KOREAN DIPLOMACY BACK ON ITS TRACKS
MOSCOW, JANUARY 21 /from Dmitri Kosyrev, RIA Novosti political analyst/ - Alexander Losyukov, Russia's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, is hero of the day as the first-ever foreign political activist to have talked for several hours with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il since developments round that country took a critical turn. Though the achievements of yesterday's debates are kept secret, and surely will stay so, Russia's and other countries' attitudes to the crisis are getting clearer than before.
Kim Jong-il and President Vladimir Putin are exchanging written messages. The one Alexander Losyukov brought to Pyongyang is known to contain an unabridged plan to settle the North Korean crisis-a plan unanimously approved in Pyongyang, Seoul and Tokyo. But then, the crisis flared up not between Moscow and Pyongyang but the USA and North Korea, so to coax President Bush matters most of all.
Possibly, Mr. Losyukov will recede into the background quite soon to give room in the limelight to Australian diplomats, even though Australia has no political and economic interest in Korean affairs, no practice of Korean trouble-shooting, and no influence on the Koreas, for that matter.
Be that as it may, the Australian Ambassador to North Korea sat for eleven hour in talk at the North Korean top-though Kim Jong-il did not receive him. Immediately after, the diplomat started for the USA today to inform the White House precisely what guarantees Pyongyang wants from America in exchange for freezing back its nuclear programme. Another Australian diplomat departed for Seoul and Tokyo to offer similar information to the South Korean and Japanese top. All that shows that the Korean settlement cause has crossed the boundaries of its established circle-the two Koreas, the USA, Russia, China and Japan. Luvsangiyn Erdenechuluun, Mongolia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, is scheduled for a visit to Pyongyang tomorrow. Who will be next?
International diplomatic efforts round the Koreas have come to the highest degree of intricacy. There is no task harder than to see just what all involved parties are to discuss. There was an impression, quite recently, that each was pressing his own point, and all were talking about different things. The USA, for one, is reluctant to discuss anything at all. Instead, it is pressuring North Korea economically with fuel supplies suspended against a 1994 agreement. Now, a prospective agenda which may interest all above-listed countries is not so vague as it was.
All said and done, we can expect the matter to take one of only two possible turns. A first option boils down to an old Oriental allegory of catching a black cat in a dark room, with all the catchers knowing the animal is out of the room. Only few really believe North Korea can afford nuclear and other mass destruction arms programmes now or later, however convincing Kim Jong-il may be as he intimidates the world with those programmes for want of another bugbear. So to re-enact Iraqi developments for Pyongyang would be downright clowning with the UN Security Council in long debates on what North Korea is actually developing and manufacturing, with blueprints for inspector dispatch to the country, bringing back IAEA experts whom North Korea has just expelled, and so on, and so forth.
An impression may form, however, that the USA still insists on the cat-catching game. Characteristically, when Alexander Losyukov was in Pyongyang, Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, said the matter ought to pass to the United Nations Security Council as North Korea was shrugging off IAEA nonproliferation resolutions.
There are no serious objections to the idea of Security Council debates as everyone knows only too well that Moscow and Beijing will block whatever sanctions against North Korea-even after Kim Jong-il profoundly shocked and enraged the entire world with showing once again how weak and inconsistent are global nuclear monitoring arrangements. It is really bad tone for a head of state to play on the nerves of his counterparts in other countries. Kim could make a humble request instead, something like, "Dear Mr. Bush, please keep to your fuel supply obligations before my country breathes its last." Things will not get worse in North Korea even with Security Council sanctions. Its economic plight has reached a peak, as it is, to put a population of 22 million on the verge of starvation. That is why South Korea and other East Asian countries-Russia being no exception, with its vast Pacific area-have been making plans for several years to integrate North Korea into regional economic contacts.
That is the point of all current diplomatic efforts round the country. The basic idea envisages a reverse to the situation of 1994, when Pyongyang and Washington made a barter. The one was renouncing nuclear arsenal efforts while the other agreed to assist it with civil power industry. As the agreement had it, the USA was to build in North Korea a nuclear plant unable to produce weapon-grade plutonium, and supply black oil before the project was commissioned. The current crisis broke out after the USA accused its partner-without highly convincing evidence-of violating the agreement, and so gave up its own obligations to put North Korea on the brink of energy starvation.
Evidently, the plan which Mr. Losyukov brought to Pyongyang repeated, with certain changes, the agreement of 1994. The Moscow blueprints show a road which may take the USA and North Korea back to it. Kim Jong-il is to order another stoppage of a reactor frozen on the 1994 agreement, and have IAEA inspectors back, while George Bush pledges nonaggression and black oil export resumption.
Meanwhile, the USA is working to modify the same 1994 pattern. It intends to build several thermal power plants in North Korea instead of a nuclear, even if it will be unable to produce weapon-grade plutonium. If Washington, D.C., is willing to revive the arrangement of eight years ago, it shows, in fact, that there was no point in making the present hullabaloo, so we can expect many harsh American statements to accompany the agreement revival. Harsh words or no harsh words, the prospect is better than futile talk of sanctions and inspections.