The Rosett Report

More on that $25 Million for Kim: It's Not Just the Money, It's the Message

Commenting on my previous post on North Korea, a reader sent in a good question, asking:

“If the DPRK has a massive counterfeiting industry in place, why don’t they just print more money rather than quibble over the $25mm in Banco Delta Asia?”

Not being privy to the inner councils of Pyongyang’s nuclear extortion racket, I have to speculate on exactly why North Korea is so fixated on getting back that $25 million. Obviously, for cash-hungry Kim Jong Il it’s a nice chunk of change, and all the easier to spend because it will be in authentic currency, not North Korean counterfeit. But from what we can see, I’d guess that it’s not only a matter of the money, but the message. North Korea is busy demonstrating to the world that Kim Jong Il can dictate terms to Uncle Sam. Kim wants his $25 million, and he wants it NOW!

Unfortunately, when Kim says “jump” these days, U.S. envoy Chris Hill asks, “How high?” Hill, currently in Beijing, has been stressing not only that he wants the funds handed over to North Korea, but that he wants it done pronto. Asked about this at a Tuesday “walkthrough” with reporters, Hill said that handing over the plunder to Pyongyang fast enough to keep Kim happy is “not a political issue” but simply a matter of “figuring out things like moving accounts to other accounts,” and that “we” — by which, presumably, he means the U.S. — “would like the money transferred as soon as possible.”

Note: North Korea has so far provided nothing but paper promises about giving up its nuclear bomb racket. When IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei went to Pyongyang last week, all he was able to bring back were some North Korean talking points –which he faithfully repeated to the press. There is no serious sign yet — zero — that North Korea is genuinely planning to abandon its passion for nuclear weapons (Kim has promised to do that before, raked in the rewards — and lied). Meanwhile, the U.S., with Hill leading the charge, has given in to North Korean demands for bilateral talks, entertained North Korea’s nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan last month at the Waldorf Hotel in New York, set in motion the arrangements for free fuel to be shipped soon to Pyongyang, and is now hustling for Kim Jong Il –arguably the nastiest tyrant on the planet — to get his $25 million back.

That brings the strange scene in which the U.S. Treasury has cut off Banco Delta Asia from the U.S. banking system for handling Kim’s crime-tainted cash. But Hill is falling all over himself to make sure that the prime culprit, Kim Jong Il, gets the money back right away. The bottom-line message is that U.S. penalties for colluding with North Korea’s rackets are at most arbitrary, and overnight becoming a thing of the past.

As long as Hill is willing to grovel, and Condi Rice is willing to let him, and President Bush is willing to approve this performance, Kim Jong Il’s focus on the money is a tactic much more profitable than simply printing up more counterfeit currency. Beyond the convenience to Kim of raking in genuine coin, there is the spectacle of a U.S. negotiator hopping to Kim’s commands. This is a bonanza for Pyongyang.

And Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, now getting ready to shrug off another round of U.S.-driven sanctions at the U.N., is surely watching this U.S. crumble, and taking notes.