Tuesday, July 26, 2005

What's on the table?

I'm not trying to jinx things, but on the second day of talks, the mood is said to be "upbeat."

The long-anticipated talks begin today. Already the pundits are polishing their dual sets of articles, one talking about the amazing breakthrough, and the other with self-satisfied talk of "I told you so." And North Korea is up to its old rhetorical tricks of bashing anyone but themselves and their benefactors in Beijing.

I'm cautiously optimistic. I think the Bush administration has realized the same thing Clinton did before, that negotiation is the only real way out of this. Hold your nose and talk to the fat man. If they really are worried that North Korea has nukes and might use them or sell them, this may not be the time to stand on an inconsistently applied principle; rather, sitting down and trying to really do something about the real nuclear issue might be the most prudent thing to do. If, that is, they really believe the North is a threat.

And I do believe they are a potential threat. I'm not so sure the rest of the world does, though. This is the unspoken cost of Bush's adventurism in Iraq: the rest of the world doesn't believe us when we really need them to. The Bush administration laid down the evidence they said they were sure of, but after occupying all of Iraq for quite some time, they have finally admitted they didn't find anything and likely won't.

The "evidence" and the talk of a smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud now appears little more than a pretext for invasion. And that "intelligence failure" in Iraq means that in the back of their minds, many around the world simply don't believe the Bush administration's claims about Pyongyang.

Call me naive, but I fear the U.S.'s intelligence on the North may be right. But I also believe that North Korea's goal in getting a nuke is probably nothing more than regime survival. I am far less convinced that they would export a weapon, for it would likely lead to their destruction. Selling opium and heroin is easier and quicker. Printing $100 bills is more practical.

I think the Bush administration has pragmatically realized they need to reach a deal, but what would that deal entail? South Korea has already offered electricity; Japan has said they would help out (which might involve a deal over the kidnappee issue, though I'm concerned this topic could derail a deal on the nukes, as could the human rights issue; both topics, perhaps, should be addressed later).

The American and North Korean delegates are going to meet separately before the six-way talks, which might give them a chance to learn more precisely (and without as much spin) what the other side is willing to accept.

So what does North Korea want? Most pundits say regime survival, and I agree. Survival means no invasion or attack from the U.S. more than it means getting aid, which Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo are all set to provide in exchange for real assurances about Pyongyang's nukes. South Korea, which would inherit a huge headache when and if Pyongyang implodes, explodes, or throws in the towel, is set to provide a Korean Marshall Plan.

But people in Washington are loath to provide aid. But do they have to? Pyongyang wants something that would cost very little money to Washington: a peace treaty and normalization. In other words, an official end of war and the establishment of diplomatic relations. They also want something similar from Tokyo.

Normalization could mean more trade for Pyongyang, but it could also mean a lesser likelihood that Washington would attack an independent, sovereign state that it recognizes.

But would Washington ever recognize a DPRK led by Kim Jong-il? Why not? We recognize China, which is rife with human rights abuses (and while I believe Beijing is culpable for propping up Pyongyang, their own abuses of their own people pale in comparison to the horrors committed in North Korea). Under Republican pressure, Clinton even dropped our annual dance of debating the fundamentally economic issue of Most-Favored Nation status in the context of human rights.

Are we ready to recognize we may have more sway over a country we engage than a country we have isolated and don't speak to? I'm glad that Christian groups are pressing the issue of human rights; but I don't agree that isolation is the way to address them. Not in Pyongyang at least.

I'm a firm believer in the law of unintended consequences (who would have guessed that a bunch of nerds at DARPA would cause porn stars to become household names or lead to the near downfall of the music industry?). Pyongyang may think that it can control what goes on within its borders, but the more variables that are added to the mix (in the form of foreign government representatives, foreign citizens, foreign companies, foreign tourists, etc.), the weaker that control potentially is. Engaging North Korea is the key to loosening that grip. Plus, it erodes the fear of the outside that the North has instilled in its people.

I just hope that Washington (and Tokyo) seriously considers this. Yes, it involves holding one's nose. For Tokyo it probably involves resolving the kidnapee issue. But ultimately it is the best way to pull North Korea toward being a normal country.

