It might not be fair to suggest that North Korea’s President Kim Jong Il is hinting at resuming negotiations about his country’s nuclear weapons tests because he doesn’t like being bumped out of the spotlight by Libya or Syria or the world’s economy.
Then again, it is Kim Jong Il, a near-recluse whose people have been oppressed into starvation and who delights in confounding friends and foes alike.His delegates come to the negotiating table only when it strikes his fancy, tease other parties into believing things just might be different this time, then storm away, as likely as not blaming the action on the United States.
He must miss the attention, because after a trip aboard an armored train to meet Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, a trip that Kim told the Russian press was “fun,” it seems he’s willing to consider yet again a moratorium on his testing and production of nuclear weapons and a return to the six-party talks.
When they occur, those talks involve the United States, South Korea, Japan and China, in addition to North Korea and Russia. They began eight years ago with the intent of getting North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program in exchange for desperately needed economic assistance and some diplomatic benefits.
Talks stalled — most recently but not for the first time — in 2008. In the ensuing years, North Korea has exploded a nuclear device, tested a long-range rocket and made known that it has a uranium enrichment plant. Oh, and Kim promoted his youngest son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, to four-star general.
Largely because of North Korea unreliability as a negotiating partner, the United States and South Korea, the latter of which would like to trust the North but dares not —insist that North Korea keep its previous nuclear commitments before talks are resumed. Specifically, the two nations expect North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons programs and allow for verification by U.S. weapons inspectors. North Korea, not surprisingly, is only willing to return to negotiations “without preconditions.”
There’s little reason to believe, as the United States and South Korea know, that in addition to satisfying his craving for attention, Kim is stalling in an effort to produce a nuclear weapon and be able to launch it against an enemy or a perceived enemy. His strategy is working because the other parties to the talks don’t know to deal with him.