The Magazine

Kim Jong Il Gets a Free Pass

. . . from the Obama administration.

Dec 21, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 14 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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So why wasn't North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight--did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission--a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table?

The failure to mention North Korea coincides with the return of Stephen Bosworth, the Obama administration's special envoy to Pyongyang, from what the administration has described as "positive" talks with North Korea on nuclear issues. At a press conference in Seoul, after three days of meetings with the North Koreans, Bosworth did not mention human rights.

Why the free pass on human rights? The North Koreans have not committed to eliminating or reducing their nuclear weapons program, and even if they had, such a promise, given their history of broken promises, would be virtually meaningless. In fact, the North Koreans, after three days of meetings, would not even commit to returning to the Six Party talks--hardly a surprise given the administration's stated position of "strategic patience" with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to "call attention to" human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama's "unwavering commitment" to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.