North Korea

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(HOST Commentator Barrie Dunsmore says that the North Korean nuclear test makes the world less safe, and that it demonstrates still another policy failure for those who claim negotiating with your enemy is appeasement.

(DUNSMORE) For many years, nuclear weapons in the hands of a repressive, isolated and unpredictable regime like the one in North Korea was one of the world’s worst nightmares. Now that nightmare has apparently come true. The test was of a small device. But don’t let that word small fool you. We’re talking about thousands of tons of TNT – which if detonated in a major city could cause hundreds of thousands of casualties.

North Korea probably doesn’t have a missile to reach American soil with such a nuclear warhead, though Japan and South Korea are vulnerable. The real American concern now must be that the North Korea, given its isolation and its crumbling economy – might be tempted to sell its nuclear technology or even a bomb itself – to another country such as Iran or a terrorist movement like al Qaeda.

David Frum – the former White House speech-writer who claims to have coined the phrase “axis of evil” wrote this week that America finds itself facing this threat because of its policy of trying to use negotiations and diplomacy to keep the North Koreans from going nuclear. Frum himself is only a minor figure but as a neo-conservative he symbolizes an ideology that has dogged American foreign policy going back to the days of the Cold War – namely, the idea that you cannot negotiate with your enemies because that simply rewards them for their bad behavior and smacks of appeasement.

Back in the seventies, the policy of detente with the Soviet Union, which featured arms control negotiations, was constantly undermined by hard liners who made the same argument. One such hardliner was Richard Perle, a long time operative in Congress and the Pentagon and a fierce opponent of detente with the Russians. Three decades later the very same Perle figured prominently in the decision to invade Iraq. He also strongly opposes any form of direct negotiations with either North Korea or Iran. Given their record one might think that these people would by now have been totally discredited. But they remain an influence in the Bush administration.

However, just a few days ago, that ideological argument was strongly disputed by none other than James Baker – the former Secretary of State under Bush, the father. Baker is also the man who ran rings around the Democrats during the Florida recount of 2000 and thus played a major role in putting George W. Bush into the White House.

In his appearance on ABC’s This Week, Baker said “I believe in talking to your enemies. It’s got to be hard nosed, it’s got to be determined. You don’t give anything away, but in my view, it’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies.”

To me that sounds precisely the formula the United States ought to be following with both North Korea and Iran. Otherwise, President Bush will have dangerously failed in dealing with all three members of the so called axis of evil.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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