My friend John alerted me to this interview on NPR with New Mexico governor Bill Richardson on his recent trip to North Korea. The money quote:

Does the U.S. at this point approach North Korea from a weakened state since that country knows full well that this country’s military is stretched rather thin?

Well, they know that we still have huge resources, and they are always complaining about U.S. military exercises. Interestingly, North Korea sees themselves eventually as an ally of the United States; in other words, as an ally against China. They see themselves as playing a strategic role as a buffer between the United States and China. I’m not sure how realistic that is, but it’s interesting that they see themselves, first, as a major power, and secondly, as having the same interests in Asia as the United States and other countries — which is basically to contain China a bit.

Probably just a case of the N. Koreans telling the US what it wants to hear. But it is interesting in light of right-wing attacks on the South Korean government and their dreams of attacking North Korea. A writer at the left-wing publication Zmag notes:

Washington assumed that China and North Korea were indeed as “close as lips and teeth” as the two countries liked to say. This was not, however, correct. First of all, Pyongyang skillfully played Beijing and Moscow off one another to get the best economic and political deals. Second, North Korea patterned its entire philosophy of self-sufficiency - juche - as a repudiation of what it termed the “flunkeyism” of Korea’s previous position in the Chinese tributary system. Third, China’s embrace of market reforms after 1979 raised not a few eyebrows among the North Korean leadership, not because the latter was rigidly opposed to economic experimentation but rather because it thought Beijing naïve about the political ramifications of the reforms.

He also observes:

The underlying challenge for the United States has been to ensure, if not a divided Korea, then at least one that is aligned with Washington. But what would happen if anti-American sentiment in South Korea (which is, more accurately, anti-Bush administration sentiment) combines with more deeply engrained anti-American sentiment in the North? Korean nationalism is a potent force, and many South Koreans have been secretly pleased at North Korea’s missile launches and nuclear program for these don’t pose a threat to the South and are, ultimately, Korean missiles and nukes.

Bill Richardson is currently a candidate for President for the Dems. His official site is here.