The Rosett Report

Man Bites Dog -- State Department Envoy Speaks the Truth About North Korea

No, I could not possibly be talking about U.S. special envoy Chris Hill, who has spent the past year purveying the bizarre calculus that as long as the U.S. keeps its side of the bargain in the Six-Party talks on North Korea, we’re half way to success — never mind if North Korea takes everything and stiffs us on its half of the deal. (Note: putting scotch tape across the door to the Yongbyon reactor, for the second time since 1994, does not count as nuclear disarmament).

The envoy who finally stood up and said the right thing is Jay Lefkowitz, special envoy for human rights in North Korea. In a speech delivered Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute, Lefkowitz spelled out that after four years of Six-Party talks, we’ve got pretty much nothing. Meanwhile, North Korea has conducted an intercontinental ballistic missile test, a nuclear test, and continued brutalizing its own people in ways “deeply offensive to us,” which “should also offend free people around the world.”

Staking out a position not attempted in the Condi Rice State Department since John Bolton left in 2006, Lefkowitz suggested that “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events.” He went on to spell out (without mentioning Chris Hill) the ways in which Chris-Hill diplomacy and the Six-Party talks have been a horrifying flop.

Correctly, Lefkowitz warned that “It is increasingly likely that North Korea will have the same nuclear status one year from now that it has today.”

He pointed out that China and South Korea have not provided the help that Washington hoped for in pressuring North Korea, and in a heroic effort to steer American policy back toward first principles, he urged that in any further negotiations, the barbaric nature of the regime be one of the main subjects on the table: “All negotiations with North Korea should firmly link human rights, economic support, and security issues.”

My own view is that we should not be negotiating with North Korea at all; Kim Jong Il has spent years honing his skill at bamboozling, manipulating and extorting concessions from the U.S. and our allies. Give him a seat at any bargaining table, and he will do more of the same. But if Washington is hellbent on negotiating, then Lefkowitz has spelled out the way to give it at least a fighting chance.

So, what was the reaction at State? Did our diplomatic corps rise up at Foggy Bottom and raise their skim-milk lattes to salute this envoy who had the courage to do the right thing? You already know the answer. At the Friday morning State Department press briefing, asked if Lefkowitz was speaking for the Administration, spokesman Sean McCormack replied: “He was not.” McCormack explained that there are “lanes” for North Korean policy at State. Lefkowitz’s lane is human rights; and on all those matters in Chris Hill’s “lane,” such as Six-Party talks and ballistic missile tests and nuclear bombs, Lefkowitz was only expressing “his own opinions.”

To run with that traffic metaphor — Chris Hill may be in his lane, but he’s so busy pretending it takes us where we want to go that he’s driving with his eyes closed. Jay Lefkowitz, whose personal opinions evidently come from keeping his eyes open, has just had the integrity to warn us that without a big change of course, the Condi Rice convoy for North Korea is headed for a quite a roadwreck.