Worrying about North Korea

North Korea continues to be a thorn in the side for United States. While there has been enough high drama over the past many months with one former US President after another departing for Pyongyang to free arrested nationals, Washington has bigger issues to worry about.

North Korea, being a nuclear power with a penchant for aggression has literally upset the apple cart. Regional peace and stability are believed to be at high risk, especially when Pyongyang insists on maintaining a hostile stance.

In the past, the six party talks with Pyongyang failed when North Korea quit and reneged on it’s nuclear commitments. These talks that involved the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia were aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons.

Subsequent efforts by United States involving regional states like China to bring the communist state back to the negotiation table have been unable to achieve results. Despite dismal economic conditions at home, the North Korean leadership has stuck to it’s guns and refused to heed the conditions set by the US. The principal demand is the dismantling of it’s nuclear weapons.

While China continues to make efforts to get the US to restart dialogue with North Korea, obstacles remain. Because of what is perceived by US officials as China’s reluctance in exerting more pressure to bear on Pyongyang, hopes in that channel are diminishing. The perception in Washington is that owing to North Korea’s heavy dependence on China it should not be a problem for Beijing to engage in some arm-twisting.

In addition, the Americans are wary of Pyongyang’s attitude. There is scepticism that the North Koreans would play for time and build up their nuclear arsenals while avoiding sanctions, even if talks were to start. Such hoodwinking at this juncture is unacceptable to the US. Despite this, policy-makers in Washington are burning the midnight oil in trying to figure out some end to the stalemate. There are now indications that the US may be exploring means to restart dialogue since pressure alone is not a viable option. Placing further sanctions on an already choked state is not likely to work.

The positive thing is that North Korea is on the brink of ushering in a new leadership. With Kim Jong-il’s health on the decline, the government is said weighing it’s options and policies. Besides, Pyongyang’s hints dropped once too often speak of a softening in stance and even resumption of dialogue. It is hoped that better sense prevails and meaningful dialogue can restart.

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