Kim Il Sung Triumphant

June 24, 1994

The self-proclaimed Great Leader of North Korea has scored again. Kim Il Sung, the aged dictator who craves the respect he ill-deserves, has now been embraced by a former American president (Jimmy Carter) and has outwaited and outwitted the current American president (Bill Clinton). This despite the 1950 war he launched that led to the deaths of 35,000 G.I.s, repeated terrorist attacks on South Korea and, lately, his defiance of international rules against the spread of nuclear weapons.

Perhaps his triumph was inevitable, given the psychological advantage of a man with a proven willingness to risk war and the slaughter of millions of his compatriots in pursuit of his ambitions. Given the choice of a second Korean War or living next to a North Korea armed with a few nuclear bombs, South Korea was willing to accept the latter. As were Japan, Russia and China. The United States could not sustain a more confrontational stance than North Korea's immediate neighbors.

Since this was the case, questions arise -- again -- about the hapless conduct of foreign policy in this administration. President Clinton, in words echoing George Bush's assertion that Iraq's occupation of Kuwait would not stand, said early in his tenure that North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons would not be tolerated. Now it seems they will be tolerated. The White House has dropped its condition that high-level bilateral talks would resume only after North Korea permitted international inspections to determine if it had diverted weapons-potential plutonium. Washington is preparing to negotiate even though Kim Il Sung probably has two nuclear devices at his disposal.

There is a phrase for this: Nuclear Blackmail. Kim Il Sung has demonstrated that a pariah regime can attract world attention and extract concessions from the big powers by going or pretending to go nuclear. If he can get U.S. diplomatic recognition and economic assistance in building a less threatening nuclear reactor, his victory will be complete. We do not fault Mr. Clinton's decision to seek a peaceful way out of a crisis that seemed to be hurtling toward war. We do fault his excessive rhetoric which, in the end, is forcing him into a retreat that sends a most unfortunate message.

A top U.S. priority must be creation of a world in which outlaw governments and terrorist groups are denied any chance of developing a nuclear capability -- this despite the increasing availability of plutonium and bomb-making technology. Above all, nations signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have to obey its provisions and allow full inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Kim Il Sung has successfully defied these provisions and, in so doing, has undermined their credibility. Unless he is forced to reform, and scraps an acknowledged nuclear program as post-apartheid South Africa has done, this planet faces a more dangerous future.

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