[how to ruin a negotiation]

Topic: North Korea

So the new American ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow, announced his presence by calling North Korea a criminal regime.

Okay, so North Korea did manage to poke America in the eye, which is what triggered Vershbow’s harsh words. North Korea insisted that the US lift economic sanctions, threatening to walk out of the negotiations if we didn’t. So Vershbow was explaining why we weren’t going to back down on this issue:

This is a criminal regime, and we can’t somehow remove our sanctions as a political gesture when this regime is engaging in dangerous activities such as weapons exports to rogue states, narcotics trafficking as a state activity and counterfeiting of our money on a large scale.

Nevertheless, it was totally unnecessary to poke back. We could have said simply that the sanctions, like everything else, could be discussed at the Six-Party Talks once North Korea has dismantled its nuclear program.

Unfortunately, as has so often been the case with the Bush administration, we seem to have decided that a tough stance was worth more than actual progress. What did we gain with our tough talk? If North Korea walks out on the negotiations, we will have succeeded in highlighting our impotence on the Korean Peninsula.

Whatever happened to walking softly and carrying a big stick? At the moment, our big stick is looking stretched and fragile in Iraq, and still our government insists on shouting when a few quiet words would do.