Remember back during one of the presidential debates last fall, when the two candidates spent a rather excrutiating amount of time quibbling over whose foreign policy platform Henry Kissinger would more agree with? The issue was mainly one of Republican pride, as it would seemingly amount to apostasy for a veteran GOP foreign policy stalwart like Kissinger to “side” with a relative neophyte like Barack Obama. But it was also seen as a test of the legitimacy of Obama’s then contentious talk-to-foreign-leaders approach. With a grizzled realist’s stamp of approval, Obama was on solid ground, or so the logic went.

Kissinger is in The Washington Post today, and he (basically) makes sense, arguing that “the issue of proliferation is intrinsically multilateral” and that “bilateral U.S.-Iranian talks are indispensable.” But on North Korea, he seems to have taken a step back.

North Korea has recently voided all concessions it made in six years of talks. It cannot be permitted to sell the same concessions over and over again. The six-power talks should be resumed only if Pyongyang restores the circumstances to which it has already agreed, mothballing its plutonium reactor and returning international inspectors to the site.

Those sound awfully like preconditions, even if allowing inspectors to return should be a first-order move. I can’t speak to the nuances of Kissinger’s previous North Korea position, but he seems to be responding to Pyongyang’s brazen fire-a-missile-then-kick-out-nuclear-inspectors tactic. But holding out from the six-party talks would be playing right into North Korea’s hands here. If they’re the ones threatening to leave the talks, there’s no sense to reciprocate with further threat-mongering.

I, for one, am not willing to wait for “mothballs” to accrue in North Korea’s nuclear facilities before engaging in the talks to close down those facilities.

 

(image of Yongbyon nuclear plant, from flickr user earthhopper under a Creative Commons license)

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