Friday, July 22, 2005

George W. Bush as a Simpsons character

Anyone who knows me off-line knows that I am a huge fan of the Simpsons. Sure, there were a few seasons that really sucked and it's only now on the upswing again, but there are few television programs ever that match the witty satire of The Simpsons. So great is my love of OFF (Our Favorite Family) that besides Korea-related blogging, my other major on-line time consumer (not counting work, of course) is co-monitoring the mailing list attached to the premier on-line source of information related to the show. In fact, as co-monitor, I have even been interviewed by the American press in relation to shows (here's an example [see here if that link doesn't work] which originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun).

So when this silly little quiz came through the pipeline, I thought I would check it out. Who wouldn't want to know what Simpsons character they're most like? Well, I already know I'm a mixture of Bart's mischief, Lisa's intelligence and unwillingness to bend to the will of the masses, and Smithers's dedication to ass-kissing (though not his sexual orientation).

So instead I thought I would plug in what I presume to be the answers by someone else, in this case the President. Finding out who Dubya most closely resembles could be a hoot, especially if he turns out to be the nefarious Mr. Burns, the closeted Mr. Smithers, or the incompetent Chief Wiggum.

Now, you may think it unfair for me to answer questions for George on his behalf, but in my defense, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove do it for him all the time. So here goes.

For each question, select the option that best describes your personality then.
1. Brave?
I wrote "disagree." If he were brave, he would have ended up in Vietnam instead of defaming those who were there (I'm talking about Senator McCain as much as Senator Kerry).

2. Loyal?
I wrote "strongly agree." By all accounts, he is very loyal to his friends and associates, almost to a fault (I'm looking your way, KR).

3. Responsible?
I wrote "disagree." Playground name-calling with egomaniacal dictators? Egging on terrorists with "Bring it on!"? Calling the War on Terror a "crusade"? The War in Iraq? Only his attempts to actually do something about illegal immigration prevented him from getting "strongly disagree."

4. Materialistic?
I wrote "agree." The guy is rich, but that doesn't automatically make one materialistic. But using your connections to make truckloads of money, though, might suffice.

5. Scheming?
"Strongly agree." Using terrorism as an excuse to invade Iraq? Come on.

6. Easily confused?
"Strongly agree." If you don't know why, then you haven't been paying attention.

7. Lucky in love?
"Agree." She's not my type (though she might have been when she was younger), but Laura Bush seems like a class-act. Plus she pushed Dubya to get rid of a lot of his bad habits. She and Billy Graham (who is also credited with helping Bill Clinton end his womanizing). I would say Dubya is lucky to have her.

8. Lazy?
"Agree." He puts the lazy in lazy-faire.

9. Good sense of humour?
"Disagree." He certainly thinks he has a great sense of humor, judging by those clips on David Letterman. He sure can be a smug som-bitch, though.

10. Greedy?
"Agree." See #4.

11. At one with nature?
"Disagree." Sure, he likes to get his hands dirty when he weeds his ranch, but someone trying to promote drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or who has made his millions from oil can't really be described as "one with nature." He has room for improvement (and there may be some hopeful signs in the future).

12. Smart?
"Disagree." A smart person would understand the importance of watching one's tongue in public.

13. What would be your ideal gift?
A pony
A cool, refreshing Duff
World domination
The ideal man
This one's too obvious: World Domination. And you're either for him or against him.

14. Open-minded?
"Disagree." You're either for him or against him.

15. Spiritual?
"Strongly agree." Jesus is his co-pilot. Just wish he'd listen to Him sometimes.

16. Irritable?
"Agree." When he talks about his personal feelings, sometimes it sounds like something's stuck in his craw. Whatever that means.

17. Misunderstood?
"Agree." And I don't just mean when he makes up new words or discards proper English syntax. All joking aside, I think his views on the importance of promoting democracy are misunderstood as rhetorical excuses to promote American dominance. (But then again, maybe I'm misunderstanding his evil intent.)

18. Incompetent?
"Strongly Agree." Besides the Iraq War and foreign relations in general, there are too many incidents with slow-moving vehicles, like Segways and bicycles, as well as with snack foods.

19. Generous?
"Agree." His efforts to give money to solve things like AIDS are commendable. At heart, I think he is probably a decent guy; I just don't want him for my president.

20. Affectionate?
"Agree." When I met him at the White House, he kissed me on both cheeks and gave me a two-minute bear hug. Also, he's very good with his children.

21. Do you like children?
"Yes." The extra seven minutes he spent with those elementary school kids when America was under attack by al Qaeda really underscores this point.

So, who does our president most closely resemble? The answer is Sideshow Bob.

