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What does North Korea want?

North Korea-watchers say the country’s “aura of mystery and a reputation for unpredictability,” its “blood-curdling rhetoric” and its “brinkmanship” are all steps in the “Pyongyang ploy” before entering talks, so that that any slight concession is seized on as a sign of progress. But for North Korea, confrontational diplomacy serves a larger purpose than simple blackmail: It keeps North Korea on the policy radar of the United States and, hence, before the eyes of the world.

North Korea’s economy barely functions. Its people are starving. If it loses world attention, it will collapse.

A Jan. 10 editorial in Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s leading newspapers, noted, “The North Korean effort to propagandize the crisis is just the flip side of seeking dialogue with the United States.

“Serious effort should be made toward a diplomatic approach to encouraging change in North Korea.” The paper also encouraged the widest possible diplomatic approach.

“Cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea is essential, but it is not everything. Russia and China must also be involved. [Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro] Koizumi left Thursday [Jan. 9] for Russia. The North Korea crisis is high on his agenda in talks with Russian leaders.”

-- Dennis Coday

National Catholic Reporter, February 28, 2003