North Korea Edges Toward Next Nuke Test

By John R. Bolton |   Washington Times

Obama takes little notice of menacing developments in Pyongyang and Tehran.

You wouldn’t know it from the Obama administration, but North Korea’s global threat continues to metastasize. South Korea recently concluded that extensive cyber-attacks against civilian and military targets in the South emanated from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Following China’s lead in information warfare, the North is creating yet another asymmetric military capability it can deploy against its adversaries and also peddle for hard currency to other rogue states and terrorist.

Although Pyongyang limited its targeting of this particular sortie to South Korea, the potential cyberwarfare battlefield is global and includes the United States, which already is the subject of extensive cyberprobing, exploitation and espionage by China. For a country perennially on the brink of starvation, North Korea’s military foray into cyberspace demonstrates its continuing malevolence.
The DPRK’s nuclear-weapons program has not rested on its laurels, either, with widely observed surface-level preparations for a possible third underground test well under way.

The North’s development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear payloads is also advancing apace, as Russian missile designer Yuri Solomonov highlighted last month in a Kommersant interview. This is hardly surprisingly given Iran’s increasing long-range capabilities, the extensive Tehran-Pyongyang collaboration, and their programs’ common base in Soviet-era Scud missile technology.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan has released documents purportedly showing prior North Korean bribery of senior Islamabad officials to grease the transfer of nuclear or ballistic-missile technology. While their authenticity is disputed, the documents are part of Mr. Khan’s continuing campaign to prove he did not act solo in the world’s illicit nuclear-weapons bazaar.

He long ago admitted supplying North Korea and Iran with critical nuclear technology. Pyongyang’s unveiling in November of impressive new uranium-enrichment facilities at Yongbyon and recent construction there show the continuing fruits of Mr. Khan’s entrepreneurship. His documents – and the many others he undoubtedly has in a shoebox somewhere – are worth verifying and actually might help Islamabad and Washington work together to repair their fractured relationship and prevent China from exploiting their current differences.

Clearly, North Korea’s weapons programs are not decelerating even amid intensive preparations for a possible transition of power, following Kim Jong-il’s death, to a third member of the communist Kim dynasty. But faced with these challenges, the Obama administration has been not only publicly silent but essentially passive both diplomatically and intellectually. Only the Pentagon and the intelligence community, fortunately still implementing the Proliferation Security Initiative, have done much beyond noting pro forma that the troublemaking DPRK is still at it.

Public silence is not necessarily inappropriate, although the failure to comment on a wide range of global threats posed by U.S. adversaries is par for the course under President Obama. Based on presidential attention levels, one would think Iran’s nuclear-weapons program was withering away, Russia’s active military penetration of the Arctic was of merely scientific interest, and China’s aggressive territorial claims in East Asia were mere legal technicalities to be resolved by low-level functionaries.

Far more dangerous than mere silence, of course, is the manifest absence of a behind-the-scenes determination to stop the North’s nuclear-weapons and missile programs (not to mention the other threats detailed above and many more). Mr. Obama’s deliberate silence and near-palpable lack of interest have helped drive North Korea into media obscurity while simultaneously symbolizing our failure to contain – let alone eliminate – the DPRK’s threat.

Through the “strategic patience” policy, the president has at least not been scurrying to revive the failed Six-Party Talks or willfully denying the North’s weapons-related progress, as many did in the George W. Bush administration’s final years. But however politically self-satisfying “not Bush” might be, strategic patience is a thoroughly inadequate response to North Korea and has been from its inception.

A real strategy, which we need much sooner than later, would require understanding that the DPRK and Iranian threats, including cyberwarfare, are two sides of the same coin, not unrelated outbreaks of nuclear contagion. The United States must take both seriously, reversing our present course of ignoring both.

Waiting passively for a third DPRK nuclear test is unacceptable, although that might be the only event to motivate Mr. Obama to pay at least lip service to combating Pyongyang’s continuing threat. By removing the public spotlight from the North – and its customers and suppliers – his administration has made it easier to evade existing sanctions and harder to impose new constraints absent another attention-riveting underground test. Moreover, Seoul is keenly aware of the North’s impending succession crisis and is likely prepared to take a much tougher line than in recent years.

