Bill Clinton Secures Release Of Journalists


LONDON (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has granted a "special pardon" to two jailed U.S. journalists which releases them from detention, the official KCNA news agency reported on Tuesday.

Outlets report that the two journalists are already on their way home.

Seems like Clinton was the perfect pick: he's high profile enough to satisfy the North Koreans, but he's also not officially IN the Obama administration, and therefore provides distance if the North Koreans try to make the talks about nuclear weapons.

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What? Is North Korea not getting enough press?

"If the U.S. imperialists start another war, the army and people of Korea will ... wipe out the aggressors on the globe once and for all," says the North Korean Central News Agency on reports that a US destroyer was following the Kang Nam, a N. Korean vessel transporting illicit weapons to Myanmar, against United Nations sanctions. Ironically, the ship following the Kang Nam is the USS John S. McCain.

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The Limits of Incentive-Based Diplomacy.

(cross-posted at kickin it with cg and motley moose)

Once again, Kim Jong-il is testing the resolve of the international community. The latest North Korean nuclear provocation - an underground detonation yesterday - is the biggest trial of the Obama administration's foreign policy and of China's newfound global status to date.

The stakes are high not only because Pyongyang's provocations undermine security in northeast Asia, but also because a critical issue facing the US is nuclear proliferation to Iran. Should North Korea acquire the status of a nuclear-weapons state, any effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran would lose validity. Additionally the prospect of a nuclear Iran could unravel U.S. Middle East policy, threatening the survival of Israel as well as the security of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf oil-exporting states. For China, the stakes in North Korea are no less important. It has banked its credibility on restraining Pyongyang through the diplomatic process of the six-party talks on Kim's nuclear program.

The Kim family dynasty's determination to secure its survival through the acquisition of nuclear weapons not only threatens South Korea, but also may provoke Japan (the only country that suffered an atomic bombing) to weaponize its advanced nuclear technology. Yet Kim has success doing what he has been doing in the past - winning foreign aid to stave off his people's hunger and provoking diplomatic apoplexy to feed his megalomania.

A unscrupulous dictator, Kim bankrolls his state by counterfeiting U.S. currency and the export of narcotics. He has no fuel for his factories and no foodstuff to feed his people yet finds the time to kidnap teenagers from the beaches of Japan. He goes through the motions of building nuclear reactors, then wins subsidized oil shipments from the outside world in return for suspending construction. With thousands of land-based missiles pointed at South Korea and 1.2 million soldiers under arms, Kim has long had the West over a barrel.

The response to the removal of North Korea from the U.S. list of countries supporting terrorism has been for Kim to renew his campaign of nuclear blackmail. He has no fear of the UN Security Council, whose resolutions he has defied on multiple occasions in the past five years.

With yesterday's events broadcast through the global airways, North Korea created critical mass.  No doubt a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia would undermine the U.S.-Japan security treaty and inflame a fear of Japanese militarism in the rest of Asia, especially in China, where bitter memories of Japan's aggression simmer just below the surface.  It's pretty safe to say that a scramble to acquire a nuclear stockpile in any region of the world is not what the international community is hoping for.

The only way to restrain Kim from his course is the joint and explicit cooperation of the rest of the participants in the six-party talks, led by China and the United States and supported by Russia, Japan and South Korea. China's swift condemnation of this week's nuclear test by North Korea signals that its patience is at an end.

In the coming days, we will see whether the international community can rise to the challenge. The limits of incentive-based diplomacy have been reached. The world must now tolerate imposing painful sanctions on Pyongyang. The price of inaction is too high. The risk of a war that would once again devastate the Korean Peninsula has deterred any military option. So it would seem that only close co-ordination between China and the United States to devise sanctions (such as a total energy embargo on a state that has no domestic source of oil) might constrain the continued operation of the North Korean regime without firing a shot.  However it could also provoke a suicidal attack on South Korea or Japan from a power-crazed and desperate neighbour.

Kim threatens the world with the push of a button out of weakness, not strength. The world may ultimately be forced into an uncomfortable and uncharacteristic game of brinkmanship, because clearly it seems the international community is running out of options.

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Pursue Sanctions that Work

David Sanger writes in today's New York Times that when it comes to responding to North Korea's nuclear test, the Obama Administration has few options. There are, however, sanctions that have worked in the past that can and should be revisited.

In 2005, for example, the US Treasury Department acted against a small bank based in Macau that held North Korean assets and personal assets of Kim Jong-il. Marcus Noland, who has done extensive economic and political research on North Korea for the East-West Center, found that this one measure "tanked the black-market value of North Korea's currency, disrupted legitimate commerce and reportedly necessitated a scaling back of festivities associated with the Dear Leader's birthday." Bereft of hard currency, Pyongyang opted to return to the negotiating table and soon made concessions including signing agreements shutting down the Yongbyon nuclear facilities and permitting the return of international inspectors. Despite heading a regime of the proletariat, the Kim family has expensive tastes. Freezing the regime's overseas bank assets and hitting the expense accounts of Kim family will get their attention.

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Has Pyongyang Shifted Survival Tactics?

The aim of any regime is to perpetuate itself in power and in this the Juche regime in the DPRK is no different. There is little question that ruling cadre in Pyongyang see itself under threat and while its population may not be acutely aware of the regime's failure, Kim Jong-il's government most certainly does see the failure and the threat of internal collapse. The DPRK has in effect become a dynastic enterprise and Kim Jong-il intends for the regime to survive his passing.

An article published this past week on the Asia Times by Kim Myong Chol, who is often referred to as an "unofficial" spokesman for the regime, suggests that North Korea has shifted tactics from reaching an accommodation with enemies of the regime to a military-first approach.

Plan A called for the DPRK to consider exploring a shortcut to enhanced independence, peace and prosperity through rapprochement with the US. Plan A obliged the Kim Jong-il administration to negotiate away its nuclear weapons program as part of a verified denuclearization of the whole of the Korean Peninsula in return for Washington's strategic decision to co-exist peacefully with Pyongyang.

Plan A assumed the US would decide to leave behind its policy of hostility to the DPRK, conclude a peace treaty with North Korea, and pledge in a verifiable way it would not attack it with nuclear and conventional arms. It also assumed the US would establish full relations with North Korea, show respect for its sovereignty and independence, lift sanctions imposed on it, and provide it with fuel oil and light-water reactors.

Plan A was the engine behind the 1994 Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration and a series of nuclear agreements from six-party talks with the Bush administration, including the September 19, 2005 joint statement, the February 13, 2007 agreement, the October 3, 2007 agreement and the July 12, 2008 agreement.

Despite plan A, the US has remained hostile to North Korea as it is bent on its nuclear disarmament, painting it as a criminal state, and toppling its regime.

The Clinton administration did not want to fulfill the US's obligations under nuclear agreements and procrastinated for years, secretly betting on the collapse of the DPRK. The Bush administration was more overtly antagonistic, branding the DPRK as part of the "axis of evil", singling out it as a prime target for a nuclear pre-emptive strike, and moving to discard the nuclear agreement.

The US has not adopted a "live and let live" policy towards the DPRK, and it has refused to take any specific steps to reduce its nuclear threat to it, while North Korea was close to accepting full normalization of ties and a peace treaty with the US.

The Obama administration, which was launched with much fanfare and vows to reverse the disastrous policies of the Bush administration, has struck the Kim Jong-il administration as unmistakably no different from it in terms of hostility to the DPRK.

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