All the six nations taking part in new round of the inter-Korean talks, due on February 25 in Beijing, are well prepared for them. In fact, so well that leaks to US and other media have revealed who is going to say what. The only thing that is unclear at the moment is whether the Bush Administration is ready to move towards something resembling a conflict solution. No one really knows if it has an idea of how this solution can be reached. Based on what is known about the US position on the issue, one can conduce that the White House needs a propaganda victory on the "Korean front" to please Republican voters. Indeed, Washington needs this so desperately that it is ready to sacrifice its real interests in Asia to secure success.
In short, the US wants to propose a "Libyan scenario" to North Korea, which it accuses of developing its own nuclear weapons. In other words, it wants to see North Korea voluntarily to scrap its WMD programmes, just as Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi recently did. The British talked Qaddafi into doing this, and now the US Administration wants to show that it is aiming to achieve the same.
The US media has revealed that Washington's position at the upcoming talks was formulated early this month at a White House meeting with President Bush. It suggests rejecting the North Korean proposal that the nuclear centre in Yongbyon, where America claims North Korea is processing weapons grade plutonium for its nuclear programme, be frozen.
However, Washington needs nothing short of a complete end to all North Korea's WMD programmes. This includes another uranium-based programme, and the US is warning the North Koreans in advance that it should not be so bold as to deny its existence. Information about the latter emerged recently after the father of Islamic nuclear bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, admitted he had sold certain related equipment and technologies to North Korea. There is no other proof than Khan's words.
Therefore, North Korea should show and destroy everything, even what it most likely does not have. But the US delegation is not making the slightest bit of effort to clarify what North Korea will get in return. Sources claim that this is because there is no consensus within the American government on this issue. At best the US will "possibly" agree to its allies helping Pyongyang. Finally, the Bush Administration intends to start a long discussion at the talks about a whole list of claims to North Korea concerning human rights, contacts with terrorists and missile sales.
In weeks of hectic behind-the-scenes diplomacy, efforts were focused on a scenario for the Beijing talks in a bid to formulate a very general code of principles for solving " the Korean problem", i.e. attempts to identify a general direction. No one could have expected anything more, as the positions of the two main parties in the talks - the US and North Korea - are oceans apart. Therefore, all the efforts of the other four parties in the talks - Russia, China, South Korea and Japan - have been directed towards preventing a scandal caused by angry speeches, which is how the first round of talks last August ended. And few people expected that Washington would fear success at the second round so much that it would replace its tough stand with a still tougher one, thereby all but guaranteeing a stand-off.
Understandably, it is a pre-election decision taken with a view to putting off the real talks in Beijing until after the November US presidential vote. In the meantime Pyongyang is to be offered a "Libyan scenario," not so much for North Korea to accept it than for the US electorate to like it. The White House evidently sincerely considers that the country's voters will understand nothing less than a policy of force. Therefore, if it manages to pursue this policy successfully, the voters will be happy to see its achievements. If it fails, like in Iraq for example, the search for a solution to the problem should be postponed to avoid irritating the voters.
Four years ago, the Democrats (under Bill Clinton) evidently bet on a different electorate as far as their Korean policy was concerned, voters that applauded a blatant pre-election visit made by Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang in the autumn of 2000. Voters were happy to learn that US economic sanctions against Pyongyang had been lifted and the first American goods, including coca cola of course, were being delivered to North Korea. The Democrats were pinning their hopes on reforms of the North Korean regime - all the more so since market-economy reforms had just begun there (they have now slowed down, primarily because the prospects of relations with the US are unclear).
But Republican voters will not understand how their party could supply coca cola to Pyongyang, and so it would be better to avoid following the Democrats' lead at all. Hence the scandal in October 2002, when the US maintained that Pyongyang had admitted it was developing weapons of mass destruction, while the North Korean capital reported that it done nothing of the kind, and the intelligence services of the country's neighbours were quite sure that it had no full-scale nuclear programmes, at least before October 2002. Since Pyongyang banished IAEA experts from Yongbyon last winter, everything has become possible, though no earlier than in a decade.
So, what will happen in Beijing on February 25? The situation is absurd in that Pyongyang is itself suggesting a "Libyan model," and has begun to speak about this openly. It did this in 1994 with the Democratic administration, after showing an example to Qaddafi. And now, too, judging by leaks from the Korean side, North Korea would like to solve the problem in stages. For instance, it could ask IAEA inspectors to return to Yongbyon in exchange for resuming boiler oil supplies for North Korean power stations. But it is clear that the US position simply rules this out, in the same way as it precludes many other options.
US diplomacy risks losing a great deal. For example, it may be opposed by a "united front" of all the other participants in the talks, which in fact has long been the case. Chinese diplomats do not believe that North Korea has a second, "uranium" programme, and they have stated this at numerous preliminary meetings. They even have arranged leaks to the world media, setting forth this point of view. The Japanese media says loudly enough that it is ridiculous to rely on assessment made by US intelligence services now that George Bush is investigating their information failures over Iraq.
All this points to a reality that was forecast long ago - if the US does not see a place for itself in a reasonable foreign policy on the Korean Peninsula, then this policy can do without the US.
But all these matters evidently have nothing to do with ordinary American voters. Therefore, the Bush Administration prefers to ignore them, at least until the time comes when the Korean issue really must be settled.