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Monday, October 6

North Korea: What's a song worth?

Ah. I see they've moved the goal posts:
"The North's hard-line military has insisted upon simultaneous nuclear inspections in North and South Korea to ensure what it calls a "nuclear-free Korean peninsula" before it agrees to abandon its nuclear arsenal.

It also demands a military dialogue with the United States to negotiate a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War."
And here I thought they balked because they didn't want to lose face with inspection teams poking around their nuke facilities, and wanted to be removed from the U.S. terror list without first undergoing intrusive inspections.

Meanwhile, we're trying to figure out whether Kimmy is alive or dead. Seoul's North Korea watchers have the answer: Yes, no, maybe.

If Kimmy is dead, then saying he watched a soccer game may be the military's way of trying to keep the lid on foreign government concerns while negotiating hard for more concessions. Or it may be a stall while they work out a new leadership; in that event, the chances for ironing out kinks in the nuke deal seem slim.

The best that Christopher Hill can do is keep at it. A fool's errand? If Kim Jong-il is dead, I'd say yes, unless there is a powerful enough faction in their government to rein in the military's hardliners.

I waited many months before deciding whether there had been a genuine breakthrough in the six party negotiations. Even after the New York Philharmonic's visit to North Korea in February, I said nothing. It was only in May, when I saw Christiane Amanpour's documentary about the visit, that I made up my mind.

Her film taught that in a land with so little, songs have an importance that is hard to imagine in the West. North Koreans have been imprisoned simply for humming a banned South Korean song or singing it inside their home. Songs are part of the government's carefully controlled Cold War revolutionary aura.

In February, Kim Jong-il commanded the elite in his regime to stand for the playing of the U.S. national anthem. And that was it, I thought: in the ancient way of emperors, he demonstrated that his word was enough to change everything.

Although I couldn't guess his reasons I thought by that one gesture he demonstrated he was serious about taking meaningful steps to open up North Korea to the West. By June events seemed to prove out my decision. Then in September everything went haywire.

So now we wait and wonder.

Was Kimmy assassinated by China's government for threatening to normalize relations with the U.S.A.? Did a faction in North Korea's military assassinate him? Were the hardliners concerned over U.S. actions toward Russia? Or did Kim simply suffer a stroke and is he dead, or recovering? Will the hardliners in Tokyo and Seoul do anything to flummox a deal? Or is Pyongyang just running out the clock on the Bush administration?

Oh a pox on all these ruminations! Let's go have a beer in the hermit kingdom and sing some unification songs!
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