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Why Bush Agreed to Restart North Korea Talks

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STEPHEN SHAVER/POOL/AFP

A North Korean military honour guard stands at attention

TIME.com: After setting off diplomatic alarm bells on his Korea stance a few weeks after taking office, President Bush has now announced plans to resume negotiations with North Korea. Why has the administration decided to talk to Pyongyang, and how will its approach to such negotiations differ from that of the Clinton administration?

Massimo Calabresi: One key difference we can predict is that the Bush administration will be a lot harder on provisions for verification of any missile non-proliferation deal reached with the North Korea. And of course, depending on North Korea's response, that may reduce the chances of success in concluding an agreement. This decision certainly bolsters the view that the Bush administration came into office with an almost knee-jerk rejection of the policies of the Clinton administration, but now that they're faced with the realities of the tough and complex challenges around the world, they're coming to see that a lot of what the Clinton administration was doing in different parts of the world was actually valid.

The effect of the North Korea shift and also the rolling back to a certain extent of their initial stance on global warming and even their attitude to dealing with Russia may still be that they've set a tone of toughness and a hard-line demeanor that may, in the end, give them a better negotiating position to start from. Certainly that would be the optimistic view. The pessimistic view would be that the initial positions taken by the administration have soured delicate relationships and created some irreparable damage on some key.

Does this mean that the Bush administration now accepts the principle of rewarding North Korea for good behavior, which was the essence of the Clinton policy?

Yes, the substance of what President Bush said Wednesday was that assistance to North Korea would be pegged to progress on issues of missile development and non-proliferation — curbing North Korea's developing dangerous weapons and selling them to the likes of Pakistan and Iran. The one difference will be on verification. The Bush people were highly critical of the Clinton administration for letting negotiations get all the way up to Secretary of State level without there being agreement on the details of verification procedures. Of course, this may all be some way off. The North Koreans are so prickly that it may be at least a year before we see any talks.

But Republicans had criticized the Clinton administration not simply over verification, but over the very principle of rewarding North Korea for simply behaving in ways that all states are expected to behave. They said the Clinton administration was caving in to extortion by North Korea, so presumably the same criticism of the principle would apply even with tighter verification proceduresů

I don't know that they've provided any answer to that criticism at this stage.