North Korea President Kim Jong Il may be a little eccentric, even
crazy, but he is not stupid. For years now he has watched his Chinese
neighbors taunt the United States, even threatening to nuke Los
Angeles. What has it gotten them? Powerful concessions, billions in a
one-sided trade agreement and billions more in outright “assistance.”

North Korea’s demented dictator could teach Al Gore a lesson or two
on how to reinvent himself. The former film director choreographed a
meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung that was enough to make
Hollywood green with envy, complete with hugs for the head of the
government he had called a “monstrosity” with “no right to exist” and a
“Joint Declaration” aimed at reuniting Korean families split apart by
the war that never ended.

The spectacle had the desired effect. Within the week President
Clinton announced that he was lifting a half century of trade
restrictions, putting new regulations into place that will allow the
U.S. to resume a variety of economic contacts and give the green light
to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund which are poised to
offer further assistance.

What really happened there that justified such a reversal? Some 100
of the 1.2 million war refugees now living in the south may be permitted
to cross the border into North Korea for a temporary reunion with their
starving relatives, the first such reconciliation since 1985. In
return, a grateful South Korea has agreed to give $450 million in aid to
its unrepentant northern neighbor.

On the same day Mr. Clinton announced plans to allow North Korea to
gain access to the bounties of Western Civilization, Rodong Sinmun, a
journalist for the North Korean Workers’ party newspaper, a mouthpiece
for Kim Jong-Il, chastised our country for not withdrawing our troops
and “increasing the danger of war and escalating the tensions.”

In the face of a worsening economy and mass starvation last fall, Kim
postponed the test of his latest missile, but recently stiffed a
delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency that went to
North Korea to make inquires about the nuclear program we helped to
build.

Has Kim Jong Il truly changed his stripes and become more
conciliatory? Have we learned nothing from our history of North Korea
negotiations? Does anyone remember the “Agreement on Reconciliation,
Nonaggression and Exchanges and Cooperation Between the South and the
North” that was signed nine years ago and never implemented because of
roadblocks erected by the North?

Chuck Downs, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Asia Policy Office
from 1991 to 1996, says the north has a long history of winning
concessions by increasing threatening behavior, then laying out an olive
branch which quickly is retracted after its desired objectives are
achieved. In his book, “Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating
Strategy,” Downs says North Korea continues negotiations 1) to fill the
gaps in its own economy, 2) to provide a pretext for launching domestic
purges, and 3) to build up its own military at foreign expense.

Mr. Clinton has been so anxious to achieve a legacy that he has been
working overtime to open relations with some of the worst rogue nations,
so much so that he recently put that term in the trash heap. North
Korea now is listed as a “country of concern.” It’s hard to sell the
American people on the idea of handing over their hard-earned tax
dollars to a rogue state. Listing North Korea simply as a “country of
concern” makes it sound far less threatening and makes this deal a lot
more palatable.

Congress has until July 17 to reverse the president’s decision to
lift restrictions on North Korea, but that is unlikely to happen. In
1994, Congress sat idly by when Mr. Clinton made the decision to help
the North Koreans build two light water nuclear reactors. Is there
anyone in leadership now with the courage or political will to stop him
from giving North Korea the cash to build the missiles that can use the
plutonium manufactured by those nuclear power plants?

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