At a minimum, therefore, we must press China and Russia far harder to quarantine North Korea’s trafficking in nuclear and missile technologies and materials. Unfortunately, the administration’s startling passivity means missing opportunities, which we will all regret very soon.

John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).



Top Strategist Says N.Korea Will Be Able to Nuke U.S. in 2012

STAFF WRITER | English Chosun

Top Strategist Says N.Korea Will Be Able to Nuke U.S. in 2012

North Korea will by next year have developed a downsized nuclear warhead that can be attached to ballistic missiles and fired onto the U.S. mainland, a senior U.S. strategist predicted this week.

The rogue state will continue experimenting with intercontinental ballistic missiles that put the U.S. within striking distance until it succeeds in 2012, said Larry Niksch, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

His prediction came during a seminar on North Korean affairs hosted by the Korea Economic Institute in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. It was reported by the Voice of America on Thursday.

Niksch said that if Pyongyang secures the appropriate technology, it will never abandon its nuclear program, thereby rendering the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing the country ineffective. He said the U.S. needs to fundamentally rework its policies regarding the North’s nuclear weapons programs in order to make progress.

He went on to say that the U.S. strategy of trading denuclearization for the prospect of establishing diplomatic ties with Washington will continue to depreciate in value as the North becomes stronger militarily.

Niksch envisaged a future scenario in which the U.S. would need to station an ambassador in the North Korean capital to manage the nuclear weapon risks in the Korean Peninsula. At the same time, the U.S. would be compelled to recognize the communist state as a de-facto nuclear power.

See full article at

U.S. Intercepts North Korean Ship Suspected of Carrying Missiles

DAVID E. SANGER | The New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — The United States Navy intercepted a North Korean ship it suspected of carrying missile technology to Myanmar two weeks ago and, after a standoff at sea and several days of diplomatic pressure from Washington and Asia nations, forced the vessel to return home, according to several senior American officials.

Washington made no announcement about the operation, which paralled a similar, far more public confrontation with North Korea two years ago. But in response to questions about what appears to be a growing trade in missiles and missile parts between North Korea and Myanmar — two of the world’s most isolated governments — American officials have described the episode as an example of how they can use a combination of naval power and diplomatic pressure to enforce United Nations sanctions imposed after the North’s last nuclear test, in 2009.

President Obama’s Big UN Adventure

John R. Bolton |  New York Daily News

President Obama’s upcoming visit to the 64th UN General Assembly, which opened yesterday, will be nothing if not entertaining. Substantively, Obama should be delighted. A confluence of recent events has brought to fruition his campaign promises to launch diplomacy with our adversaries: Negotiations without preconditions are blooming everywhere.

Whether these negotiations will benefit the United States is, of course, a different question. Nonetheless, Obama’s UN appearances will showcase that he now unambiguously “owns” (as he likes to say) our foreign policy.

The President’s speech to the General Assembly a week from today is his first major UN public event, and we can predict he will receive a rapturous reception. This was not true for President George W. Bush, who described his annual UN remarks as a “visit to the wax museum” because of the audience’s unenthusiastic response.

And why should we not expect a visible demonstration of Obamamania at the UN? He is giving them pretty much what they ask for, as did President Bill Clinton.

As Obama speaks, the General Assembly will be chaired by former Libyan Foreign Minister Ali Abdessalam Triki, who was elected president of that body yesterday. Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy himself addresses the General Assembly right after Obama, and they will certainly have a chance to speak together in the cozy waiting area just behind the General Assembly podium. This would be an excellent opportunity to discuss the health of recently released mass murderer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of destroying Pan Am Flight 103 and killing 270 people, including 189 Americans, and now free in Tripoli, Libya.

Even if their paths don’t cross then, Khadafy will be only a few seats away from Obama at the Security Council table on Sept. 24, when the President chairs a meeting on nonproliferation and disarmament. Khadafy can easily walk over to Obama and present him, a la Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, with a copy of the “Green Book,” Khadafy’s 1975 best seller (in Libya at least). They will certainly have a chance at the Security Council to muse about eliminating the U.S. and Israeli nuclear stockpiles, always popular subjects at the UN.