Sideshow Bob (voiced by Kelsey Grammer of Frasier fame) is a bungling schemer who has also appeared in a Simpsons episode as a Republican candidate for office who uses his political connections to settle scores. He also went to Yale.

Sigh. Surely there are reasons for impeachment other than lying about having been fellated. 

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Los Angeles Times on China's nuclear threat

The Los Angeles Times is carrying an op-ed piece inspired by the nuclear-tipped saber rattling by Chinese Major General Zhu Chenghu of the People's Liberation Army (mentioned on Marmot's).

According to the Times, Zhu "threatened to nuke 'hundreds' of American cities if the U.S. dared to interfere with a Chinese attempt to conquerTaiwan." Serious business. Editorialist Max Boot wonders if the U.S. is prepared for the Chinese threat, at a time when China "is building a lot of sabers" to rattle.

He warned that China's $90-billion military budget is growing, adding this:
Moreover, China's spending has been increasing rapidly, and it is investing in the kind of systems — especially missiles and submarines — needed to challenge U.S. naval power in the Pacific.
Boot quotes U.S. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld as calling China's arms buildup as an "area of concern." Boot goes even further, warning of things more insidious:
But we shouldn't get overly fixated on such traditional indices of military power as ships and bombs — not even atomic bombs. Chinese strategists, in the best tradition of Sun Tzu, are working on craftier schemes to topple the American hegemon. In 1998, an official People's Liberation Army publishing house brought out a treatise called "Unrestricted Warfare," written by two senior army colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. This book, which is available in English translation, is well known to the U.S. national security establishment but remains practically unheard of among the general public.

Unrestricted Warfare" recognizes that it is practically impossible to challenge the U.S. on its own terms. No one else can afford to build mega-expensive weapons systems like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which will cost more than $200 billion to develop. "The way to extricate oneself from this predicament," the authors write, "is to develop a different approach." Their different approaches include financial warfare (subverting banking systems and stock markets), drug warfare (attacking the fabric of society by flooding it with illicit drugs), psychological and media warfare (manipulating perceptions to break down enemy will), international law warfare (blocking enemy actions using multinational organizations), resource warfare (seizing control of vital natural resources), even ecological warfare (creating man-made earthquakes or other natural disasters).

Cols. Qiao and Wang write approvingly of Al Qaeda, Colombian drug lords and computer hackers who operate outside the "bandwidths understood by the American military." They envision a scenario in which a "network attack against the enemy" — clearly a red, white and blue enemy — would be carried out "so that the civilian electricity network, traffic dispatching network, financial transaction network, telephone communications network and mass media network are completely paralyzed," leading to "social panic, street riots and a political crisis." Only then would conventional military force be deployed "until the enemy is forced to sign a dishonorable peace treaty."
Boot warns that this strategy is already being implemented. He sees the anti-Japanese riots in April as "psychological warfare against a major Asian rival." Ditto for the "stage-managed" riots against the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in 1999 after the U.S. inadvertently bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

He calls the bid by state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company to buy Unocal "resource warfare." Attempts by China's spy apparatus to infiltrate U.S. high-tech terms and defense contrators are seen as "technological warfare."

China siding against the U.S. in the U.N. Security Council over the invasion of Iraq is "international law warefare" (though that might mean that many of our supposed allies are waging stealth war against us, too).

Boot claims that "once you know what to look for, the pieces fall into place with disturbing ease." He does acknowledge that there could be more benign explanations, like General Zhu being "an eccentric old coot who's seen Dr. Strangelove a few too many times."

I don't know. The evidence can be convincing, but I also know that the "yellow horde" can be easily painted into a nastier beast than it is.

But I do think caution needs to be exercised with China. Sure, they're Everybody's Economic Partner®, but they do not (yet) share our democratic values or our commitment to human rights. As I've mentioned before, they are the ones really propping up Pyongyang. In short, just because we do business with them doesn't mean they are our friends.

And considering that, how wise is it for some on the far right to goad South Korea into their corner? Do we really want to push Seoul into their sphere of influence, just because we don't like what a bunch of leftist radicals have to say about the United States or President Bush?

