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Bush Flip-Flops on North Korea

May 18, 2006

In the latest flip-flop from President Bush, the administration is planning to reverse course on North Korea. After five-years of a failed policy that produced a nuclear-armed North Korea, Bush will give the go-ahead for direct bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang. Apparently, the President has finally decided to listen to John Kerry's advice in 2004.
The New York Times reports that President Bush will soon approve recommendations from top advisors which include "a broad new approach to dealing with North Korea that would include beginning negotiations on a peace treaty," even as the six-party talks on the North's nuclear disarmament continue.
If such a dual-track approach sounds familiar, it should. During the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry and other Democrats championed direct talks with North Korea on security guarantees and a final peace treaty to formally conclude the 1953 truce. With the multilateral talks including the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, Pyongyang and Seoul stalemated and North Korea on the verge of producing one to two nuclear devices per year, Kerry summed up the results of Bush's refusal to engage with the North:

"For two years, this administration didn't talk at all to North Korea. While they didn't talk at all, the fuel rods came out, the inspectors were kicked out, the television cameras were kicked out. And today, there are four to seven nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea. That happened on this president's watch."

But President Bush was having none of it. During their second presidential debate, a caustic Bush lambasted Kerry about the "mixed messages" bilateral talks would send:

"It is naive and dangerous to take a policy that he suggested the other day, which is to have bilateral relations with North Korea. Remember, he's the person who's accusing me of not acting multilaterally. He now wants to take the six-party talks we have -- China, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States -- and undermine them by having bilateral talks.
That's what President Clinton did. He had bilateral talks with the North Koreans. And guess what happened? He [Kim Jong Il] didn't honor the agreement. He was enriching uranium. That is a bad policy."

Kerry, of course, was right and Bush was wrong. Bush memorably said he "loathed" Kim Jong Il and barred American personnel from direct discussions with their North Korean counterparts. But now, five years after crushing South Korea's "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with the North and embarrassing Korean President Kim Dae Jung during his March 2001 trip to Washington, President Bush is about to make a 180 degree turn.
And Bush claimed John Kerry was the flip-flopper.


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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