The US, entrapped no longer?

The latest meeting of the six-party talks in Beijing is currently on hold, but that hasn’t stopped Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s plenipotentiary in the talks, from telling the press that the US is prepared to include a concrete timeline for removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Is Japan ready for the US to begin moving ahead on normalization with North Korea, despite George’s persistent reassurances to Shinzo that the US wants the abductee problem solved first? I swear, the Japanese government better not point to Secretary of State Rice’s saying last week that the US will take Japan’s views on this into consideration as evidence that Japan has been betrayed.

But seriously, before anyone gets too misty-eyed about the greatness of the US-Japan alliance, it is necessary to ask about the health of an alliance in which the two allies have been unable to speak publicly about the growing gulf in their positions on an important issue. Mr. Abe, of course, bears some of the blame for the serious leap from Japan’s side that the US is on the brink of taking — he wanted to talk abductions, and the US government told him exactly what he wanted to hear, over and over again.

But the US has been a bad ally in just going along with Japan’s abductee obsession, knowing full well — at least for most of this year — that given a choice between an even remotely satisfactory deal with North Korea and Japan’s satisfaction on the abductions issue, it would choose the Pyongyang deal.

I wonder if this is a function of reverse entrapment. Perhaps the US, having gotten everything it could have hoped for (and more, considering that Armitage and others didn’t expect Japan to send troops to Iraq) from Japan over the past six years in matters related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, found itself unable to criticize Japan on a matter of extreme importance to Tokyo. Of course, the underlying power relationship being what it is, the US may find it a bit easier to escape from being entrapped by Tokyo.

So brace yourself for the shock that has been so long in coming there can’t possibly be anyone who will still be shocked by it. (Nevertheless, Will and Shokun! will still be full of vituperative essays about how Japan has been betrayed by the US.)

UPDATE — The can’s been kicked down the road again. The latest joint statement included no specific terms for removing North Korea from the list. All it means is that Mr. Fukuda now has time to close the gap between the US and Japanese positions.

3 thoughts on “The US, entrapped no longer?

  1. Anonymous

    It was clear to me about a year ago that Japan had taken the wrong path by making abduction a priority over the more central issue of nuclear disarmament during the (restarted) six-party talks in Beijing. It was not clear to me at the time that Shinzo Abe had made the political decision to raise the abduction issue over the disarmament issue as part of his bid for the succession to Koizumi. At the time of Koizumi\’s selection I was hoping that Yasuo Fukuda would be chosen but he apparently dropped out reportedly because of his age but he clearly would not have made the decision of putting abduction over disarmament. Though the US will likely bypass Japanese objections to letting the N Koreans get off the hook on terrorism, hopefully Fukuda and Komura can come up with some way to soften the resulting diplomatic clash.


  2. I don\’t know how surprised we should have been by Mr. Abe\’s blinders on North Korea — he laid it out for everyone to see in his book. The abductions issue is critical not just to how he envisions national security, but to how he envisions himself as a politician.He did exactly what he promised to do, and what he had been doing as a member of the Diet for more than a decade: he emphasized bringing the abductees home. A few years ago, his position wouldn\’t have been worthy of comment. His and his government\’s problem was failing to appreciate how the mood in Washington has changed.


  3. Andrew Oplas

    With all due respect to the abductees\’ families (and the rising numbers of those who lobby on their behalf), this is not an issue that should stand between two nations\’ diplomatic communications.Here, the US stance is reasonable, and the Abe stance is laughable.


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