Saturday, August 09, 2003

Today has been a day of very discouraging news. Starting with this:
John Bolton might be termed an old hand. The US under-secretary of state for arms control and international security, a Yale-educated lawyer, has held a string of senior posts in the state and justice departments. By any yardstick, he is an experienced if conservative-minded diplomat of some gravitas who, it must be assumed, knows what he is doing. But according to an official North Korean statement this week, Bolton is "human scum".

Even by Pyongyang's astringent rhetorical standards, this is strong stuff. It constituted a reply in kind to a stunningly splenetic tirade delivered by Bolton in Seoul three days earlier that amounted to a fierce, personal attack on Kim Jong-il.

North Korea's leader was a tyrannical despot and extortionist who "lives like royalty", Bolton said, while hundreds of thousands of his people were locked up and millions more endured a life of "hellish nightmare... scrounging the ground for food in abject poverty". For good measure, Bolton also attacked the UN for not facing up to its responsibilities - a familiar theme for students of the Iraq crisis.

The curious thing about this exchange is not so much its intensity as its timing. Bolton went nuclear, verbally speaking, only hours before North Korea finally acceded to longstanding US demands for multilateral talks on its nuclear arms ambitions. South Korean officials were relieved that the North had not used Bolton's broadside as an excuse for further prevarication. But like the rest of us, they were left wondering whether Bolton had launched a deliberate pre-emptive strike against the nascent diplomatic process.

This raises a key question, as America's twin confrontations with North Korea and Iran over nuclear arms accelerate towards a crunch in the next few weeks. In a nutshell, peaceful, internationally supportable, diplomatic solutions to both disputes are available. Their outlines may be clearly discerned; the mechanisms by which they can be achieved are more or less in place. But does the US actually want to cut a deal?

The ambiguities clouding US policy towards North Korea date back to the early days of the administration, when George Bush put a damper on former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy" of detente with the North. Since 9/11 and Bush's "axis of evil" speech, matters have just gone from bad to worse.

The planned talks in China, also involving South Korea, Japan and Russia, are viewed in the region and beyond as a crucial opportunity to arrest this apparently inexorable downward spiral. The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and others have suggested that North Korea might initially freeze its nuclear arms programmes in return for a sort of US non-aggression pact.

But such compromises may not suit the likes of Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, and other hardliners, including perhaps Bush himself - who has professed personal loathing for Pyongyang's communist leader. For them, it seems, nothing less than Kim's overthrow will ultimately suffice, although it may have to wait until a second Bush term.

A former US envoy, James Goodby, warns that Washington must beware of over-reaching itself. "Many in the Bush administration want regime change in North Korea and think that slow strangulation might do it," Goodby wrote in the New York Times. But security assurances and economic incentives were what was really needed. "Improving the lot of the North Korean people should be a fundamental aim."

Such common-sense advice risks being drowned out by the beat of Washington's ideological war drums. That discord will strain ties with US regional allies, encourage North Korean paranoia and miscalculation, and could yet shipwreck any talks on a reef of mutual distrust, bad faith and hidden agendas.

If that isn't bad enough, comes this shot from the Bushies:
Beijing — A senior Pentagon adviser has given details of a war strategy for invading North Korea and toppling its regime within 30 to 60 days, adding muscle to a lobbying campaign by U.S. hawks urging a pre-emptive military strike against Pyongyang's nuclear facilities.

Less than four months after the end of the Iraq war, the war drums in Washington have begun pounding again. A growing number of influential U.S. leaders are talking openly of military action against North Korea to destroy its nuclear-weapons program, and even those who prefer negotiations are warning of the mounting danger of war.

Some analysts predict that North Korea could test a nuclear warhead by the end of this year — an event that could cross the "red line" that would provoke a U.S. attack.

The tensions were heightened by a recent exchange of gunfire across the border between North Korean and South Korean soldiers. Talks between U.S. and North Korean officials are expected to be held in Beijing soon, but nobody is predicting an imminent diplomatic agreement, especially after North Korea denounced a U.S. negotiator as a "bloodsucker" and "human scum."

Military conflict in the Korean peninsula could trigger a catastrophe, not only because of the suspected presence of nuclear bombs in North Korea, but also because of the 11,000 North Korean artillery weapons along the border that could inflict death and destruction on millions of people in the South Korean capital, Seoul, which is within artillery range of the North's guns.

Former CIA director James Woolsey, a Pentagon adviser and close ally of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, gave the most explicit glimpse into the thinking of U.S. military planners this week when he revealed the details of a possible plan of attack against North Korea.

This is all heading to a very bad end.........