[EDITORIALS]Dialogue in BeijingDiscussions on the North Korean nuclear problem begin today in Beijing, six months after the issue resurfaced. There has been much tension between the United States and North Korea over the talks’ format, and it is fortunate that China got involved to set up the meeting.
The issue now is the substance of the discussions. The last time North Korea was the subject of a nuclear controversy was in 1993 and 1994, when it took 19 months for the United States and North Korea to reach an agreement. This time, the situation is more grave. North Korea has already extracted itself from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and has been upping the ante in a war of nerves against the United States and the international community by raising the possibility of nuclear fuel reprocessing. Neither side can afford to waste any time.
It is important to stop the situation from deteriorating further. North Korea must be convinced that its tried-and-true tactics of using threats to raise the stakes and pushing things to the brink will no longer work. It should also realize the implications of a United States brimming with confidence after the victory in Iraq. U.S. hard-liners have gained ground.
China’s participation in the talks will probably keep the United States and North Korea from a head-on collision. The United States has made it clear that its objective for the talks is to make the North give up its nuclear capability; its offer of economic assistance hinges on that point. Although the United States said it would not reward bad behavior, it probably would not turn away from a destitute, cooperative North Korea. At stake for the North is security and continuity of its regime. The talks will be difficult, but the alternative is worse.
Whatever is agreed must be acceptable to the North’s neighbors, including South Korea. South Korea is the country most affected by the North’s nuclear program, so it must be involved in the negotiations at some point. We hope the Beijing talks, born of such turmoil, will indeed find a way to settle the outstanding issues.