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Can We Really Deal With North Korea?

A New York Times editorial suggests so:

Even before Mr. Clinton’s mission this week to rescue Laura Ling and Euna Lee from a 12-year sentence to North Korea’s gulag, Obama administration officials concluded that Pyongyang was looking for a face-saving way to re-engage with Washington. 

But not everyone would agree. Yesterday I was a guest on NPR's "On Point" with Mitchell Reiss, a Bush and Clinton administration diplomatand and former negotiator with the North Koreans. Reiss argued that the U.S. debate about North Korea ignores a fundamental truth: That Kim Jong Il's regime exists, in large part, in opposition to the United States, and thrives on a cycle of provocation of America followed by our humiliation in the form of appeasement (Bill Clinton's visit, photos of which were triumphally splashed all over North Korean media, is just the latest example.) Normalized relations, and a concession on the scale of dismantling the nuclear program, would run so fundamentally against the regime's identity that it could no longer exist. 

I'm not sure who's right here, but Reiss's analysis seems depressingly plausible. And if he's right, our best hope--short of a supremely ill-advised military confrontation--might be a coup from within.   

--Michael Crowley