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Bush Using Threat Of Nuclear Japan In N. Korea Talks

President Bush’s evolving policy toward nuclear menace North Korea refutes Democratic charges that his administration is hopelessly “unilateralist,” but it also represents a major shift for Bush himself.

From a no-talks posture, Bush has moved into multilateral negotiations — lately using the prospect of a nuclear-armed Japan to induce China to apply pressure to North Korea.

[IMGCAP(1)] And, from adamant refusal to consider any “non-aggression” pact, as demanded by North Korea, Bush has made an offer of a “small-a agreement.”

The change in Bush policy may have less to do with a new-found dedication to negotiations and be more the result of preoccupation with Iraq and reluctance to be involved in a new international crisis heading into an election year. Yet, there has been a shift.

True to Democratic caricatures, Bush originally disdained any contact with the Pyongyang regime, determined to reverse former President Bill Clinton’s “engagement” policy that failed to prevent North Korea’s nuclear cheating.

Bush rejected South Korean pleas to negotiate with the North. He told journalist Bob Woodward that he “loathes” North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, put North Korea on his “axis of evil” list and flatly ruled out any “non-aggression” agreement with Pyongyang.

Democrats, including super-dove former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, moderate Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and hawkish Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), all violated their party’s usual insistence on multilateralism and urged Bush to give in to Pyongyang’s demands for two-party talks.

And they blamed Bush’s aggressiveness and refusal to talk to North Korea for the North’s resumption of plutonium reprocessing in violation of a 1994 agreement with the Clinton administration — in spite of the fact that the agreement was immediately broken when the North secretly began an illicit uranium enrichment program.

North Korea, with a starvation civilian economy, has a record of selling whatever weaponry it can, thus presenting a danger of nuclear shipments to terrorist groups. A war with North Korea likely would involve hundreds of thousands of deaths, especially in South Korea.

Bush policy was stalemated at the outset by furious fights between the pro-negotiation State Department and the anti-talks Pentagon, which favored devising stratagems to topple the Kim Jong-Il regime.

Ultimately, Bush opted for multilateral talks involving China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. North Korea finally agreed, though it obviously wanted the six-party talks to be a cover for U.S.-North Korean negotiations. The Bush administration had other ideas.

In Thailand late last month, Bush yielded to the point of offering a “non-aggression agreement” — but no treaty — in return for a halt to the North’s nuclear weapons program.

According to government sources, Bush is also engaged in more subtle diplomacy — using the prospect that Japan may develop a nuclear deterrent as a lever to persuade China to pressure North Korea into a nuclear stand-down.

The sources say that Bush devoted much of his Oct. 19 meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao to warning that if North Korea continues developing a nuclear arsenal, Japan is fully capable of becoming a nuclear power in short order — complicating China’s plans to be the dominant military power in Asia.

“China’s big nightmare has been that North Korea would implode, sending millions of refugees across their border,” said one knowledgeable official. “That’s prevented China from really squeezing North Korea even though it’s the North’s lifeline.

“What Bush had to do,” said this official, “was present to the Chinese a bugaboo more scary than North Korea’s implosion — namely, a nuclear Japan and, possibly after that, a nuclear Taiwan.”

It’s a little-known fact that Japan, which derives much of its electric power from nuclear plants, owns more plutonium than even the United States — 38 tons, enough for 7,000 nuclear weapons.

Japan clearly is worried about North Korea, which is believed to have at least two nuclear bombs already, has declared it is building more and has fired two missiles over Japanese territory, in 1994 and 1998.

In April, Japanese opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa openly discussed a nuclear option, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is expanding his country’s conventional forces, including a missile defense system that — along with Japan’s space program — could lead to development of nuclear delivery vehicles.

There is evidence that China has got the message and is stepping up its efforts to restrain Pyongyang’s nuclear buildup, U.S. officials say. Last week, it sent the deputy speaker of the People’s Assembly on a well-publicized trip to North Korea to deal with the nuclear question — a mission that would cause China to lose prestige if it fails.

Among Democrats, Bush gets minimal and grudging credit for his Korea policy and none for his efforts to give the United Nations and other countries a role in Iraq’s redevelopment.

At a meeting convened Thursday to issue a moderate-Democratic manifesto on “Progressive Internationalism,” Biden at first declared that Bush “has no policy toward North Korea.”

Moments later, he acknowledged that “there’s an emerging policy of trying to work out something. … The administration seems to be coming to the realization that we can’t handle the problem of nonproliferation alone.”

The manifesto itself, written by supporters of the Iraq war and organized by the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank for the Democratic Leadership Council, declares that Bush’s policies “encouraged” North Korea to accelerate its nuclear program and that Bush “stood by passively” as it happened.

Even though Bush has moved on foreign policy, notably in Korea, there is no middle ground in the 2004 foreign policy debate. From left to right, the Democratic mantra is that Bush has made the country weaker by “isolating America from the rest of the world.” Bush says he has made America more secure by confronting its enemies.

I’d like an administration that confronted America’s enemies while uniting the world behind us. But if you have to choose, the most important thing is to beat the bad guys.

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