The Obama Administration may be trying out a kinder, gentler style of foreign policy, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already put North Korea on notice: test a long-range missile and they can forget about a better relation with the U.S. While in Japan, Clinton responded to North Korea’s assertion the nation has a right to “space exploration” with this comment:

“The possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward,” she said, adding that if Pyongyang wants to end its isolation it also has to fulfill unmet denuclearization pledges made during the Bush administration.

“The decision as to whether North Korea will cooperate in the six-party talks, end provocative language and actions is up to them and we are watching very closely,” Clinton said, referring to the six-nation talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.

“If North Korea abides by the obligations it has already entered into and verifiably and completely eliminates its nuclear program, then there will be a reciprocal response certainly from the United States,” she said. “It is truly up to the North Koreans.”

North Korea is one of those foreign relation situations where there is no good answer, just a series of bad answers with varying consequences. Apparently, the Obama Administration is not going to rush to establish a new tactic to handling Pyongyang and will stick to the Bush Administration’s policies for the time being.

I don’t expect Obama to have any more success in reforming North Korea than did his predecessors. I do expect him and his team to be smart enough to follow a policy of containment. Really, the most important aspect of the six party talks is not to get North Korea to agree to change but to get China, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the U.S. to all agree (and to continue to agree) that the rogue nation needs to be contained. The best Obama can probably hope for is ensuring the large powers don’t fracture over the issue. Changing North Korea seems unlikely. Ensuring the nation is more nuisance than threat is the real goal.

Politics Clinton Cautions North Korea Not to Launch Missile