Days before North Korea’s latest nuclear-bomb test, the Obama administration secretly agreed to talks to try to formally end the Korean War, dropping a longstanding condition that Pyongyang first take steps to curtail its nuclear arsenal.
Instead the U.S. called for North Korea’s atomic-weapons program to be simply part of the talks. Pyongyang declined the counter-proposal, according to U.S. officials familiar with the events. Its nuclear test on Jan. 6 ended the diplomatic gambit.
The episode, in an exchange at the United Nations, was one of several unsuccessful attempts that American officials say they made to discuss denuclearization with North Korea during President Barack Obama’s second term while also negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program.
Mr. Obama has pointed to the Iran deal to signal to North Korea that he is open to a similar track with the regime of Kim Jong Un. But the White House sees North Korea as far more opaque and uncooperative. The latest fruitless exchanges typified diplomacy between the U.S. and Pyongyang in recent years.
Since taking power at the end of 2011, Mr. Kim has stepped up the North’s demands for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, 63 years after it ended with an armistice. Many analysts see the move as an attempt to force the removal of the U.S. military in the South. The U.S. insists denuclearization must have priority, and said that has to be part of any peace talks, even while dropping the precondition that North Korea first take steps that show a willingness to give up its nuclear program.
Pyongyang rejects that. “For North Korea, winning a peace treaty is the center of the U.S. relationship,” said Go Myung-hyun, an expert on North Korea at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a Seoul-based think tank. “It feels nuclear development gives it a bigger edge to do so.”
The international reaction to North Korea’s January nuclear test and follow-up rocket launch this month was swift, with Japan imposing new penalties on Pyongyang, South Korea closing an inter-Korean industrial park that had filled the North’s coffers and American lawmakers passing a bill to tighten economic sanctions against the regime. Mr. Obama signed the bill into law last Thursday.
I would rather that the United States err on the side of being too nice than too militant, but at this point it's clear that trying to deal diplomatically with North Korea is a mistake, and that yes, President Obama absolutely got taken for a ride here. It would explain why the new round of sanctions against the Kim Jong Un were signed with lightning speed without much complaint from either party.
Some folks just aren't worth the time for diplomacy, and I hope we've learned our lesson here. The North Koreans got their big screw you Obama moment and it worked perfectly. Coming off Iran and expecting North Korea to follow suit? That smacks of ego, and fighting on that level against someone like Kim Jong Un is a losing battle every time.
I love President Obama, but hey, he doesn't win them all. And this time he got pantsed by the local bully.