Cheney’s misguided swan song

By February 21, 2007Article, Atlantic Eye

TOKYO, Feb. 21 (UPI) — Vice President Cheney has an appalling ethics record, and he is still in office. As he begins his long adieu to U.S. voters, he wastes millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money on a junket to Japan and Australia. Now, waste, fraud and abuse can be added to his previous offenses of falsehood and deceit — some would even say treason if you add the Valerie Plame case.

I must wonder why someone appropriate, say Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill, wasn’t sent instead. Ambassador Hill has done an impressive job as the United States chief negotiator to the six-party talks. He has equally capable counterparts in Japan’s Kenichiro Sasae and South Korea’s Chun Yung-woo — both of whom I have met in confidential discussions.

Ostensibly, the vice president’s visit is being presented as a show of support for two close U.S allies. But nothing Cheney will do, even visiting with the Japanese families of those abducted by North Korea (DPRK) — something very appropriate for a ranking U.S. official to do — justify the Cheney junket.

And Korea? Since the trip is on, my protestations not withstanding, why is South Korea off the travel list? Any Korean knows that it is only a two-hour flight from Tokyo to Seoul. And as opposed to Incheon, Gimpo is only a 20-minute drive to the city center. It has at the very least thrown up some concerns in South Korea. Though, in all honesty, many Koreans are no fan of the vice president, and that might explain the itinerary. Nonetheless, a not irrelevant few consider it a massive snub.

In Tokyo, the vice president’s visit is being greeted with a mix of joy and protest. The families of the forcibly abducted, along with the Japanese government, are extremely pleased that the vice president is visiting with families. Cheney is meeting with numerous officials, but not the defense minister, who just three weeks ago criticized the U.S. incursion into Iraq. The Left is out in full force, as they were yesterday while I was there, protesting U.S. foreign policy in general.

In Seoul there is general euphoria about the new six-party talks agreement. South Koreans seem confident — unlike some of their western counterparts — that the DPRK will shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility, the reprocessing facility and invite back IAEA personnel to conduct monitoring by April 13 as agreed. This would commence the shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil which the North Koreans desperately need.

Global Panel’s North Korea Initiative (NKI) has been a strong advocate of direct engagement with the DPRK. The bilateral discussions in Berlin with Assistant Secretary Hill and the DPRK’s Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan were preceded by intense lobbying behind the scenes. We participated in this lobbying. We had hoped the meeting between the two would take place four months earlier at our NKI in Berlin in September 2006.

Regrettably, the North Koreans decided to launch a nuclear device. They thought it would be smart. It was not; and give them leverage, it did not. What it did was to unify all the six-party states against them. Either way, the bilateral discussions in Berlin were the breakthrough for the next agreement achieved in February 2007.

Ambassador Hill should be greatly praised. Hill is no fool; he knows he is staking his reputation on this deal. He has been trying to engage in direct dialogue for some time. He has been blocked by the neo-con wing. President George W. Bush was also against bilateral engagement. Now Hill is being given flexibility, but also enough room to get caught in a noose.

The U.S. shift in Berlin allowed the DPRK’s Kim Jung Il to hedge his bets. He might have also felt that he had overplayed his hand. But no one should underestimate one thing: It is the North Koreans who are controlling the pace of the six-party talks. And, even with the “breakthrough,” they might still prove to be ornery. Beware the ides of March.

And then there are the December South Korean presidential elections. One ranking official said it is quite clear the elections are on the minds of the North Koreans. If the DPRK can putter along until December, they will be able to influence the South Korean elections. The DPRK can feign cooperation, but as a poisoned chalice. After all, no front-runner has ever won a presidential election in South Korea, and ten months might as well be five years in South Korean electoral parlance.

On March 6 and 7, Global Panel’s North Korea Initiative will take place for the fourth time in Bratislava. Jan Kubis, Slovakia’s foreign minister, has agreed to play host and has offered the Foreign Ministry as venue. Sixteen ranking directors general and ambassadors, but also former NATO DCINC Dieter Stockmann, South Korea’s Haksoon Paik, the U.S.’ Seffi Bodansky and Morocco’s Hassan Abouyoub have confirmed.

This, Mr. Vice President, will cost pennies compared to what you are spending. And it will prove vastly more effective.

(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist, he is on the National Advisory Board of the US Democratic Party and a vice chairman of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.)