North Korea is softening predictably, Bill Powell writes: after breaking its pledge to halt nuclear development and firing more rockets, Kim Jong Il is reaching out both to South Korea and to Washington after the visit of former President Bill Clinton. The North and South will hold talks over reunification of families split by the border since 1953, and Pyongyang wants to re-enter talks about its nuclear program--but only with the U.S., not other participants of the six-party talks.
The Obama foreign policy doctrine of talking to one's enemies has been put into new perspective since the '08 election, when it gained popularity among liberals as a break from President Bush's sterner approach. Much of that debate focused on Iran, and, since then, Americans have witnessed the ruthlessness and undemocratic preferences of Iran's government; while reaching out to Ahmadinejad once sounded to many like a good step toward global and cultural reconciliation--despite the Bush administration's insistence that Iran was costing U.S. soldiers their lives in Iraq by providing weapons and training to militias--it's not going to win President Obama many points anymore.
The idea of sitting down with North Korea, while it took a backseat to talk of sitting down with Iran in '08, is now what's on the table for the Obama administration. Whether it works out, Powell notes, depends on whether the U.S. "buy[s] the same horse twice" in the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and offers sweeteners to North Korea for agreeing to do what it's already agreed to...and on whether North Korea is serious about making a deal. If it works out well, it could be a boon for Obama, his doctrine, and America's image as a world leader. If not, it may be North Korea's desire for two-way talks that cast Obama's approach of sitting down with enemies in a less favorable light.