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Flake: The United States should never hesitate to use all the diplomatic tools at its disposal, and it is important to ensure that we have a channel of communication with North Korea sufficient to avoid the risk of tragic miscalculation. Nevertheless, there is little if any indication that a new bilateral approach toward North Korea bears enough promise to outweigh the considerable down-side risk.

To begin with, the United States should be particularly sensitive to South Korea’s position – particularly in view of the two provocations last year against our ally that can only be considered acts of war. This is not just a diplomatic favor. In reality, there is no scenario in which negotiations with North Korea can prove effective absent meaningful progress in North-South relations.

More fundamentally, until North Korea abandons its assertion that is a nuclear power and must be dealt with as a nuclear power, there is the not-insignificant risk that an attempt to initiate a bilateral negotiation with North Korea would be interpreted by others in the region as a weakening of US resolve not to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power. Until there is some meaningful indication of “seriousness of purpose” in North Korean statements or actions, the United States would do well to focus its resources on maintaining strong alliance relationships with South Korea and Japan. In addition, Washington should seek to moderate Chinese behavior as a first step in improving North Korean behavior.

The following are excerpts of Mr. Flake’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 1, 2011.

There have been several important developments in the region that have enabled North Korea to escalate its provocative behavior. Any effort to seriously address the recent cycle of North Korean provocations must begin with an attempt to understand the root causes of Pyongyang’s actions.

It’s Not Necessarily ‘All About Us’

First, and perhaps difficult for Americans to acknowledge is that the role of the United States in fueling North Korean behavior may be much less than we think.

Absent reliable information on North Korea’ internal decision-making process, a common conceit in the United States is to assume that North Korean actions and statements are somehow “all about us,” motivated by and targeted to an audience in the United States. The problem with this approach is that the conclusion drawn inevitably seems to be the same no matter what the North Korea action.

Thus, North Korea’s long range missile tests and nuclear tests are purported to be attempts to force the US into direct bilateral talks. Pyongyang’s August 2009 decision to divest itself of two imprisoned US journalists for the price of having former President Clinton pick them up is likewise seen as a sign of outreach to the United States, as was the decision to turn over the unfortunate Ajalon Gomes to former President Carter in August of 2010.

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