North Korea on the Clinton Agenda

July 05, 1993

When President Clinton visits South Korea after the Group of Seven summit in Tokyo, and makes the ritual visit to the demilitarized zone facing an ever-hostile North Korea, the nuclear threat posed by the Pyongyang regime will shadow every gesture he makes, every word he utters.

A crisis of worldwide significance was averted June 11 when North Korea "suspended" its decision to become the first country ever to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But it still refuses to permit spot inspections at any suspected nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency. So, in light of evidence that North Korea may be on the verge of assembling its first nuclear bomb, a more immediate crisis remains.

North Korea is to get one more of the high-level meetings it craves with U.S. officials after the Clinton visit. But barring an unexpected breakthrough, the president is likely to be dealing with a situation that has all of Asia nervous. Not only has North Korea refused IAEA access to nuclear dump sites where samples could prove or disprove that it is a near-nuclear power; North Korea also has just conducted its first test-firing of a 600-mile missile that could reach western Japan. Iran and Syria are potential customers.

His Korea visit affords Mr. Clinton the opportunity to lay down hTC some inflexible principles to stop the spread of nuclear weapons -- a goal at or near the top of his foreign policy agenda. He should state that every nation that signs the NPT must accept all IAEA rules, including opening its territory to special inspections of sites not acknowledged as nuclear-sensitive. He should vow that this goal is so transcendent the United States will seek Security Council sanctions against any nation that defies the most important treaty of the nuclear era.

Because North Korea is so paranoid, so isolated and so dangerous, it should not be Mr. Clinton's purpose to provoke. On the contrary, his administration has tried to walk the fine line between engaging the Pyongyang regime and not allowing it to gain time or concessions by its defiance of desired international behavior. Mr. Clinton should toe this line, but stress that there are limits to U.S. patience. The prospect of North Korea's actually getting a bomb and then indulging in nuclear blackmail is not to be tolerated.

The United States actually has much to offer North Korea: respectability, acceptance in the world community, reduced military tensions in the peninsula, economic assistance to a failed Communist system and even, at the end of the road, diplomatic recognition. But none of these things -- none -- should be available until North Korea complies in every detail with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

If President Clinton advances a program of this kind, he will be doing the world a big favor. Not only will South Korea and Japan agree; so, we suspect, will such disillusioned one-time allies of dictator Kim Il-sung as China and Russia.

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