Some in Washington don't like to admit this (or maybe they don't realize it), but our elective war in Iraq, fought under false pretenses, has made many people around the world, including amongs our allies, question our values as a country. The ideological reason for being in a U.S.-dominated camp has taken a serious hit. Koreans are not the only ones reeling from it. Add to that a U.S. president (once) seeming hell-bent to ratchet up tensions by engaging in name-calling with Kim Jong-il. These are not reasons to join Beijing, but they do make one question the wisdom of Washington.

This is not a good thing. The United States government needs to realize that it needs to keep its current friends in order to hem in China. Japan, Mongolia, Russia, Taiwan, and South Korea. Maybe even Vietnam. As with North Korea, engagement and containment should go hand in hand.

South Korea at the South Pole, Part II

The South Korean government has announced plans to build a second research base, to the tune of 70 billion won over the next six years. The 1500-pyŏng (5000-square-meter) facility will be Seoul's second base, after the King Sejong Base on King George Island, established in 1988. At present there are forty-four such bases in the Antarctic region, a kind of geopolitical no-man's land.

Critics of the Roh government are already expressing their dismay. After all, considering all the billions of wons that the ROK has pumped into Antarctica, how has the southern continent recriprocated? It's done nothing in return. The penguins are still getting fat by killing off the krill and the squid. It's time to put an end to this one-way gravy train.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Chinese senior military leader threatens to nuke U.S.

I'm surprised this didn't come down the pipeline over at the Ahssa Hole, but senior PRC military advisor Zhu Chenghu said that if the U.S. were involved in an attack on Chinese soil in some conflict related to Taiwan, China should fire nuclear weapons at the United States.

Wouldn't happen? China is our
friend? Our economic partner?

Well, guess again: by treaty, the United States has vowed to defend the Republic of China (that's Taiwan for those of you in Rio Linda) if it is attacked by the People's Republic of China (that's the communist one with the 1.2 or 1.3 billion people, the one that is rounding up North Korean refugees and sending them back to North Korea, and also a major trading partner of the United States despite these and myriad other human rights abuses of great seriousness). That bit of political trivia, plus the fact that Beijing considers all of Taiwan to be Chinese territory, makes things a lot dicier than they should be.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wondered out loud if this reflects Beijing's official viewpoint, but even if it doesn't and this guy is a loose cannon (excuse the pun), it could still represent a serious military danger.

So, to sum up, a military leader from China, our friend and Everybody's Economic Partner, has essentially threatened to turn Washington into a sea of fire, to paraphrase the late Great Leader.

It almost makes Seoul look like the safe place to be.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

University of California drops out of National Merit Scholarship program

The University of California has, at least since the 1990s, been critical of the idea that PSAT scores, SAT scores, and GRE scores are a fair assessment of a student's potential ability. Dropping out of the National Merit Scholarship program, which relies heavily on PSAT scores, is a very big step. I welcome it.

Going back to my days as a Princeton Review teacher/manager while an undergrad at UCI, and maybe even before that, I have thought that the profit-oriented Educational Testing Service's testing monopoly in the US, along with Americans' over-reliance on their tests that went hand in hand with that monopoly, was a blight on educational standards.

When a person is deemed qualified or not qualified, based on a multiple-choice test that measures skills contrary to what one would actually need in school, we have failed our students and ourselves.

[Don't misconstrue my opposition to ETS exams as sour grapes; I had excellent PSAT, SAT, and GRE scores (my dad had me practicing them since sixth grade), and I won some important scholarships based on those scores. But one thing that was easy to see was that what I was learning for those tests was simply not all that useful in college. Later I would see that a lot of essential academic skills I needed in college and graduate school were not measured on the tests, and in some cases possessing those skills would actually be detrimental to a good score.]

UC Quits National Merit Program
By Stuart Silverstein, Times Staff Writer

The scholarship plan, based largely on PSAT scores, does not fairly assess students, officials say. Current awardees will still receive aid.

The University of California announced Wednesday that its campuses will stop participating in the National Merit Scholarship program, contending that the annual competition doesn't fairly assess academic talent.

The decision means that the six campuses that had been funding scholarships of up to $2,000 a year for National Merit finalists will channel the money into other student awards, starting with the fall 2006 freshman class.

The move is considered a blow to the 50-year-old National Merit program, which is partly funded by campuses and corporations. It annually names about 8,000 scholarship winners, many of whom are recruited as intensely as star athletes by universities around the country.

UC officials faulted the National Merit program's reliance on the PSAT as the initial screening filter for the 1.3 million high school juniors who take that practice version of the SAT college entrance exam each year.

