North Korea’s Latest Gestures

Earlier this year, North Korea made several provocative moves.  It tested a nuclear device, launched an intercontinental ballistic missle (ICBM) with a satellite (similar in size to a nuclear warhead) attached to it, fired shorter-renge missiles near Japan, threatened nuclear war and imprisoned two American journalists and a South Korean worker.  These acts came on the heels of efforts by the Obama administration to extend an olive branch to North Korea in an attempt to improve relations and ease tensions in East Asia.  The administration responded to North Korea’s defiance by rallying the international community to impose more sanctions on the DPRK and make greater efforts to interept North Korean ships suspected of carrying illicit materials such as nuclear technology.

But in recent weeks, Kim Jong-Il’s regime has made what appear to be conciliatory gestures.  It freed the imprisoned Americans, announced that it would send representatives to attend the funeral of South Korea’s former president, requested a meeting with Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who negotiated with North Korea in the 1990s during the Clinton administration, and agreed to reopen tourism ventures with South Korea.  It also said it would allow families divided by the border between North and South to reunite.

North Korea’s recent change in posture is probably an attempt to persuade the outside world to ease sanctions and offer economic benefits to Kim’s regime as a reward for being more cooperative.  This is likely a temporary move in accordance with North Korea’s strategy of acting belligerent to garner the attention of the international community and then extracting economic aid in return for promises to behave better.  The US and other powers should keep this in mind when negotiating with North Korea and determining their policies towards that rogue nation.

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