GLOCOM Platform
debates Media Reviews Tech Reviews Special Topics Books & Journals
Summary Page
Search with Google
Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #382: February 8, 2007

North Korea Talks Resume With U.S. Saying Progress May Be Made

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

North Korea Talks Resume With U.S. Saying Progress May Be Made


When Prime Minister Abe took office in September last year, people, in and out of Japan, were anxious, in the multiple sense of the word, to see a leader of Japan even more assertive than his "(over-)sufficiently hawkish" predecessor, Mr Koizumi.

Perhaps as a means to dampen this tension, Mr Abe, only days after taking office, made his first overseas trip to Beijing and Seoul. It worked, and people, in and out of Japan, were relieved to see the neighboring countries in Northeast Asia began to communicate again.

The other side of the coin, however, was that the trip by Mr Abe seemed to have broken the tradition, as a new Prime Minister, to show to the world that Japan's closest ally is the U.S. There have been Prime Ministers who made their first visits elsewhere than the U.S., but it has always been the case that he would hastily visit the U.S. a few months later, as if to reconfirm the respect for the tradition. In the case of Mr Abe, a plan is being floated around to visit Washington in late April-early May, seven months from his taking office, making it practically the longest in recent history of Japan.

This attitude of seemingly having little regard to the U.S. was understood to be because the close personal ties established between Mr Abe's predecessor and President Bush, and Mr Abe himself had frequently met and talked with Mr Bush and other senior officials in the Bush administration. Mr Abe's prior reputation of being a "hawk more hawkish then Mr Koizumi" had the reinforcing effect of the notion that Japan-U.S. relationship is solid harder than a rock.

The November election last year resulted in a heavy blow to Mr Bush and his administration. Analyses abound but the general diagnosis is that the loss was largely due to unpopularity of his policies on Iraq. A not so common case a foreign policy hit the top of the chart of people's concerns, and that with a wide margin.

The results of the election forced the Bush administration to review its Iraq policy and revised measures are being announced. Whether the new policy would achieve meaningful results is not known. But judging from recent events, the U.S. may have modified its policy against North Korea, also.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, acting as the chief negotiator on North Korean affairs, has been flying back and forth between Washington and, mainly, Beijing. He is said to have been engaged in informal talks with North Koreans. As a result, the six-party talks, deadlocked for a while was agreed to resume today. The only information available before the talks is Mr Hill's comment that there is a "reason to believe" some progress may be made.

Resuming the talks is of course a good thing. But we must not forget why and how this six party framework was set up in the first place. It was first convened in 2003 to discuss how to resolve North Korea's breach of the 1994 agreement. The original agreement required North Korea to abandon all developments of nuclear arms and related actions leading to it. In 2002, it was revealed that North Korea had gone ahead with uranium enrichment program, aided by the technology provided by Pakistan's A.Q. Khan. As a natural outcome, the aid, agreed to be provided in the 1994 agreement by other countries, was suspended.

Are the talks just starting aiming at turning the clock back to 1994? Not many think it to be possible. As a comment cited in the article introduced above, "They've (North Koreans) worked hard to develop the bomb, even tested it. Is it logical for them to give it up, when according to their own words, they are fighting for their own survival?"

On the other hand, are the countries, lead by the U.S., ready to provide what North Korea was to acquire if it had adhered to the 1994 agreement and stayed away from nuclear bombs?

That does not seem qualified to be dubbed as a "fair deal," as most of the critics have already pointed out. The grave risk is, the U.S., or more precisely Mr Bush, in desperate need to show something to the people, and Mr Hill, who might also be in desperate need to show that he exists and can do something, may agree to anything if an agreement can be made.

And where does Mr Abe come in? This is perhaps the critical timing for Mr Abe, as the head of the state, to contact Mr Bush, as another head of the state supposedly maintaining close relationship and having similar political agenda with Japan. The PM might tell the President that a hasty agreement will not only jeopardize the shared objective of Japan and the U.S., it will in effect encourage the terrorists and rogue regimes, leading the world (back) into where force and violence, and threats backed by it, is the law.

bullet Top
Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications