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International inspectors report that North Korea is removing fuel rods from its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon "at a very fast pace." This flagrant violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will (1) provide the plutonium for a North Korean nuclear arsenal (the stuff being diverted now could build five or six bombs), (2) obliterate all evidence of previou illegal diversion of bomb-building plutonium, and (3) allow any sentient observer to see North Korea's real intentions.

Sentience, however, appears not to be a job requirement in the never-never land of the Clinton foreign policy team. Consider this New York Times report of Saturday, May 28:"A senior Clinton administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was baffled by the North Korean move. He said there was no technical or safety reason for withdrawing the rods and noted that their removal would preclude the high-level talks with Washington."

Well, perhaps this senior administration official might consider the possibility that the reason Kim Il Sung is withdrawing plutonium-laden rods is that he wants to build nuclear bombs!

Only a senior administration official could have ignored this possibility. Only a senior administration official could be baffled that Kim should value possession of nuclear weapons above talks with senior administration officials.

The level of self-delusion in the Clinton Korea policy has reached pathological proportions. Cannot these senior officials finally understand that Kim is determined to acquire nuclear weapons? And that he has contempt for American negotiators who have been appeasing him for 15 months, responding to every provocation with more concessions?

Indeed the initial administration response to the latest, most dangerous ourage, unloading the fuel rods without inspection, was to announce that it would resume high-level talks with North Korea.

What possible incentive does Kim have not to keep doing what he is doing? North Korea is preparing a new test of its medium-range missile, the No Dong, which has the capacity to hit Osaka, Japan.

Tuesday, it tested a cruise missile designed to sink ships offshore (guess whose). It masses troops on the DMZ and threatens, if war comes, to turn Seoul "into a sea of fire."

It was already clear last year that American appeasement was only encouraging North Korean aggressiveness. Yet it took until May 31, 1994, more than two weeks after North Korea had begun the momentous defueling of its reactor, for the first signs of an administration emerging from its coma.

The Washington Post reported that one administration official "angrily called North Korea's action 'provocative gratuitous...a direct and contemptuous challenge to us.' He "now believes 'North Korea cannot be trusted.'"

Now? One can only imagine the looking-glass world he and his colleagues have been inhabiting for the past 15 months. But perhaps we should be grateful for small miracles. Now it has dawned on them. And now they must act. With great reluctance but no choice, Clinton will now have to press for economic sanctions against North Korea.

North Korea threatens to go to war if sanctions are imposed. It is a long-standing threat, but Clinton, having let 15 months go by without reinforcing our vulnerable troops in South Korea, has done nothing to prepare the country psychologically or militarily for the possibility of war.

What to do?

--Defense. As Sen. John McCain, war hero but no hawk (he has opposed intervention in Beirut, Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti), insisted in a Churchillian denunciation of administration appeasement on Korea, we should be urgently sending fighter squadrons, Apache helicopters, bombers, tankers and prepositioned stocks to South Korea. Instead, in an act of "considerable negligence," we have done nothing but send a slow boat to Korea with highly questionable Patriot missiles.

--Deterrence. We are not going to start a war. But Kim might. We therefore have to make very clear to him the consequences of such an act: extinction. No armistice. No 38th parallel. No return to Panmunjom. Clinton should immediately declare that, in any future war begun by North Korea, American war aims are nothing less than the total destruction of the North Korean regime, the end of the North Korean state and war crimes trials for the surviving aggressors.

After 15 months of appeasement, such a threat may be looked upon with skepticism in Pyongyang. But it needs to be issued anyway, for whatever sobering effect it might have on Kim and his generals. In wartime, after all, even weak leaders have been known to acquire backbone.

Appeasement has reached its logical and predictable end. With the brazen defueling of the Yongbyon reactor, not even the most naive administration official can pretend that their policy has ended in anything but humiliating failure. We now enter the time that always follows appeasement: the time of acute danger.