U.S. diplomacy gets smarter

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U.S. diplomacy gets smarter

A few days ago, an unusual picture showing the presidents of the United States and Venezuela shaking hands was plastered all over the world’s mass media.

President Barack Obama, joining the April 17-19 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, was photographed with his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, smiling and having what looked like a friendly chat.

The photograph epitomizes a new U.S. diplomacy drive focusing on goodwill and engagement rather than hostility against regimes at odds with Washington.

This new side to U.S. foreign relations weighs heavily in our hearts when we think of North Korea. Chavez, who frequently called former U.S. President George W. Bush a devil, is shaking hands with the new American leader, responding to a new diplomatic climate. But North Korea seems to be more fervent than ever in its role as an international rogue.

In the last U.S. administration, reconciliation with Venezuela was unimaginable. But President Obama offered the first conciliatory move, extending his hand to President Chavez to introduce himself. The Venezuelan leader is reported to have said, “I want to be your friend.”

The Obama leadership is guiding America in a different direction from the past administration. Championing so-called smart diplomacy by adding traditional U.S. charm and goodwill to its daunting military might, Washington leaders are full of warm words and openness, and seem prepared to listen to other countries. Members of the Obama administration have been busy going around the globe making conciliatory gestures to Afghanistan, Cuba, Europe, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.

Washington suggested dialogue with Iran, with no pre-conditions about Iran’s uranium enrichment program, and it has scrapped long-held restrictions on travel and money transfers by U.S. residents to their relatives in Cuba.

The world is warming to the United States, welcoming the Obama belief that an extended hand can unclench the fists of hostile countries. North Korea, however, refuses to end its holdout. The Obama administration has made an array of conciliatory gestures, but in return it gets a missile launch and sees Pyongyang kick out international nuclear inspectors.

If Pyongyang is trying to raise the stakes in order to advance its position in the U.S. foreign affairs agenda, it should think again. No one wants to sit down with someone who has slapped you in the face after extending a friendly hand.

The Obama administration is reported to be losing patience with Pyongyang. North Korea should pause before engaging in further brinkmanship.

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