Hawks at home see no scope for a deal with N Korea

FT.com (Financial Times)

28 August 2003

By Guy Dinmore in Washington and Andrew Ward in Seoul
Published: August 28 2003 0:51 | Last Updated: August 28 2003 0:51

Even as the US team sat down for what it called an "informal" direct exchange with North Korea in a multilateral, formal Chinese setting, conservative Republicans in Washington rated as close to zero the chances of getting a deal with what some call the "Axle of Evil".

"There is no reason to believe the regime can be trusted, is honest and is willing to give up its atomic programmes in exchange for US concessions," said a paper from the Senate Republican Policy Committee chaired by Senator Jon Kyl.

The paper urged the Bush administration not to offer concessions in exchange for an end to North Korea's nuclear programme, saying the US and its allies should be ready to impose "enhanced multilateral economic sanctions" against Pyongyang with UN backing if it did not meet its international commitments.

The same threat should apply to Iran, according to the paper, which does not represent official policy but enjoys support among Republican senators and reflects the views of hardliners in the administration. It also said the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has no enforcement mechanisms, should be re-examined and possibly scrapped.

Iraq's conquest leaves North Korea and Iran as the surviving members of what President George W. Bush called the "axis of evil", but their direct co-operation in missile and nuclear technology really made them an "axle of evil", the policy paper said.

On the eve of the talks, Colin Powell, secretary of state, confirmed to Senator Kyl that a description of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, as a "tyrannical dictator" was in line with official US policy. The remarks were made by John Bolton, under secretary for arms control, whom the North Koreans called "human scum" in response.

Wendy Sherman, who met Mr Kim in Pyongyang three years ago while serving as North Korea specialist in the Clinton administration, described him as "intelligent" and "conversational".

"But it would be overstating it to say he has a sophisticated view of the outside world," she says. "He watches CNN, he surfs the internet. But his view of the world has limits because he hasn't travelled widely."

As an architect of the Clinton administration's policy of engagement with Pyongyang, Ms Sherman is pleased months of diplomatic stalemate have given way to dialogue.

But she says the Bush administration has been too slow to engage in dialogue, allowing North Korea to get nearer its goal of becoming a nuclear state. And she doubts Washington's commitment to negotiations, claiming the administration remains split over policy towards Pyongyang.

Some officials are committed to dialogue but hawks want "to bring about collapse of the North Korean regime", she says.

With the US refusing to offer inducements for North Korea to disarm, Ms Sherman fears little will emerge from the talks, allowing Washington's hawks to declare dialogue a failure.

Ms Sherman offers a cautionary tale to those expecting North Korea to buckle: "When Madeleine Albright was secretary of state at the beginning of the second Clinton administration, we had a meeting to discuss our agenda.

"Everybody in the room thought North Korea would collapse within two years. We were all wrong."