Norks looking for magic phrase

Washington Post:

What's in a phrase? Everything, in the craft of diplomacy.

This is the story of three little words -- "no hostile intent" -- and the fierce tussle within the Bush administration over them as officials tried to develop a policy to confront North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

To a non-diplomat, the phrase might seem typical of the awkward and diffuse verbiage frequently uttered by men in pinstriped suits. But to the North Korean government, hearing those words from the U.S. looms large as the diplomatic equivalent of the Holy Grail.

Yet President Bush has never uttered them. Neither has Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell did, especially in the final months of his tenure -- and he frequently suggested Bush had said them, too.


"They watch like hovering hawks," said Hayes, who has made seven trips to North Korea. "They monitor American rhetoric, statements and the policy process much more closely than we monitor them."

In 2000, the final year of the Clinton administration, a senior North Korean official visited Washington and met with President Bill Clinton and other top officials. At the end of his visit, on Oct. 12, the governments issued a joint communique that declared that "as a crucial first step, the two sides stated that neither government would have hostile intent toward the other."

Wendy Sherman, a former top State Department official who was the chief U.S. negotiator of the communique text, said her counterpart made it clear that including the phrase about "hostile intent" was critical to North Korea's making concessions on its missile program.

What does "no hostile intent" mean? As with a lot of diplomatic shorthand, a precise definition can be elusive, in part because the phrase's meaning depends largely on the ear of the beholder. For North Korean leaders, diplomats say, the phrase goes beyond a pledge not to invade, conveying an implicit message of respect between two peer nations.

One of the problems the Norks have is that they are so hard to respect. Their word is no good. They abuse their own people in a form of slow genocide. They threaten their neigbors. Just what is their to respect about this regime that gets its cash flow from selling drugs and forging US currency. What passes for diplomacy by this group of thugs is nothing more than insults and threats expressing hostile intent. So, again, what is their to respect about this regime? Suppose they heard their magic language and reached some bargain witht he six party talks. As soon as it was clear that they had broken their word again, hostile intent would be evident.

If their word is no good, what good is their magic phrase?


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