Tuesday, September 2, 2003

United front

North Korea: More talks ahead

The six-nation talks in Beijing ended last Friday with the by-now familiar North Korean mix of conciliation and bellicose threat. North Korea made three fresh threats to expand its nuclear weapons program while agreeing to hold more talks and offering to dismantle if the United States gave up its "hostile policy."

The United States should continue to insist on multi-nation talks and seek an enforceable, verifiable pact with the North to keep the Korean peninsula nuclear-free.

It may seem as if little was accomplished by the three-day powwow in Beijing, but it was critical that the North Koreans see that China, North Korea's long-time protector, along with Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States will not accept a nuclear North Korea.

It also delivered a major reality check for representatives of the major nations nearest North Korea when they heard the rogue nation's latest three threats: That it would declare itself a full nuclear power, conduct a nuclear explosion to prove it and also show it has the missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

The United States declared at the talks that it did not seek a regime change in Pyongyang, but the U.S. overthrow of Iraq's Saddam Hussein undoubtedly has increased the North Korean regime's chronic paranoia. The United States has demanded the Stalinist regime dismantle its nuclear weapons program first, while North Korea demands Washington first agree to a non-aggression pact with the North. One possible compromise floated, but not agreed to, at the talks was to begin a series of synchronized steps on both sides toward a settlement. We should not forget that even the Korean War 50 years ago is not officially over.

North Korea may have some reason to be leery of the United States post-Iraq, but the United States has good reason to distrust the North. Last October, contrary to their pledge, the North Koreans were discovered pursuing all along a secret nuclear weapons program. North Korea exports weapons of mass destructions and narcotics, and routinely expresses contempt for international agreements. It will be no little challenge to devise an enforceable deal with a regime that admitted a flagrant deception just a year ago. But unlike Iraq's spineless or devious neighbors, North Korea's neighbors show more promise of holding a united front. All need to find a verifiable settlement short of military action.

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