.
One advocate of dialogue put it this way when I asked about the shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex: “Only when the U.S. and the two Koreas agree on a peace treaty will projects like Kaesong achieve stability.”
But wait a minute. Hasn’t everyone tried talking before? Need we go over the agreements that North Korea has violated, beginning with the “Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” signed by North and South in 1991?
And what about the agreements that the flashy, uber-confident Christopher Hill reached with the North Koreans in 2007, calling for step-by-step nonsense whereby the North would do away with its nukes in return for, what else, amazing quantities of aid?
It all seemed so well “crafted,” in the parlance of a dippy-dip. Only one problem: The North Koreans didn’t begin to live up to one word of the “schedule” for de-nuking.
Advocates of talks and a treaty never mention this stuff while blaming the U.S. for, well, for not talking. Okay, let’s forget all that; what’s past is past.
Moving on to the present, the Americans, the State Department and/or the National Security Council, after hearing so many demands for a “peace treaty,” gave every appearance of caving in. They said to the North Koreans, “Okay, we’ll talk without seeing any sign at all of your giving up your precious nukes and missiles.”
Just one thing, the Americans asked: “Would you mind making that issue an agenda item when we do engage in treaty talk?”
All the North Koreans had to say was, “Sure.” The Americans would then have gone around wringing their hands, wondering how to tell the South Koreans, “Like it or not, we’re talking to the North Koreans about a peace treaty.”
The South Koreans, terribly annoyed, would have asked, understandably, “Why weren’t we informed? Do you mind if we’re a party to these talks? Isn’t it our country too?” The North Koreans might not have liked it, but what could they do?
Stupidly, however, the North Koreans said, “No way, we’re not talking about nukes.” Thus they showed the vacuity of their demands for a peace treaty by rejecting a simple U.S. request.
Consider how easy it would have been for the North to shout through the nuclear issue at treaty talks:
U.S. negotiator: Respectfully, we wonder if we might take note of your nuclear program.
North Korean negotiator: Our nuclear program is the cornerstone of our defense. We must have it to stop you from threatening our destruction.
U.S. negotiator: Oh no, we’re not threatening you. We simply are asking if there’s any chance of you guys cooling it on the nukes as long as we’re going to live in peace.
North Korean negotiator: You have nuclear warheads on planes and ships. You have nuclear warheads in Hawaii and California. We must defend ourselves from imminent attack.
U.S. negotiator (spluttering): But, but, but we wish to sign a treaty that guarantees permanent peace in place of the truce under which both sides have been living in fear. Please, oh please understand us.
North Korean negotiator: We have a nuke that we’re putting on a rocket that will go all the way to Washington. We will burn down the White House. We will blow up the Pentagon.
U.S. negotiator: Oh dear, we want so much to sign a treaty so we can live forever in peace ― could you possibly tone down the language a little so we can convince our people we’re doing the right thing?
North Korean negotiator: We are enraged by the arrogance of your imperialism. You will never deceive us with your lies. Our nukes and missiles are totally for defense.
U.S. negotiator: Oh dear, oh dear, we greatly appreciate your position and are eager to sign a peace treaty. What about if we agreed, fine, keep your nukes and missiles but please promise not to blow anyone up so we can go on living in peace.
North Korean negotiator: You cannot fool us with dirty tricks. We are building five new warheads a year. We are mounting them on rockets that will fly all the way to Washington, D.C., after launching satellites-for-peace into orbit. We will not abandon our principles.
U.S. negotiator: Oh my goodness, how we respect your passion, uh, your, uh, innovation. How well you state your case. Okay, here’s a fountain pen. Let’s call in the media for a photo op.
North Korean negotiator, grabbing the pen: Here is our pledge to everlasting peace won by nuclear supremacy under the masterful guidance of our Supreme Leader.
See how easy it would have been? The North Koreans didn’t get it. By objecting to a little idle banter about their nukes, they missed their chance.
Either that or the Americans called their bluff.
Donald Kirk has been covering the ups and downs of the quest for peace on the Korean Peninsula for decades. He’s at kirkdon4343@gmail.com.
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