There is no word yet whether Khadafy is invited to our President’s traditional reception for heads of state and government. But certainly, now that the U.S. has accepted Iran’s offer for open-ended diplomacy with the Security Council’s five permanent members (and also Germany), there is no reason why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should not be on the guestlist.

Perhaps he and Obama can have a photo together as Ahmadinejad goes through the receiving line and begin those direct, unconditional talks that Obama promised during the 2008 campaign. Ahmadinejad might well offer a few thoughts on his overwhelming presidential reelection victory on June 12, and his techniques for handling partisan opposition. Even if Ahmadinejad’s invitation gets lost in the mail, there are still photo opportunities in abundance, perhaps at the UN secretary general’s annual luncheon for visiting heads of state.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is unlikely to attend the opening festivities, because, due to unfortunate “technicalities,” his country is still at war with the UN, and has been since it invaded South Korea in 1950. Nonetheless, the Obama administration has enthusiastically embraced negotiations with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program, so perhaps Kim can be persuaded to come next year for a proper presidential photo.

With so many opportunities for a handshake and a big hug with authoritarian leaders, so many compromises and concessions to make and so much adulation to receive, it will be a busy time for the President.

One interesting question, especially for New Yorkers: Will Secretary of State Clinton be with Obama at all the key meetings, public and private, or will she be hard at work at her desk in Washington?

Clinton’s Unwise Trip to North Korea

John R. Bolton |  Washington Post

The Obama administration characterized Bill Clinton’s unexpected visit to Pyongyang to secure the release of two American reporters, held unjustifiably by North Korea for nearly five months, as a private, humanitarian mission. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has insisted that the fate of the women who strayed into the North (whether accidentally or deliberately is still not clear), should be separated from the unresolved issue of the North’s nuclear weapons program.

But North Korea has seen it very differently. Former president Clinton was met at Pyongyang’s airport by notables led by Kim Kye Gwan, the North’s long-time chief nuclear negotiator, an unmistakable symbol of linkage. In Pyongyang’s view, the two reporters are pawns in the larger game of enhancing the regime’s legitimacy and gaining direct access to important U.S. figures. The reporters’ arrest, show trial and subsequent imprisonment (twelve years hard labor) was hostage taking, essentially an act of state terrorism. So the Clinton trip is a significant propaganda victory for North Korea, whether or not he carried an official message from President Obama. Despite decades of bipartisan U.S. rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists for the release of hostages, it seems that the Obama administration not only chose to negotiate, but to send a former president to do so.

While the United States is properly concerned whenever its citizens are abused or held hostage, efforts to protect them should not create potentially greater risks for other Americans in the future. Yet that is exactly the consequence of visits by former presidents or other dignitaries as a form of political ransom to obtain their release. Iran and other autocracies are presumably closely watching the scenario in North Korea. With three American hikers freshly in Tehran’s captivity, will Clinton be packing his bags again for another act of obeisance? And, looking ahead, what American hostages will not be sufficiently important to merit the presidential treatment? What about Roxana Saberi and other Americans previously held in Tehran? What was it about them that made them unworthy of a presidential visit? These are the consequences of poorly thought-out gesture politics, however well-intentioned or compassionately motivated. Indeed, the release of the two reporters–welcome news–doesn’t mitigate the future risks entailed.

The point to be made on the Clinton visit is that the knee-jerk impulse for negotiations above all inevitably brings more costs than its advocates foresee.

The Clinton visit may have many other negative effects. In some ways the trip is a flashback to the unfortunate 1994 journey of former president Jimmy Carter, who disrupted the Clinton administration’s nuclear negotiations with North Korea and led directly to the misbegotten “Agreed Framework.” By supplying both political legitimacy and tangible economic resources to Pyongyang, the Agreed Framework provided the North and other rogue states a roadmap for maximizing the benefits of illicit nuclear programs. North Korea violated the framework almost from the outset but nonetheless enticed the Bush administration into negotiations (the six-party talks) to discuss yet again ending its nuclear program in exchange for even more political and economic benefits. This history is of the United States rewarding dangerous and unacceptable behavior, a lesson well learned by other would-be nuclear proliferators.

