U.S. Risks Falling for Promises Of North Korea's New Leadership
U.S. Risks Falling for Promises Of North Korea's New Leadership
  • 미래한국
  • 승인 2012.01.03 15:41
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[Global View] Donald Kirk Contributing Editor Jornalist and athor

The outlook of Washington toward the transition of power in North Korea is extremely puzzling. In the days before Kim Jong-il's death, the talk in Washington was that the U.S. was on the verge of agreeing to approve 250,000 tons of food aid for North Korea in return for a "moratorium" on missile and nuclear testing.

That kind of exchange would be totally useless, of course. North Korea has demonstrated time and again that it's not going to live up to any deal for giving up its nukes. A "moratorium" on testing would only mean that it would keep its stockpile of missiles and nuclear devices completely intact, ready for use in the next showdown or disagreement. One may be sure that a return to six-party talks would only serve the purpose of postponing a crisis but certainly not compel North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

With Kim Jong-il safely in his glass-enclosed coffin, talks between the U.S. and North Korea will no doubt be delayed. The new U.S. envoy to North Korea, Glyn Davies, was planning to leave for Beijing and a meeting with a senior North Korean official on the day that a woman clad in black "hanbok" wailed out the news of his passing on North Korean state television. The U.S. envoy on human rights in North Korea, Robert King, had already had talks in Beijing on food aid for North Korea with a senior North Korean official. He had indicated several months ago, after several U.S. officials accompanied him to Pyongyang, that North Korea had enough food but was busy feeding its 1.1 million soldiers, as well as privileged Workers' Party people and government officials, while ignoring the needs of the starving masses.

Washington's attitude now appears that of "wait-and-see." For one thing, the U.S. would like to know who's really in power. If Kim Jong-eun gets a formal title to go along with his status as "great successor" then he may be regarded as chief of state. Already made a general by his father, Kim is likely to get the title of "supreme commander" an incredible rank for one who's never done a day of real military service. No doubt Jang Song-thaek, a vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, the center of Kim Jong-il's power as chairman, would like to rule as a kind of regent. He owe that role largely to the influence of his powerful wife, Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Jong-il's sister, who persuaded her brother to bring him out of political purgatory after he seemed to have disappeared.

As the transition evolves in Pyongyang, Washington is more than likely to resume efforts at advancing reconciliation through the lure of massive food aid in return for a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signaled that desire with a plea for "stability." She is clearly hoping that the new leadership, with Jang Song-thaek at the center, will be inclined to want to reach a deal.  At the least, she hopes, the U.S. will be able to continue the process of feeling out the possibilities that were interrupted by Kim's passing.

The U.S. approach, though, is a formula for disappointment. There's no way the North Koreans can show what might be perceived as weakness by yielding on the nuclear issue. If Kim Jong-eun has any power or influence at all, he will want to demonstrate that he's a tough guy, not the overweight pillow cushion that he looks like on North Korean TV. Jang Song-thaek has already donned the uniform of a general, complete with appropriate insignia. He cannot risk his standing with the real generals, the commanders of North Korea's 1.1 million troops, by appearing to weaken under diplomatic pressure.

The drama of the struggle for leadership in Pyongyang is just beginning. Kim Jong-il undoubtedly was hoping for more time to acquaint Kim Jong-eun with the realities of governing. At the least, he would have liked to prove his power, and that of his son, by appearing at the great celebration next April of the 100th anniversary of the birth of his long-ruling father, "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung. Now the "celebration" will have to be one of mourning.

Washington may eventually find an opening in this transition that will be worth pursuing to see where it leads. In the meantime, the danger is the U.S. will be fooled, or intimidated, by the promises of the same men who have been misleading Washington over the years.  For Washington, the goal should be to see if anything has changed, for better or worse, in Pyongyang. We won't know the answer to that question for months if not years.(Future Korea Weekly)

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