Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Pressing N. Korea Pays Off

August 03, 2003

Months of pressure from the United States and North Korea's Asian neighbors produced a rare ray of good news Friday: Pyongyang acceded to U.S. demands that it discuss its ominous nuclear weapons programs not just with Washington but with the other countries most directly affected: Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.

When talks begin, perhaps next month, the others at the table will need to keep insisting that North Korea abandon its nuclear program. It's time for more pressure, not less; talks must be a prelude to verifiable scrapping of the centrifuges, cylinders, heavy uranium and plutonium that threaten the stability of the Korean peninsula and much of North Asia.

The agreement to negotiate, no matter how iffy the outcome, demonstrates the value of diplomacy. Both the United States and North Korea made concessions.

Pyongyang had insisted it would talk only with Washington, but the Bush administration rightly demanded that the neighbors be included. Washington originally said there would be no high-level talks until North Korea readmitted the United Nations weapons inspectors it expelled in December, dismantled any plutonium-based weapons it possessed (perhaps one or two) and stopped the enriched uranium-based weapons development it secretly began in violation of a 1994 agreement with the Clinton administration. However, the inspectors are still absent, North Korea remains the only country ever to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty -- it did so in April -- and Kim Jong Il's regime claims to have restarted a mothballed nuclear reactor.

The White House on Friday wisely left the door open for North Koreans to talk mostly to the U.S. during the six-nation negotiations; that would let both sides claim a measure of success. But China, which has helped bring North Korea back to the table, must continue its heavy lifting. It is Pyongyang's main ally and primary outside source of fuel and food. In a desperately poor country where millions are believed to have starved to death in the last decade, that is a role with leverage. Much of North Korea's money goes not to its people but to its army, which has stationed troops a mortar's lob away from the South Korean capital and bases of some of the 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea.

Despite all the diplomatic choreography, North Korea may refuse entreaties to leave the nuclear club. If so, the Bush administration has demonstrated where the blame belongs and is in a better position to plot the next step with the other countries most concerned.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|