On Bill Clinton’s successful diplomatic trip morally repugnant capitulation to North Korea, Spencer Ackerman’s satirical take is all you really need to consult:
In an unforeseen turn of events, Bill Clinton strapped himself with nuclear weapons and detonated during a meeting with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. The former president’s inability to free imprisoned American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling ended in carnage, the only diplomatic language the North Koreans understand. Clinton, recognizing that diplomacy was useless, bit his lip sorrowfully and expressed regret that so many had to die in the name of American prestige, according to a suicide note obtained by this blog.
Back in the United States, conservatives expressed relief that Clinton chose an honorable end to his life. “Diplomacy with the North would be the worst of all possible options,” said Rep. Guy “Whitey” Corngood (R-Ark.), a longtime Clinton critic. “Bringing those two Americans back without incident would have represented an unacceptable humiliation for this country.” Attempts to reach John Bolton, a former undersecretary of state and U.N. ambassador in the Bush administration, were unsuccessful, but associates said Bolton credited Clinton for posthumously vindicating his worldview and that the former diplomat was considering a courtesy call to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to express condolences.
What makes this morbid telling (Bill Clinton did not actually blow himself up, and did successfully negotiate the release of the American journalists) even funnier is that John Bolton could be reached, and, predictably enough, still thought that Clinton’s visit did nothing but “reward bad behavior” and “legitimize the [North Korean] regime.” That, and, well, accomplish the only goal that he had in going over there.
I’m consistently struck by how ironically similar the likes of John Bolton are to Kim Jong Il and North Korea’s power-obsessed cadre of leaders. The only ones who think that an insignificant sop to the latter’s silly sense of pride amounts to a serious concession by the United States are the North Korean leaders themselves and, well, Boltonites. Only these two groups of dolts take what Bolton calls “gesture politics” as a matter more serious than actual politics and policy — which, once again, resulted in North Korea releasing two wrongly imprisoned journalists and the United States giving up nothing more than a day of face time with Bubba.
(image from flickr user Creative+ Timothy K Hamilton under a Creative Commons license)
I’ve been on vacation for the past week-plus, so I missed the (admittedly not very “new”) news that North Korea wants to join “a specific and reserved form of dialogue” — in other words, the bilateral talks with the United States that Pyongyang has long sought.
Is this business as usual with North Korean diplomacy, is it the strategic counterweight to its past couple months of brazen missile launches, or is it, as FP’s Brian Fung suggested, “a unique opportunity” for making progress?
I respect Brian’s points — that the six-party talks haven’t been too successful, that the resulting stalemate may have benefitted North Korea’s cause, and that the specific aims of the other five parties have been frustratingly divergent — but I’m not as open to his conclusion. Not that I support the misguided notion that meeting with the leaders of nefarious countries should be held out as some kind of “reward;” that’s nonsense, as I’ve blogged previously. But one should be a bit suspicious before acceding to exactly what North Korea wants — particularly when, as in this case, the issue is actually one of excluding other parties, not whether or not to conduct diplomacy.
Going at the North Korean nuclear issue through the six-party talks is the only acceptable option here for precisely the reason that the relevant actors — China, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Russia — are “working at cross-purposes” on seemingly everything else. In other words, North Korea’s nuclear program is the only thing they do agree on — namely, that Pyongyang should not be in possession of nuclear weapons. North Korea, of course, feels differently, but backing out of the six-party talks would be as short-sighted as has been the U.S. policy of insisting on North Korean disarmament before any concessions are made. Bilateral negotiations aren’t a concession, but the only way I see them working is as part of a communicative regional strategy.
(Maybe North Korea’s real purpose in seeking bilateral talks with the United States is to gain the know-how to upgrade its fastfood offerings from “minced beef and bread” to a verifiable hamburger.)
To mark the one month anniversary of the military coup that deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, select press, think tankers, members of the diplomatic (including at least a dozen ambassadors “from Canada to Chile”) gathered at the Argentine Embassy in Washington for a reception for the Minister of Communications for the “Constitutional Government of Honduras” Enrique Reina.
Reina is actually a bit more than the minister of communication for the deposed Honduran government. When the military launched its coup, it had an ally in the Honduran ambassador to the United States, Roberto Flores Bermudez. This caused a schism within the embassy, with about half the Honduran foreign service loyal to Zelaya and half following the ambassador. The United States revoked the former ambassador’s visa, and since then Reina has acted as the “constitutional government’s” representative in the United States.
I had the opportunity to talk to Reina and a number of other South American diplomats and gauge their reaction to the machinations of certain members of congress, led by Connie Mack of Florida, that are supportive of the de-facto Honduran government. Mack recently returned from Honduras. And, via The Hill upon his return he had this to say:
“The Organization of American States, State Department and Obama administration got it wrong,” Mack said. “We’re siding with the OAS and Chavez and Castro and that group over an ally.” Mack said Zelaya “is playing a game here and Hugo Chavez is pulling the strings.”
Reina and nearly all of the South American diplomats with whom I spoke made the similar point that sentiments like this harken back to the bad old days of the Cold War — a time when the United States viewed Latin American governments in clear dichotomy between left and right. Left bad. Right good. End of story.
