U.S. Legislator Urges Bilateral Initiatives with North Korea

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific is urging the Bush administration to consider “bilateral initiatives” with North Korea.

Representative James Leach, in a September 19 speech before the Arms Control Association in Washington, said:  “[T]he United States can afford to be bold in its diplomacy with North Korea. … Talking directly with Pyongyang is neither a favor nor a capitulation.”

The Six-Party Talks, which involve North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, is “a good framework,” he said, “but it is likely to be bolstered rather than undercut if we augment it with bilateral initiatives.”

“At times there are advantages to engaging in diplomatic discussions in a multi-party framework,” Leach said, “but these advantages are meager if an intransigent adversary refuses to participate or chooses to exact tributes of one kind or another in exchange for sending to a table of interlocutors, diplomats with limited authority.”

The Republican from Iowa lamented the fact that one year after Pyongyang signed a joint statement of principles under which North Korea "committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs," the international community is no closer to realizing those goals. (See related article.)

“The continuation of present circumstances is particularly regrettable because time is on no one's side,” Leach said. “Every day of the status quo is another day for the North Korean regime to produce additional fissile material, and another day that the people of North Korea fall further behind the remarkable economic and social march of the rest of Asia.”

“Pyongyang's ongoing nuclear program, its missile tests and illicit exports have profound implications for regional stability, the international nonproliferation regime, and the national security of the United States,” the U.S. lawmaker said.

“Given North Korea's track record,” he said, “one cannot help but share the Administration's healthy skepticism about the DPRK's [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] strategic intentions. …  All can agree that North Korea is well-practiced at deliberately creating tensions and exploiting them for its own benefit.”

Even so, “deterrence and engagement are not mutually exclusive,” Leach said.

According to Leach the “ostensible unity” demonstrated in the U.N. Security Council's unanimous adoption of Resolution 1695 on July 15 “appears of doubtful value given China's stated opposition ‘to any acts that would lead to further tension.’"

Resolution 1695 calls on all U.N. member states to refrain from transferring items or financial resources relating to the missile and weapons of mass destruction programs operated by North Korea. (See related article.)

For the United States to remain “diplomatically reactive,” Leach said, “as in the case of North Korea, cedes too much initiative to ‘actors’ whose interests are not identical with our own, and allows the North Koreans and others to bizarrely paint us as an intransigent party.”

‘The goal should be to induce both a negotiating commitment and an attitudinal breakthrough,” Leach said.

See also "Bush, Roh Emphasize Unified Stance on North Korea.”

For additional information on U.S. policy, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula and The Proliferation Security Initiative (PDF, 4 pages).