July 3, 2014
Should America Reengage with North Korea?

by Robert Einhorn

This week, Chinese President Xi Jinping visits South Korean President Park Geun-Hye in Seoul, and next week, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew will meet with Chinese leaders in Beijing. These meetings provide an opportunity for the three countries to consider next steps on the vexing problem of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs-and in particular, to discuss whether and under what conditions to resume multilateral talks on the denuclearization of the DPRK.

The last round of Six Party Talks-involving North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan, and Russia-was held in December 2008. Since then, the Obama administration has been reluctant (understandably so) to resume the six-party process, given the North's provocative behavior and little evidence that a return to the process would produce meaningful results.

The administration has been determined to break the cycle in which the North Koreans engage in destabilizing activities, receive compensation in terms of economic and other benefits for suspending those activities, and then eventually renege on their commitments and resume those activities whenever it suits them. So instead of responding to provocative behavior by returning to the talks, the United States has favored what some observers have called "strategic patience"-resisting engagement and opting instead for stepping up economic and political pressure in the hope of altering Pyongyang's strategic calculus and bringing the North's leaders to the conclusion that the only sensible approach is to change course fundamentally.

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