A flip-flop from Bush on North Korea?

During the campaign, Bush told Kerry it would be a "big mistake" to give up on leverage from China. Guess who's giving up on leverage from China?

By Tim Grieve
Published June 3, 2005 12:41PM (EDT)

John Kerry would surely prefer to have been elected last November than vindicated this June, but sometimes you have to take what you can get. And on at least one front this week, what Kerry can get is some sense that he was right and George W. Bush was wrong on a serious foreign policy matter.

The matter: North Korea. In his first debate with Bush, Kerry vowed to begin bilateral discussions between North Korea and the United States. Bush's response: "I can't tell you how big a mistake I think that is, to have bilateral talks with North Korea. It's precisely what Kim Jong Il wants. It will cause the six-party talks to evaporate. It will mean that China no longer is involved in convincing, along with us, for Kim Jong Il to get rid of his weapons. It's a big mistake to do that. We must have China's leverage on Kim Jong Il, besides ourselves."

So what is the Bush administration saying now? According to the New York Times, senior Bush administration officials say that the deadlock in the six-way talks -- a deadlock that began last June, well before the presidential debates -- is untenable and that the United States needs to find "a new strategy to persuade the Koreans to disarm." "In a change that reflects a failure of the present policy," the Times said earlier this week, "some officials say that they will no longer rely on China to sway the North Koreans" because they "now realize" that China "may never be willing to use its leverage over North Korea."

Score one for the junior senator from Massachusetts. And while it isn't vindication, exactly, Kerry can also take some kind of bemused comfort in the comments of Vice President Dick Cheney this week. During the campaign, the Republicans went ballistic on Kerry after he said that he'd substantially reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 2008. The GOP accused Kerry of having a "cut and run" policy on Iraq, of emboldening the insurgents by suggesting that they merely had to "wait out" U.S. troops.

And what did Cheney say this week? When Larry King asked him if he thought there would be a substantial reduction in U.S. troops in Iraq by 2008, Cheney said: "I do."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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