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Is North Korea Playing a New Game?

Author: Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy
June 22, 2009


North Korea may believe it has found a successful approach to getting what it wants from the United States. Its past pattern involves crisis escalation to draw diplomatic attention and subsequent entry into negotiations as a means by which to relieve the pressure. All the while, the North has accepted economic benefits without conceding the core elements of North Korea's nuclear capacity. This approach has worked with both the Clinton and Bush administrations. As the provocations and crises have unfolded in the early days of the Obama administration, many long-time North Korea watchers, including Obama administration officials who cut their teeth with North Korea in the Clinton administration, are having feelings of deja vu.

This is the game that North Korea played to great effect during the Clinton administration. But this time, American officials are all insisting that they will play a new game with North Korea: that the North Koreans can't sell Yongbyon to a new U.S. administration for the third time and that the Obama administration can't afford to enter endless rounds of fruitless negotiations with North Korea in which they face North Korean salami tactics of dividing other parties while providing minimal concessions.

If the North Koreans are playing the same old game, then the focus is on creating crisis as a means by which to draw the United States into a coveted high-level direct dialogue, effectively marginalizing the six party process and opening the way for United States to once again provide significant concessions and humanitarian assistance to North Korea.


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