Tuesday, November 21, 2006

BDA Accounts Reopened: US Concession or Chinese Fait Accompli?

(Includes State Dept. briefing wrap up for 11/20 & 11/21/06)

Here’s an interesting item from the Korea Times:

China has unfrozen some North Korean accounts in a Macau bank that have been suspected of being linked to money laundering and other financial irregularities, Yonhap News Agency and KBS reported, quoting a Beijing-based diplomatic source yesterday.

The move, which seems to have been conducted with the understanding of the United States, is likely to oil the wheels in the expected resumption of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs, reports said. The multilateral talks, which have been stalled for one year, are expected to resume as early as next month, as Pyongyang said it would return to the negotiation table late last month.

A North Korean official active in Beijing also confirmed the measures, adding ``it seems the United States has partly accepted our demand,’’ according to Yonhap.

Some observers interpret the move as reciprocity from the U.S. as North Korea agreed to resume the six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear programs late last month.

For me, the interesting phrases are “The move, which seems to have been conducted with the understanding of the United States...” and ``it seems the United States has partly accepted our demand,’’, according to the North Koreans, no less, not exactly the most reliable source of information on U.S. intentions.

Lot of “seems” there.

Did the United States greenlight the reopening of the $12 million dollars in BDA accounts that examiners found to be legitimate? (I examined the BDA issue and the question of how much money was actually black funds here.)


One possibility is that the United States has given up on the big stick approach to getting North Korea to return to the Six Party talks, and decided to throw out a carrot.

On a certain level, this makes obvious sense.

The United States has failed to convince China, Russia, or South Korea to sign on to a coercive interdiction and inspection regime that would compel North Korea to make painful concessions before returning to the talks.

Secretary of State Rice failed during her whirlwind tour of the key world capitals.

President Bush failed this week at APEC.

The diplomatic string has clearly run out.

Perhaps the United States has resigned itself to re-entering the talks without a commanding position of advantage, and will participate in a protracted, muddled six-way negotiation with Kim Jung Il.

However logical this might appear, however, I wonder if President Bush was really ready to tuck his tail between his legs and accept restart of the talks on these terms.

President Bush still has almost two months of freedom of action as America’s unchecked foreign policy helmsman before the newly elected Democratic Congress is installed and severely cramps his style.

It doesn’t seem quite plausible to me that President Bush and John Bolton, who epitomize iron will, relentless energy, and imperviousness to compromise, criticism, and reality in their promotion of the Bush Doctrine, would meekly abandon their North Korea policy while any time remained on the clock.

Faced with the Bush administration’s seemingly unending and quixotic quest to obtain harsher sanctions and perhaps emboldened by President Bush’s lame duck status, China may have decided to remove the sanctions on those accounts at Banco Delta Asia as a unilateral maneuver.

In other words, perhaps the Chinese have taken a leaf from America’s book, and conducted a pre-emptive strike on the Bush administration’s position.

In this scenario, China would have pulled the sanctions unilaterally to restart the talks, and is counting on President Bush being too distracted, too weakened, and too dependent on Chinese good offices to challenge this fait accompli.

Unlikely, perhaps.

But what also seems unlikely to me is that President Bush would abandon his hard-line strategy, cut the legs out from under John Bolton, and deny him one final opportunity to seize victory in the struggle against North Korea, before the new, Democrat-controlled Congress and dissatisfied elements within his own party dispatch John Bolton, the Bush Doctrine, and President Bush’s unquestioned command of America’s foreign policy into oblivion.

Finally, here’s the Asia-related haul from the last two State Department briefings:

Nov. 20, 2006:

MR. CASEY: Chris Hill? Did we want to do Chris Hill first? Or we've still got Sri Lanka? All right, let's do Chris Hill. And basically I think most of you know that Chris is in Beijing right now to follow up on discussions that were held in Hanoi. And this is all about the process of preparing for a return to the six-party talks. His main meetings today, as I understand it, were with Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, and that was the main part of his discussions there.
He does plan, as I understand it, to return to Washington sometime tomorrow after some additional meetings with Chinese officials. As he said, I think he wants to make it home for Thanksgiving. So we look forward to having him back afterwards.
QUESTION: Is he going to meet with any North Korean officials, or is that something that is planned?
MR. CASEY: There's nothing scheduled.

November 21, 2006

QUESTION: Anything more on Christopher Hill, specifically about any possible carrots offered North Korea?
MR. CASEY: Well, as you know, Chris just finished up his trip to Beijing. I think he's headed on back, if not right now, should be employed on his way back shortly from Beijing. He's had some good consultations there with his Chinese counterparts. Main focus of that has been looking at the process of how we move ourselves back into the six-party talks. And I believe you heard from him today in Beijing that he's optimistic that we might, in fact, be able to have that next round take place somewhere in the middle of December.
In terms of specifics of the consultations, I think as he said there, he wants to come back here, have a chance to talk with the Secretary and talk with other officials back here in Washington. We feel we're making good progress in having good discussions. But I certainly don't have anything specific to talk to you about in terms of how we will be proceeding in those negations. I think we'll need to let them play out in private.

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