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"What Do They Really Want?:
Obama's North Korea Conundrum"
Special Contribution
By Victor Cha
CSIS Korea Chair
Victor Cha, Korea Chair of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)

Washington, Oct. 9, 2009 — The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Korea Chair Victor Cha has written a new article for The Washington Quarterly, “What Do They Really Want?: Obama’s North Korea Conundrum.”

Below is the brief summary of the article prepared by Dr. Cha.

We remained deadlocked over a particular clause in the document. Our counterparts across the table demanded language that we thought to be unacceptable. Yet, in an effort to move the already faltering negotiations forward, we agreed to send the language back to Washington overnight for approval. This was the fourth round of the Six-Party Talks in September 2005. The talks had been suspended previously for well over a year, and the Bush administration, in its second term, was reengaging in a way that the first term had not. At issue was the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) demand that we put into writing a statement of U.S. non-hostile intent. The clause in question stipulated that the United States ‘‘has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons.’’1 To my surprise, the language came back the next morning having been approved in Washington.

When we came back to the negotiation session at the Diaoyutai State Guest House with the accepted language, the Russians asked the Chinese chair for a recess from the deputy head of delegations drafting session. During the recess, they held a bilateral meeting with the North Koreans. In this meeting, they told the North, according to my Russian counterpart on their delegation, “The Americans are serious. You see this [clause]? This is called a negative security assurance. We tried to get this from them throughout the Cold War and were unsuccessful.”

It seemed to me at the time that the DPRK finally received the security guarantee and the end to ‘‘hostile’’ U.S. policy that they had long sought. Yet, after holding this out as a precondition for progress, in subsequent rounds of negotiations they proceeded to brush this off as a meaningless commitment, a piece of paper that guaranteed nothing for North Korean security. Today, the clause remains buried in the 2005 Joint Statement bereft of any significance, despite all of the intent to make it the definitive statement of U.S. non-hostile intent.

Negotiating with North Korea is all about contradictions. What can be important one day can become unimportant the next. A position they hold stubbornly for weeks and months can suddenly disappear. But these contradictions tell us a lot about core goals that may lie beneath Pyongyang’s rhetoric and the provocative actions which culminated in a second nuclear test on May 25, 2009. Understanding these core goals, moreover, offers insights into how spectacularly unsuccessful North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been as he prepares to step down.

What do the North Koreans ultimately want with their recent spate of provocative behavior? What is often stated through the mouths of their foreign ministry officials is only a part of the Pyongyang leadership’s broader goals. The judgments that follow are also informed by the experiences and “gut instincts” of those who have negotiated with the regime over the past sixteen years.

Please find a link to the full report below:

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions; accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in these publications should be understood to be solely those of the authors.

H. Andrew Schwartz

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Dr. Victor Cha is Korea Chair of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). He earned his MA from Oxford, and Ph.D. from Columbia. Many books he authored include the award-winning author of "Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle." As prolific writers of articles on int'l relations in such journals as Foreign Affairs and The Washington Quarterly, he also interacts frequently with CNN, NYT, and Washington Post as well as Korean media.






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