M.R.C. Greenwood, the UC system's provost, said during a telephone news conference that UC bases its undergraduate admissions on a wide variety of academic and personal accomplishments. By contrast, Greenwood said, "The National Merit Scholarship program uses the score on the PSAT to eliminate the vast majority of students from further consideration in their process. This particular procedure of theirs is just not consistent with our own academic principles and policies."

Last year, National Merit scholarships funded by UC campuses went to 618 students and amounted to $735,000. UC officials emphasized that undergraduates already chosen for the system's National Merit scholarships will continue to receive them for a full four years.

Pulling out of the program are UCLA, along with the UC campuses in Irvine, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Davis. UC Berkeley dropped out three years ago, and the two remaining UC campuses with undergraduate programs, Riverside and Merced, never participated.

Greenwood emphasized that the National Merit awards represented only a small portion of the merit scholarships granted throughout the UC system. In all, UC campuses provide scholarships based on academic merit to 16,700 undergraduates at a cost of $62 million annually.

The action by the UC campuses follows a 17-0 vote by UC faculty leaders late last month recommending withdrawal from the program. Along with faulting the reliance on the PSAT, faculty leaders noted that Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans accounted for only 3.2% of UC's National Merit scholarship winners; those groups make up about 19% of all UC undergraduates who receive any type of merit scholarships.

UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale said some UC chancellors initially might have harbored concerns that, if they scrapped the National Merit program, they would lose out on talented students and be punished in the rankings published by such magazines as U.S. News & World Report. He called the decision "another move in the direction of doing what you think makes the most sense rather than be concerned about what it will mean for the rankings."

Elaine S. Detweiler, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit National Merit Scholarship Corp. in Evanston, Ill., dismissed speculation by Carnesale and other academics that some of the 200 other participating universities might follow UC's path. Detweiler called the PSAT "the most equitable way" to identify academically talented students from around the country, noting that the same exam is given to students at 22,000 high schools in all 50 states.

"We regret that finalists in the extremely competitive National Merit program who may wish to attend a UC campus will no longer have the opportunity to earn a Merit Scholarship sponsored by the university and, more importantly, receive the recognition for academic excellence that accompanies a Merit Scholarship," she said.

Other defenders of the National Merit program, including other universities that actively recruit the winners and the winning students themselves, say it remains a helpful way to identify talented candidates even if the selection process is flawed. Some have pointed out, for example, that students are less likely to have taken test preparation courses before the PSAT than before the SAT.

Japan drilling in waters also claimed by China

In a bit of news related to this story, Japan has awarded a Japanese oil company test drilling rights in waters hotly disputed by both Beijing and Tokyo. The two countries' claims center around waters not far from the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, which are near Taiwan and Japan's Ryukyu Islands. The reason for the dispute is overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).

Observers warn this could be a potential flashpoint in the future. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao had this to say:
If Japan persists in granting drilling rights to companies in disputed waters it will cause a serious infringement of China's sovereign right.
The two sides have tried to work out a way to share the resources of the disputed waters, as Korea and Japan did in the waters surrounding Tokto/Takeshima in 1998, but both sides failed to agree. China already drills for gas in nearby waters both sides agree are China's.

The decision to allow test drilling could already worsen relations that have already been battered by the Japan's right-wing-sponsored textbooks and Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where Class-A war criminals from World War II are enshrined.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Uri Party Lawmaker on Islamist terrorists: If we do what they want, the threat will disappear.

A coalition of Uri Party lawmakers and like-minded lawmakers from other parties, who have long opposed Roh Moohyun's US-ROK alliance-affirming measure to send troops to Iraq (the so-called Zaytun unit, located in the Kurd-dominated city of Irbil), is planning to vote en bloc for their return soon. They hope to submit and vote on a bill by September.

This should come as no surprise. The left wing of Roh's party has its share of lawmakers who view Bush and the US military and Bush with suspicion, if not outward hostility (which would make them no different from left-wing Democrats back in the United States).

But what I found most telling about these leftists' world view was this statement by Uri Party lawmaker Im Jong-in:
Threats of terrorism will disappear if the Zaytun troops return home.
That's right. The terrorists want Korea out of Iraq (and they brutally executed a Korean civilian to make this point), so if we don't want London- or Madrid-style terrorism in Seoul or Pusan, let's do what they want and get our troops out of there!

