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North Korea Waits for Kerry

March 5, 2004



John Kerry gave a major speech last week about security, just as the Bush administration was engaged in a second round of multilateral talks with North Korea about its nuclear-weapons program.

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The talks made little progress, while Mr. Kerry was relatively silent about the Bush approach of looping in China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea to deal with North Korea.

Kerry's silence was odd, since he told CNN two months ago, "we would be in a less dangerous world than we are today with North Korea" if Bush had used just bilateral talks.

The Clinton administration used bilateral talks to cut a deal with North Korea in 1994 to end its nuclear program in exchange for massive aid. But then the North went ahead anyway with a secret bomb-building program. The direct talks also helped the North to play the US off its ally, South Korea.

North Korea, whose state-run economy is in shambles, may be waiting to see if Kerry wins in hopes it can once again use its nuclear scare to extort more aid from the US and others.

In fact, the Russian diplomat at last week's talks said the "North Korean problem is unlikely to be solved" before the US presidential election.

All this diplomatic drama gives American voters a clear choice in the election regarding this one key piece of the war on terror.

Democrats say North Korea is an imminent threat, and must be dealt with quickly through direct talks. It's their way of looking tougher on national security. Bush, meanwhile, prefers the longer, if still inconclusive, route of six-party talks that relies mainly on the hope China will pressure its ally, North Korea, to relent.

Who's right? As with Iraq, it depends largely on accurate intelligence of North Korea's intent and capability. And so far, that's still a guessing game.

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