But in this case, the entire world (save a handful of Republican members of the United States congress) have united around Zelaya. Left wing Latin American governments like Venezuela find themselves on the same side of the debate as right wing governments of Columbia. This suggests that the coup transcends politics. As one Latin American diplomat told me, “We have all seen what a coup is. When you wake the president up at five in the morning with a gun to his head and kick him out the country that is a coup!”
The one place where the coup has apparently not transcended regular politics is the United States Congress.
One of the snippets from Hillary Clinton’s ASEAN speech in Thailand tomorrow, as obtained by Laura Rozen:
We are also asking every country to join in demanding transparency from the North Koreans. A recent incident involving the North Korean ship, the Kong Nam, led the United States to conduct intensive conversations with states in the region to avert North Korea’s efforts to send shipments abroad without declaring their contents. We were pleased that the ship turned around and returned home. The bottom line is this: If North Korea intends to engage in international commerce, its vessels must conform to the terms of 1874, or find no port.
1874, of course, is UN Security Council Resolution 1874, which carries with it the remarkable power to make North Korean cargo ships cryptically turn around before they can deliver any nuclear material (to Burma or elsewhere). Well, okay, maybe the U.S. destroyer following the North Korean ship had something to do with it.
Still, the resolution, which also tightened sanctions on top North Korean officials, has certainly brought some pressure to bear, and it’s good to see that it forms the crux of the U.S. position on the matter. 1874, agreed to by even frequent Pyongyang ally China, represents the best leverage the international community has right now, both because of its own strengths, and, more importantly, because of the consensus that it brought together.
As Mark forecasted, The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration handed down a ruling today on Abyei, the contentious border area that could prove the tinderbox for renewed civil war in Sudan. A bit surprisingly, the ruling effectively favored the North, shifting the borders of Abyei to award valuable oil fields to the government in Khartoum. Even more surprising, though, is that — for now at least — everybody seems happy with the decision.
Mutrif Siddig, the Sudanese foreign ministry under-secretary, said that Wednesday’s decision was a “step forward”.
“We respect this decision. And this decision is final and binding because all the parties agreed from the beginning that the decision of the court was binding and final,” he said.
Riek Machar, a representative of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which heads an autonomous regional government in the south, said that he hoped that the ruling would increase the chances for peace.
“We want peace. We think this decision is going to consolidate the peace,” he said. “We came to see justice and it’s a decision we will respect.”
Such punctiliousness is nice and all — particularly on the part of the South, which could be aggrieved at the ruling — but I don’t exactly share U.S. Sudan Envoy Scott Gration’s robust optimism at these rhetorical promises. It’s worth remembering that a deal was reached four years ago, through an objective commission that determined fair boundaries for Abyei, and that that ruling was also supposed to be “binding and final.” Diplomatic niceties were followed up to — and no farther than — the point of actually implementing the agreement.
One of the authors of the previous Abyei commission report, the very knowledgeable Douglas Johnson, says that “each side can come away feeling that they have been given something from this arrangement.” If that’s all it takes to get a viable resolution of the border dispute, then an oil field or two seems worth trading for peace. Let’s hope both North and South Sudan agree.
(image from UN Photo)
Those sanctions that were tightening (ahead of schedule) on North Korea — they are tight indeed. The asset freezes and travel bans hit the officials and companies most directly responsible for the country’s nuclear program. Pyongyang won’t react well verbally, to be sure, but they have to be feeling this one in their pocketbooks.
Middle East: During the last 48 hours of the continued ceasefire, humanitarian workers have delivered food to hundreds of thousands of people, repaired water and sanitation infrastructure, re-stocked medical supplies, and some of the 520,000 displaced Palestinians have returned to their homes. However, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator remarked the scale of needs remains “unprecedented in the Gaza Strip.”
Middle East: At today’s informal session of the General Assembly on Gaza the SG remarked that the most recent ceasefire has held since yesterday at 8 a.m. local time. He noted that a durable ceasefire is necessary and UN shelters must continue to remain safe zones. The SG thanked UN staff in Gaza and will fly the UN flag at half-mast tomorrow in memory of those who died in the conflict.
Middle East: The SG commended Israeli and Palestinian parties for committing to a 72-hour ceasefire that took place at 8 a.m. local time today. He urges all parties to abide by the ceasefire and commence peace talks in Cairo to address underlying issues and agree on a durable ceasefire to sustainably stop the violence. The UN lends its full support toward these efforts.
Middle East: The SG condemned yesterday’s shelling outside of an UNRWA school in Rafah that killed at least 10 Palestinian civilians. The SG stated that the attack violated international humanitarian law and UN shelters must continue to be safe zones and not combat zones.
SG: Last night the SG spoke at a joint press conference with the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica where he repeated his call for an unconditional and extendable humanitarian ceasefire. Speaking about yesterday’s shelling of a UN shelter he said: “Nothing – nothing – justifies such horror” and demanded “that all parties immediately respect UN premises”.
SG: The SG met with President Ortega yesterday in Nicaragua where he visited a wind farm and praised the country’s commitment to renewable energy. The SG arrived in Costa Rica today where he is expected to lecture about “Costa Rica and the United Nations: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century”.