North Korea: Handle With Care

A charred car stands in the village of Mokhovoe destroyed by a forest fire near the town of Lukhovitsy some 84 miles southeast of Moscow, Friday, July 30, 2010.
AP Photo/Dmitry Chistoprudov
This article was written by CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen.

It's that time, again. Time for North Korean diplomacy. And we suggest a very healthy dose of skepticism that it will do any good — again.

New talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions are set for the end of July in Beijing. By the time you read this, even in the wired, Internet, 24-hour news cycle world, the situation may have changed again. Only the North Koreans' stance on nuclear talks changes faster than the speed of cyberspace.

Here's what's at stake: a nuclear North Korea, more than glad to sell to other rogue nations.

Not good.

So it begs the question of why the Bush Administration has handled this one to make it, at least from the view here, worse.

First, President Bush made it personal. It was bad enough to include North Korea in his "Axis of Evil" crack, but then the President made it clear he personally dislikes North Korea's leader. North Korea's leader answered in turn that he didn't think much of George W.

It was like schoolboys, fighting at recess.

Another American President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said while he was leading the Allied forces in World War Two that he never demonized his opposing generals by name. His reasoning was wise because he did not know if someday he would be dealing with them, face to face.

Second, the U.S. has refused to negotiate with North Korea directly, choosing instead the format of six-nation talks. Granted, the six nations — the U.S, Japan, China, Russia, North and South Korea — all have a stake in this.

But the reality is that the U.S. and North Korea have history, starting with the Korean War in the early 1950s, to the nearly 40,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea as you read this.

Without clear, decisive U.S. diplomacy, the ball has been left in China's court to cajole North Korea into more discussions. You hear a lot of complaints these days about China's growing influence. Well, the U.S. gave this one away.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for