January 31, 2008

Why didn't Bush mention North Korea in his State of the Union Address?

19:36 | 31/ 01/ 2008



MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Ivan Zakharchenko) - U.S. President George W. Bush never missed a chance to lash out at North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Il, but he did not even mention North Korea in his latest State of the Union Address.

There must be a reason for this. It is doubtful that Washington has suddenly forgotten all about Pyongyang. In 2002, Bush included North Korea in the Axis of Evil and has since accused it of cheating and human rights violations. He also called it one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

But this time, he did not say a word about it, although recently U.S. officials have criticized North Korea for not abiding by its nuclear disarmament commitments.

Analysts have different explanations for Bush's decision not to mention North Korea. Bush did not wish to irritate Pyongyang because his foreign policy is beset with problems and the use of force has not produced success. Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown in 2003, but the war in Iraq is still going on and the end is nowhere in sight. The United States still has 160,000 soldiers there.

The recently disclosed U.S. intelligence information proves that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, but Washington insists that it is dangerous and it is necessary to adopt tough sanctions against it.

Since August 2003, diplomats from six countries - Russia, the United States, China, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan - conducted talks in Beijing to curtail North Korea's nuclear program. The talks are now suspended because North Korea wants the United States to fulfill its promise and exclude it from the category of countries supporting terrorism. Washington is reluctant to do this until North Korea abides by its commitment to provide information about all of its nuclear programs.

U.S. Department of State official Sung Kim has recently started his Asian tour, including a visit to Pyongyang. He is supposed to settle U.S.-North Korean contradictions about nuclear disarmament commitments on the Korean peninsula. Under the circumstances, it would not be logical to irritate Pyongyang once again.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Nobutaka Machimura, said that Bush did not mention North Korea to send a positive signal aimed at further dialogue. Some Russian observers agree with this view. The head of the Korean Studies Center of the Far East Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexander Zhebin, told RIA Novosti that Washington is trying "not to spoil the opportunity for progress at the Beijing talks."

But Bush might have had a covert reason not to mention North Korea. He might have sent a signal not to North Korea but to the critics of his policy in the United States. His logic was that if you ignore a problem, it will go away.

The head of the Chinese and Japanese branch at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) and associate member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vasily Mikheyev, told RIA Novosti that "on the one hand, the United States cannot afford to again adopt a tough attitude toward North Korea, but on the other hand, further concessions to Pyongyang will evoke criticism." So, Bush preferred not to mention North Korea in order not to irritate his opponents.

But there may be one more reason for Bush's restraint regarding North Korea - the inauguration of the new South Korean President, Lee Myung-bak, on February 25. He does not favor rapprochement with North Korea but wants to consolidate his country's alliance with the United States. His conduct is being closely watched in North Korea and the local press does not even mention the change of administration in South Korea.

At the same time Lee Myung-bak has not said anything negative about North Korea. To the contrary, he has promised to develop relations with it, but made this dependent on the resolution of the nuclear problem and economic advantages. Probably, Bush abstained from criticizing Pyongyang in order not to do any harm to its ally in Asia - South Korea, which has the third largest number of troops in Iraq (after the United States and Britain).

In any event, North Korea will certainly pay attention to Bush's gesture. It is obviously not enough to stop the enmity, but now the ball is in Pyongyang's court.

Since the end of the Korean War (1950-1953), North Korea and the United States are formally in a state of armed conflict because they have not signed a peace treaty. To this day, Washington has refused even to discuss a possibility of signing it and has more than 30,000 soldiers in the southern part of the Korean peninsula.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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