Monday, Dec. 25, 2006

Kim Jong Il

A Gate Crasher in the Most Dangerous Club
Kim Jong Il, North Korea's dictator for the past 12 years, suffers from his own form of attention-deficit disorder. If he's not getting enough of it — particularly from the guy who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — he makes sure to do something that will attract it. With George W. Bush focused on Iraq, and negotiations with the outside world about Kim's nuclear program stalled, Kim this year made it emphatically clear that the U.S. as well as his neighbors in East Asia ignore him at their peril. In July he ruined Bush's White House Fourth of July party by launching a ballistic-missile test. Then in October, he became a member of the world's most exclusive (and dangerous) club: head of a state that possesses nuclear weapons.

Kim's Oct. 9 nuclear test, the detonation of a sub-kiloton device deep inside a mountain in North Hamgyong province, was a brazen act of defiance — but one that may yet, according to Kim's calculations, pay off. After the test, he decided to rejoin the negotiations about his nuclear program, in part because China — furious that he had gone ahead with the test despite Beijing's public call to refrain — pressured him to do so. But Kim, 65, is willing to talk again now because he has walked the U.S. back to exactly where it was in 1994: willing to bestow all sorts of economic and diplomatic benefits on him if North Korea will verifiably stand down on its nuclear program. No more talk, in official Washington, about the "axis of evil" or North Korea's abominable human rights record or "regime change." Kim Jong Il is playing let's make a deal, and now, unambiguously, so is George W. Bush.