Wednesday, March 7, 2007

All going according to plan...but whose plan?

I can't say that I'm surprised to hear that North Korea delayed the start of normalization talks with Japan in Hanoi, right after reports out of New York suggested that the US and North Korea had positive talks.

The unfolding of events seems almost too scripted to be real: just as international opprobrium falls on Abe's head thanks to the comfort women issue, North Korea is simultaneously conciliatory in talks with the US and dilatory in talks with Japan, putting a wedge in position.

I can only imagine what would happen if Pyongyang put some kind of nuclear "grand bargain" on the table, while holding the line on abductions. Would the US turn down the nuclear deal to stand with Japan? Not too long ago I would have said that this administration wouldn't abandon Japan, but these days, in light of the administration's rediscovery of diplomacy, it's hard to say for sure.

With Abe falling hook, line, and sinker for Congress's bait, he may have made it easier for the Bush administration to distance itself from Japan, should the need arise. If Congress passes the resolution, prompting Abe to reveal his nationalist side again, Kim Jong Il may have the perfect opportunity to drive the wedge in the alliance, thereby deepening Japan's isolation in the region.

This is all speculative but it's not too far-fetched to think that Pyongyang is closely monitoring reports of friction between Tokyo and Washington, looking for a window of opportunity to exploit.

Of course, a grand bargain that did not include full and verifiable disarmament -- and I strongly doubt the possibility of such an agreement -- would still have potentially disastrous consequences for the region, particularly if it prompted a frightened and isolated Japan to nuclearize. That is the danger, as this op-ed in the Korean Chosun Ilbo suggests: an impotent US, desperate for a victory, consenting to another flawed agreement with North Korea, but this time one that leaves nuclear weapons in the hands of the DPRK.

For the moment, the US negotiating team seems to be keeping its head, but if the situation in Iraq continues to worsen -- and if Pyongyang dangles a sweet enough deal -- US resolve could weaken.


1 comment:

Adamu said...

The "falling hook line and sinker" part of this equation is key. Why on earth did Abe give the media such juicy comments? I see he got the "kangaeru kai" to end their push to revise the Kono statement and Abe's starting some kind of "reinvestigation" on the issue, but I am unsure what positive effects this will have. And in the bigger picture, Abe is still in the corner.

You keep saying that America is abandoning Japan, but wouldn't a grand nuclear bargain that works be more in Japan's interest than letting the whole thing fall apart over the abduction issue?