We cannot presently foretell whether or not Clinton’s visit will lead to renewed negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program, but that appears to be the conclusion the Obama administration hopes to draw. Ironically, both Kim and Obama may well want to kick start bilateral negotiations, or, failing that, at least renew the six-party talks. Obama’s “open hand” promise in his inaugural address isn’t having much success around the world, and North Korea can always use new infusions of economic aid, which may well be the hidden cargo of the Clinton mission.

The point to be made on the Clinton visit is that the knee-jerk impulse for negotiations above all inevitably brings more costs than its advocates foresee. Negotiating from a position of strength, where the benefits to American interests will exceed the costs, is one thing. Negotiating merely for the sake of it, in the face of palpable recent failures, is something else indeed.

Get Ready for Another North Korean Nuke Test

John R. Bolton |

The curtain is about to rise again on the long-running nuclear tragicomedy, “North Korea Outwits the United States.” Despite Kim Jong Il’s explicit threats of another nuclear test, U.S. Special Envoy Stephen Bosworth said last week that the Obama administration is “relatively relaxed” and that “there is not a sense of crisis.” They’re certainly smiling in Pyongyang.

In October 2006, North Korea witnessed the incredible diplomatic success it could reap from belligerence. Its first nuclear test brought resumption of the six-party talks, which gave Kim Jong Il cover to further advance his nuclear program.

Now, Kim is poised to succeed again by following precisely the same script. In April, Pyongyang launched a Taepodong-2 missile, and National Security Council official Gary Samore recently confirmed that a second nuclear test is likely on the way. The North is set to try two U.S. reporters for “hostile acts.” The state-controlled newspaper calls America “a rogue and a gangster.” Kim recently expelled international monitors from the Yongbyon nuclear complex. And Pyongyang threatens to “start” enriching uranium–a capacity it procured long ago.

A second nuclear test is by no means simply a propaganda ploy. Most experts believe that the 2006 test was flawed, producing an explosive yield well below even what the North’s scientists had predicted. The scientific and military imperatives for a second test have been strong for over two years, and the potential data, experience and other advantages of further testing would be tremendous.

What the North has lacked thus far is the political opportunity to test without fatally jeopardizing its access to the six-party talks and the legitimacy they provide. Despite the State Department’s seemingly unbreakable second-term hold over President Bush, another test after 2006 just might have ended the talks.

So far, the North faces no such threat from the Obama administration. Despite Pyongyang’s aggression, Mr. Bosworth has reiterated that the U.S. is “committed to dialogue” and is “obviously interested in returning to a negotiating table as soon as we can.” This is precisely what the North wants: America in a conciliatory mode, eager to bargain, just as Mr. Bush was after the 2006 test.

If the next nuclear explosion doesn’t derail the six-party talks, Kim will rightly conclude that he faces no real danger of ever having to dismantle his weapons program. North Korea is a mysterious place, but there is no mystery about its foreign-policy tactics: They work. The real mystery is why our administrations–Republican and Democratic–haven’t learned that their quasi-religious faith in the six-party talks is misplaced.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently rejected “linkage” in Russia policy as “old thinking.” Disagreement in one area, she argued, shouldn’t prevent working on “something else that is of overwhelming importance.” Whatever the merits of linkage vis-à-vis Russia, de-linking a second North Korean nuclear test from the six-party talks simply hands Pyongyang permission to proceed.

Even worse, Iran and other aspiring nuclear proliferators will draw precisely the same conclusion: Negotiations like the six-party talks are a charade and reflect a continuing collapse of American resolve. U.S. acquiescence in a second North Korean nuclear test will likely mean that Tehran will adopt Pyongyang’s successful strategy.

It’s time for the Obama administration to finally put down Kim Jong Il’s script. If not, we better get ready for Iran–and others–to go nuclear.