Never mind that this will show that South Korea will instantly cave to future demands by Islamist terrorists. I am not a huge fan of President Roh Moohyun, but he did the absolutely right thing by saying prior to Kim Sun-il's beheading that he could not give in to terrorist demands and remove his troops. Such a thing would be putting a target sign on every single Korean citizen around the world, both in and outside of Korea, particularly in places like the Philippines, Indonesia, and other places where Islamist terror occurs.

But it is places like Pusan that these lawmakers worry about. Korea's number-one port city is to host the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in November. Some worry this could make it a prime target for terrorists (the fact that the 7-7 attacks occurred while the G-8 summit was going on in the UK is not lost on these folks).

This coalition of the unwilling in the National Assembly says that democracy has been established and Iraq has re-gained its sovereignty, so "there is no justification or practical benefits" from keeping troops there.

But as anyone can see, the situation is less than stable. Coalition troops will be needed for some time. I myself was against the war, feeling Bush was rushing in on very flimsy evidence and an even flimsier pretext that would become clearly stronger or weaker if the UN's more moderate course of action could go forward first. But now that we're there, we have to stay and finish the job. That's our moral responsibility.

And it was pretty admirable and gutsy for Roh to not only send troops but to send the third-largest contingent after only the US and the UK. Roh, I believe, was demonstrating that he is firmly in favor of a continued US-ROK alliance, and he was doing his part, to the detriment of his core support base.

Reflecting Korea's ideological divide to some degree, many Koreans are against the deployment, fearing South Koreans will be put in harm's way and South Korea itself will be a terror target. Even those who generally support US-ROK relations were cool to the idea of sending troops to Iraq because this is seen as the unwarranted war of an overly belligerent Bush.

Supporters, on the other hand, see this as a way to enhance Korea's prestige, reaffirm the US-ROK alliance, gain practical overseas wartime experience it hasn't had since it was a major partner of the US during the Vietnam War (50,000 troops sent to do very serious fighting), and maybe create a good image with the local Iraqis whose cities they are helping rebuild. Korea Exchange Bank, in fact, uses the Zaytun troop image in one of its widely placed ads.

But to leftist lawmakers, suspicion of the ROK military runs as deep as suspicion of Bush. Why give them a chance to enhance their prestige?

And their lack of understanding of South Korea as a potential target of terrorism is just as deep. Representative Im thinks that taking the Zaytun out of Iraq will take South Korea off the terrorists' hit list, but he is mistaken. Islamist groups like al Qaeda would still see South Korea as a target because it is a Western nation, a largely Christian nation, a free-wheeling capitalist nation, an ally of the United States, and in general a place where people are free to do what they please. No shari'a, no peace.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

North Korea promises return to talks this month

I really hate to report on the latest promises of North Korea, since they so often end up being not panning out, but Pyongyang has agreed to return to the six-way talks this month. The week of July 25, to be precise. Mark your calendars.

This is according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who met with North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kyegwan during a dinner in Beijing. It was confirmed by the KCNA, which added Pyongyang's justification:
The U.S. side clarified its official stand to recognize (North Korea) as a sovereign state, not to invade it and hold bilateral talks within the framework of the six-party talks.
The news comes as Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice is visiting Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul. In good form, she refrained from some of the negative rhetoric that Pyongyang has complained about, and she made assurances that Washington has no intention to attack North Korea (but who knows what Oregon is up to), which it recognizes as a sovereign state. (Iraq was a sovereign state, too).

Hill says Kim told him that the purpose of the late July meeting would be ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons and that North Korea was intent of making progress toward this goal.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Governor Bill Richardson invited to North Korea

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, former President Bill Clinton's UN Ambassador and Secretary of Energy, has been invited by Pyongyang for a visit. There are no confirmed plans on a visit, but a spokesman for the governor said Richardson would coordinate with the Bush Administration should the visit take place.

Governor Richardson has been a liaison between Pyongyang and Washington before, including in 2003 when he held three days of talks with North Korean envoys in Santa Fe (the New Mexico capital, not the Hyundai SUV).

North Korea is almost certainly trying to milk as much from Washington as possible, whether its security assurances, diplomatic relations, or economic incentives, but that doesn't mean that Washington shouldn't meet with Pyongyang to see what it can get from them (holding a meeting doesn't require signing making an undesirable agreement). I've always felt that a pragmatic, non-ideological approach to North Korea is what is needed, and Governor Richardson representing the Bush Administration might foot the bill.