Another setback on nukes

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Another setback on nukes

In a Foreign Ministry statement issued Monday, North Korea proposed talks to reach a peace treaty before denuclearization. The North also said it could return to the six-party talks if United Nations sanctions were lifted. But the U.S. government dismissed the idea less than 24 hours later. It stressed that a peace regime and other issues could only be discussed once the North returns to the six-party process and makes progress in denuclearization.

Our government maintains the same stance. The nuclear standoff, which had been in a lull for about a month following the Pyongyang trip by Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, once again has become the sticking point among North Korea, South Korea and the United States.

North Korea has called for a peace treaty between itself and the United States for decades. It officially linked the move to denuclearization, making the situation more difficult. For the past several years, the South and the U.S. governments have insisted that the peace regime could be discussed if progress is made on denuclearization, in accordance with the Sept. 19, 2005 joint statement from the six-party talks.

The North has rebuked this stance. This also makes it clear that Kim Jong-il’s willingness to return to the six-party table, expressed to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, comes with strings attached.

The proposal also confirmed that while the North says denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is its policy goal, it has an entirely different ulterior motive. That’s a shame.

The chances of denuclearization of the peninsula in the near future have diminished. It may have become that much more difficult to see permanent peace here. But we can’t give up on seeing the North abandon nuclear weapons. We have to be patient and mix strong and soft responses until North Korea is persuaded. One hopeful aspect is that time is not on the North Korean side. With its pending leadership change, North Korea will find it difficult to maintain its hedgehog tactics.

The problem is that there remains a possibility that the North Korean regime, which may not opt for a bold shift in foreign policy, could act provocatively toward South Korea. Furthermore, we can also predict that the antsy North will continue to raise tension on the peninsula. Meticulous and thorough countermeasures to control the North’s provocations are necessary. On top of robust military strength, we need to apply the carrot and the stick flexibly.
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