Obama’s NK Reaction: More Talks

John R. Bolton |  Wall Street Journal

Prior to North Korea’s launch yesterday of a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, President Barack Obama declared that such an action would be “provocative.” This public statement was an attempt to reinforce the administration’s private efforts to urge the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) not to fire the missile.

That effort failed, as have countless other attempts to deal softly with Pyongyang. Incredibly, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth revealed–just a few days before the launch–that he was ready to visit Pyongyang and resume the six-party talks once the “dust from the missiles settles.” It is no wonder the North fired away.

Once the missile shot was complete, the administration’s answer was hand-wringing, more rhetoric and, oh yes, the obligatory trip to the U.N. Security Council so that it could scold the defiant DPRK. Beyond whatever happens in the Security Council, Mr. Obama seems to have no plan whatever.

In 2006, when Pyongyang last lit off a volley of missiles and then exploded a nuclear device, the Security Council responded unanimously with Resolutions 1695 and 1718, which imposed extensive military and some economic sanctions. Unfortunately, the impact of these resolutions was dramatically undercut by subsequent Bush administration diplomacy, which effectively let North Korea off the hook. By re-engaging Pyongyang diplomatically rather than increasing the external pressure, George W. Bush relegitimized the North and gave it yet more time to bargain.

Yesterday’s launch is attributable to prior failures, but the global consequences now unfolding are Mr. Obama’s responsibility. In fact, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is expected to announce today deep cuts in the U.S. missile defense program, an extraordinarily ill-advised step.

The initial draft Security Council resolution responding to yesterday’s missile launch, written by Japan and the U.S., is weak. It essentially only reaffirms Resolutions 1695 and 1718, and minimally tightens existing enforcement mechanisms. Moreover, China and Russia made it plain before the launch they had no interest in stricter sanctions–even arguing with a straight face that Pyongyang was only interested in peaceful satellite communications.

What the Security Council will ultimately produce is of course uncertain–but resolutions almost never get tougher as the drafting and negotiations proceed. Even worse than a weak resolution would be a “presidential statement,” a toothless gesture of the Council’s opinion. Either way, North Korea has again defied the Security Council, gotten away with its launch with the support of Russia and China, and now will likely confront only pleas by Mr. Obama and others to return to the six-party talks.

Those talks are exactly where North Korea wants to be. From them ever greater material and political benefits will flow to Pyongyang, in exchange for ever more hollow promises to dismantle its nuclear program.

So far, therefore, the missile launch is an unambiguous win for North Korea. (Although not orbiting a satellite, all three rocket stages apparently fired, achieving Pyongyang’s longest missile flight yet.) But the negative repercussions will extend far beyond Northeast Asia.

Iran has carefully scrutinized the Obama administration’s every action, and Tehran’s only conclusion can be: It is past time to torque up the pressure on this new crowd in Washington. Not only is Iran’s back now covered by its friends Russia, China and others on the U.N. Security Council, but it sees an American president so ready to bend his knee for public favor in Europe that the mullahs’ wish list for U.S. concessions will grow by the minute.

Israel must also be carefully considering how the U.S. watched North Korea rip through “the international community.” The most important lesson the new government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should draw is: Look out for No. 1. If Israel isn’t prepared to protect itself, including using military force, against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, it certainly shouldn’t be holding its breath for Mr. Obama to do anything.

Russia and China must also be relishing this outcome. They will have faced down Mr. Obama in his first real crisis, having provided Security Council cover for a criminal regime, and emerged unscathed. They will conclude that achieving their large agendas with the new administration can’t be too hard. That conclusion may be unfair to the new American president; but it will surely color how Moscow and Beijing structure their policies and their diplomacy until proven otherwise. That alone is bad news for Washington and its allies.

Hillary Clinton’s North Korea Naivete

John R. Bolton |  National Review

The secretary of state does not seem to grasp the scope of the threat posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Hillary Rodham Clinton prefaced her first trip abroad as secretary of State with a speech Friday sketching out various Obama administration views regarding her Asia itinerary. Her approach on the crucial issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program embodies an overwhelming–and unfortunate–continuity with the Bush administration. This is not at all surprising, given the president’s campaign rhetoric.

