Is North Korea Budging?


The news that North Korea may be prepared to return to talks with the United States is certainly welcome. But the pressure that U.S. negotiators are receiving from Bush administration officials—those who want a hardline against Kim Jong Il—is more than a little unsettling:

Mr. Hill, a seasoned negotiator who played a major role in the Dayton accords, which ended the Bosnian war in 1995, is looking for leeway to give North Korea incentives to return to the talks but is meeting resistance from officials who want to stand pat with Mr. Bush’s vaguely worded offer last June to improve relations once North Korea begins dismantling its nuclear facilities and allows full inspections.

Yes, yes, the point here is that Bush doesn’t want to “bribe” the North Koreans into acting good. Stand tough and all that. But really, what’s wrong with a little bribery? Take, for instance, Pakistan. The United States recently sold a bunch of F-16 fighters to the Pakistani government. What doesn’t get much press is the fact that we had originally held up the transfer of these fighters in 1990, after Pakistan violated its commitments to the United States, especially on developing its nuclear program. But now here we are, rewarding them for their bad behavior. It’s cowardly, it’s unprincipled, but it’s also reasonably smart. By bringing Pakistani President Perez Musharraf closer to us, we have, in theory, far more ability to influence Pakistan’s behavior than we did previously.

Now that’s not to say that the White House should approach North Korea just like it approached Pakistan—there are important differences here—but it’s worth noting that negotiating with hostile dictators, however loathsome it might be, isn’t always a dumb idea. Of course, as several former administration officials note in the story, a little appeasement isn’t all that’s missing here—the Bush administration hasn’t put much in the way of pressure on North Korea. But I wonder how much pressure is available here—South Korea and China, after all, are resisting any sanctions regime against North Korea, fearful of a catastrophic collapse of the government—and at some point the White House may have to realize that it’s in a much weaker position than it would prefer to be.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.