Of course, nothing might come from such a gambit. Nevertheless, Kim Jong-un appears to be more interested than his father or grandfather in speeding economic growth. He also seems to enjoy the game of international diplomacy, which so far he has handled with surprising deftness. That likely makes him more open to offer concessions than were his predecessors, even if he, like they, remains determined to hold onto the nuclear arsenal in which his regime has invested so much.
Much of the Korea policy community reacted with horror to the president’s willingness to try a new approach. However, he recognized that almost seven decades of attempts to isolate the DPRK had failed. He shouldn’t allow his impatience to turn the unattainable perfect, denuclearization, into the enemy of the achievable good, arms control.
This approach also offers the best hope for engagement over human rights. The North long has wanted to talk with America. The U.S. could give Pyongyang what the latter always has desired by opening diplomatic relations. But only if North Korea agrees to talk about topics chosen by America, including human rights.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and the co-author of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.