What is surprising is the sheer innocence in which the substance has been packaged, a naivete extending well beyond North Korea. The secretary’s attitude is potentially more troubling than the dull repetitiveness of the policy, which invokes the importance of the six-party talks and the need to “get the negotiations back on track.”

Take, for example, her repeated references to “smart power,” presumably meant to distinguish the brainy Obama team from its predecessor. Like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography, we are apparently meant to know smart power when we see it. Every incoming administration is entitled to a few weeks of touting its superiority, but the bumper stickers need to disappear when overseas travel begins, replaced by real policy, not slogans. Otherwise, observers would conclude that the president, and perhaps his secretary of State, are still running for office, rather than realizing they are already there.

Clinton accurately called North Korea’s nuclear program “the most acute challenge to stability in northeast Asia,” and she established the objective that the North “completely and verifiably eliminate” its nuclear weapons activities. This familiar formulation implicitly–and very unfortunately–accepts that North Korea can keep a nuclear program as long as it is “peaceful.” Whatever else it may be, this deal is not “smart.” Leaving Pyongyang with any nuclear capability simply invites future abuse and a recurrence of the very problem we need to “eliminate.”

Equally unfortunately, Clinton made no reference to the global scope of North Korea’s threat, notably in the tumultuous Middle East, where the North’s contribution to nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation has long stoked regional tensions. The omission is all the more striking because Clinton also said that “we can no longer approach our foreign policy solely country by country, or simply carving the world into separate regions.” She then proceeded to do just that, ignoring, among other things, North Korea’s missile cooperation with Iran and its attempt to replicate its Yongbyon reactor in Syria (until the site was destroyed by Israel in September 2007).

The secretary’s comments at a subsequent news teleconference only compounded the speech’s lack of strategic breadth. Asked her assessment of the Agreed Framework, the Pyongyang-Washington agreement concluded during her husband’s presidency, Clinton regretted that “the Bush administration completely walked away” from the agreement. She said that “information” about North Korea’s uranium enrichment efforts “should have been dealt with very seriously” but “in addition to the Agreed Framework,” not in place of it.

This is a breathtakingly confused position. First, North Korea’s repeated violations of the Agreed Framework breached the agreement, not the Bush White House. Pyongyang cheated on the agreement’s central premise–the North’s denuclearization–and lied about it.

And adhering to U.S. commitments under the framework while the North was violating its obligations would have been a classic case of rewarding bad behavior–exactly what the Clinton administration did wrong. Given North Korea’s flagrant, ongoing violations, what possible reason could be advanced to believe that the North would honor a new agreement to forgo uranium enrichment? Moreover, by continually casting doubt on the very existence of Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment program, Clinton is only reinforcing the North’s determination not to allow meaningful verification of its nuclear program.

Stressing that “we have not forgotten the families of Japanese citizens abducted to North Korea,” Clinton promised to meet the families “on a very personal…human basis.” Although empathy is commendable, it would have been more encouraging had the secretary emphasized the important conclusion that North Korea’s state terrorism, as exemplified by these families’ stories, vividly reveals the character of that criminal regime.

This is an important matter of statecraft and politics in Japan, and on which the abductees’ families themselves are clear and persuasive, just as it would be here if our citizens were being kidnapped. The families appreciate empathy, but what they really want is accountability from Pyongyang.

Clinton emphasized that she was prepared for “active listening” on her trip. One hopes that she will be particularly active in listening to South Korea and Japan, where the North’s repeated acts of duplicity have sunk in far more profoundly than at the State Department. Although there seems to be little reason to hope that the Obama administration will actually offer “change” on North Korea policy, perhaps Clinton will at least return from Asia sobered by the depth of the North’s regional and global threat.

Now Is No Time to Downplay North Korea

John R. Bolton |  Wall Street Journal

Yesterday, North Korea declared all its political and military agreements with the South “dead”–the latest in a string of confrontational moves taken by Pyongyang against Seoul and the U.S. In the past few weeks, the North confirmed it possessed enough plutonium for four to five nuclear warheads; threatened to retain its nuclear weapons until America withdraws its nuclear protection from the South; denounced the appointment of Seoul’s new unification minister as “an open provocation”; and proclaimed that a routine South Korean military exercise had so inflamed tensions that “a war may break out any time.”

