[EDITORIALS]Start talkingTension on the Korean Peninsula, rapidly escalating because of the North’s attempt to test-fire a new missile, has eased a bit. Although it is too early to feel relief, North Korea and the United States took public positions leaning toward negotiations.
Han Song-ryol, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said he understood U.S. concerns and said the matter should be resolved through negotiations. He is proposing a bilateral dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. Christopher Hill, U.S. chief negotiator for the six-party talks, also said he would review the possibility of visiting North Korea, which he has ignored until now, if North Korea returned to the six-party talks. While the two sides have differences in the format of the talks, they are sharing a desire to negotiate.
It is clear why the North played its missile card. Pyongyang appeared to believe that Washington would agree to negotiate with it only after it created a sense of crisis. The leadership in Pyongyang, however, failed to think about whether that could be a misjudgment. The Bush administration’s foreign affairs policy has a principle that the United States “will never sit down for a negotiation” with a rogue state. No matter how loudly the North cries out for bilateral negotiations, it will sound like nothing more than an empty echo. John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said a threat is not the way to start a negotiation, and North Korea must take those words seriously.
North Korea’s missile card also put the South Korean government in a predicament, because it has been paying great attention to supporting the North. Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok said he was not willing to provide rice and fertilizer aid if the North test-fired the missile, and that is only one of many examples. Public sentiment in the South was sour ― to the degree that Mr. Lee had to make such a statement.
The joint statement agreed at the last round of the six-party talks in September included contents that the parties would address Pyongyang’s concerns such as maintaining North Korea’s security. If it gives up nuclear arms programs, the agreement said, it will receive enormous economic aid and have an opportunity to normalize relations with the United States. The United States also wants to discuss issues associated with the North’s counterfeiting and missile programs. Given the choice between a missile firing, destined to bring no gain, and of returning to the six-nation talks, isn’t it clear which one would benefit the North more?