29 February 2008

Bush Sr. Heading to North Korea?

In June 1994, former President Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea for what was, at the time, one of the most amazing glimpses into North Korea, and the negotiating tactics and decision-making process of its leadership. Face to face with then North Korean President Kim Il Sung (who lies in repose as President in perpetuity now), Carter entered into extremely public negotiations, leading to a seeming offer by the North to open up its nuclear facilities and end the escalating nuclear crisis that had seen the U.S. brought close to approving another military action in North Korea.

The June 1994 Carter-Kim Il Sung meeting was the archetype of North Korea's nuclear negotiation strategy, revealing both the ultimate goal of the nuclear crisis (establishing normalized relations with the United States) and the place where decisions can actually be made in the North (in the person of the leader alone).

This latter pattern has been repeated by Kim Jong Il, successor to the North Korean founder. In a 2000 meeting between Kim Jong Il and then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Kim unilaterally offered a moratorium on North Korean missile tests. And during a 2002 visit by then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Kim suddenly admitted the North Korean program of kidnapping Japanese citizens and handed over information on several abducted Japanese to the visiting Prime Minister.

It is the prerogative of the leader in North Korea to make such large-scale gestures that, even through numerous rounds of lower-level bureaucratic discussions and interactions, could never likely be made. And this is why there is some excitement with the rumors that former President George HW Bush (Bush Sr.) may be heading to North Korea. Without a doubt if he goes, it would be for a face-to-face with Kim Jong Il, and this would open an opportunity for the Dear Leader to make another bold move, perhaps owning up to a smaller Uranium program, or even stating the number of bombs.

North Korea has been itching for a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, hinting that they would offer her a "big present" if she came. Obviously she isn't going, not without a deal already arranged and agreed. She can't look like Albright at the end of the Clinton term – the politics wont allow it. But Bush Sr. may be the perfect candidate – unofficial but with more heft than most anyone else around in regards to the current President. With North Korea done with all the January and February holidays, and not quite ramping up for April yet, there are a few weeks for something to happen – and if Bush Sr. drops by for a boat ride along the Taedong River, things could suddenly get really interesting on the North Korean front.

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