The Associated Press concluded from all this that North Korea “sounded open to new ideas to defuse nuclear-tinged tensions.” Some State Department quarters will warmly receive that analysis; a senior careerist at State once called earlier North Korean provocations “a desperate cry for help.” Others will say Kim Jong Il just wants attention, that these moves are simply a “coming out” exercise after his recent illness.

Most troubling is Mrs. Clinton’s unwillingness to acknowledge North Korea’s uranium-enrichment efforts. In her confirmation hearing, she said these efforts were “never quite verified.” Although we know precious little about the North’s progress, including how much weapons-grade uranium may have been produced, Mrs. Clinton cast doubt on whether uranium enrichment was a serious subject at all. Pressed on this point on Jan. 23 at State’s daily briefing, the department spokesman said “we don’t know” whether such a program exists.

Of course, the easiest way to solve a difficult problem is to conclude there really isn’t one. (This was John Kennedy’s technique for eliminating the U.S. “missile gap” with the Soviet Union, which he had deployed so effectively against Richard Nixon.) For years, State’s permanent bureaucracy has been trying to wish away North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program. If President Barack Obama’s State Department takes this strategy, Pyongyang will once again have occasion to contemplate the profound wisdom of the ancient North Korean riddle: Why negotiate with the Americans when we do so well by letting them negotiate with themselves?

Equally tempting–and equally dangerous–is the notion that North Korea is not a truly pressing problem. After all, the argument goes, the North already has nuclear weapons, so unlike Iran there is no line to prevent it from crossing. Accordingly, there is no urgency to reconvene the six-party talks with the Koreas, Russia, China and Japan to end the North’s nuclear program, and certainly not to take any concrete measures to apply meaningful pressure to Kim Jong Il’s regime.

By contrast, George Mitchell, the newly appointed special envoy to the Middle East, arrived in the region five days after being named, and the endless cycle of meetings on Iran’s nuclear program among the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany will resume in days. The special envoy for Afghanistan-Pakistan is gearing up rapidly. And there’s now even a special envoy for climate change.

But so far, there is no special envoy for North Korea. Mrs. Clinton’s first press conference last Tuesday provided another opportunity to announce the position and name the envoy, but she passed, even though she was asked specifically about the six-party talks. There are persuasive arguments against reviving the unhappy Clinton administration practice of unleashing numerous Big Beast envoys in the State Department. But make no mistake: In such an ecosystem, if your issue does not have a Big Beast, then it is not a Big Issue.

The belief that North Korea is not an imminent danger is closely related to the fallacy that it is “merely” a threat to peace and security in Northeast Asia, a longstanding State Department fixation. In fact, North Korea is an urgent threat in the Middle East, both because of its nuclear program and its strenuous efforts to proliferate ballistic missile technology there.

The clone of North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor–under construction in Syria until it was destroyed by Israel in September 2007–demonstrates beyond debate how the North’s nuclear program contributes directly and palpably to Middle East tensions. Trying to ignore or downplay the relationship guarantees that we will resolve neither Pyongyang’s, nor Tehran’s, nuclear ambitions.

Ironically, North Korea’s provocations may well precipitate the appointment of a U.S. special envoy to continue the six-party talks. If so, the North will have succeeded yet again, suckering Washington into more fruitless negotiations which have no prospect of eliminating the North Korean threat. By whittling away our time, they will continue to prevent the U.S. from implementing stronger measures to undermine Kim Jong Il’s regime.

Obama Promises Bush III on Iran

John R. Bolton |  Wall Street Journal

The diplomacy that Barack Obama favors toward Tehran is exactly what the Bush administration has been pursuing for years.

“You’d have to be an idiot to trust the North Koreans,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said recently. Apparently unaware of the irony, she then predicted eventual success for the six-party talks on the North’s nuclear weapons program.

President-elect Barack Obama has promised major changes in U.S. diplomacy and repeatedly criticized the Bush administration on both substance and style. Mr. Obama has pledged more negotiation and multilateralism–less saber-rattling and “take it or leave it” unilateralism. While Iraq was Mr. Obama’s focal point in the campaign, the biggest problem ahead is countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

But on proliferation, what is striking are the similarities between Mr. Obama and President George W. Bush’s second term. Given Mr. Bush’s recent record, continuity between the two presidencies is hardly reassuring. And where Mr. Obama differs with Mr. Bush, he is only more accommodating to the intractable rogues running Pyongyang and Tehran. This is decidedly bad news.

Neither North Korea nor Iran is prepared to voluntarily give up nuclear or ballistic missile programs.

The recent, embarrassing collapse of the six-party talks starkly underlines how, under Mr. Obama, everything old will be new again. The talks are classic multilateral diplomacy, pursued since 2003 with notable deference to North Korea. There’s been about as much engagement with Pyongyang as consenting adults can lawfully have.

The outcome of this Obama-style diplomacy was the same as all prior negotiations with the leaders of the world’s largest prison camp. North Korea charged even for the privilege of sitting at the negotiating table, extracted concession after concession, endlessly renegotiated points that had been resolved, and ultimately delivered nothing of consequence in return.

When pressed, North Korea would bluster and threaten to rain destruction on South Korea. “Experts” on North Korea would observe that this was just its style, nothing to worry about. Thus did the Bush administration enable the North’s bullying behavior by proclaiming even greater willingness to offer further carrots.

Most recently in Beijing, Pyongyang refused to put in writing what U.S. negotiators say it committed to verbally–namely, verifying its commitment to abandon its nuclear program. But even taking U.S. negotiators at their word, this did not constitute real verification. The charade of verification was only one more ploy to squeeze out U.S. concessions, which Mr. Bush’s negotiators seemed prepared to give.

On Iran, also for over five years, Mr. Bush has endorsed vigorous European diplomacy. The Europeans offered every imaginable carrot to persuade Iran to drop its nuclear program in exchange for a different relationship with Europe and America. This produced no change in Iran’s strategic objective of acquiring deliverable nuclear weapons. The only real consequence is that Iran is five years closer to achieving that objective. It now has indigenous mastery over the entire nuclear fuel cycle.

The Obama alternative? “Present the Iranian regime with a clear choice” by using carrots and sticks to induce Iran to give up its nuclear aspirations. What does Mr. Obama think Mr. Bush and the Europeans have been doing? Does he really think his smooth talking will achieve more than Europe’s smoothest talkers, who were in fact talking for us the whole time?

While Mr. Obama has uttered only generalities on North Korea, his Iran policy will be worse than Mr. Bush’s. He acts as though the years of failed efforts to dissuade Iran from going nuclear simply didn’t happen. That is blindness, not continuity. And that’s without Mr. Obama’s pledge to meet personally with Iran’s leaders, an incredible act of legitimization he seems willing to give away for nothing.

Neither North Korea nor Iran is prepared to voluntarily give up nuclear or ballistic missile programs. The Bush policy was flawed not because its diplomacy was ineffective or disengaged, not because it was too intimidating to its adversaries, and not because it lacked persistence. Mr. Bush’s flaw was believing that negotiation and mutual concession could accomplish the U.S. objective–the end of proliferation threats from Pyongyang and Tehran–when the objectives of our adversaries were precisely the opposite. They sought to buy valuable time to improve and expand their nuclear programs, extract as many carrots as possible, and play for legitimacy on the world stage.

Iran and North Korea achieved their objectives through diplomacy. Mr. Bush failed to achieve his. How can Mr. Obama do better? For starters, he could increase the pressure on China, which has real leverage over North Korea, to press Kim Jong Il’s regime in ways that the six-party talks never approached. Options on Iran are more limited, but meaningful efforts at regime change and assisting Israel should it decide to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities would be good first steps.

Sadly, the chances Mr. Obama will adopt these policies are far less than the steadily dwindling possibility that the Bush administration might yet come back to reality. Mr. Obama’s handling of the rogue states will–at best–continue the Bush policies, which failed to stop nuclear proliferation. Get ready for a dangerous ride.