Give up and apologizeThe United States has sent a strong message to North Korea that it should give up its nuclear weapons programs and stop further provocations against the South. In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “We stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keep its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.”
After Obama’s address, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg strongly indicated, on a visit to Seoul, that the U.S. will submit Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment program to the United Nations Security Council. Not only does the program clearly violate the council’s earlier resolution, it also violates the Sept. 19, 2005 joint statement of the six-party talks, in which the North agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons and return to the Nonproliferation Treaty. Steinberg also urged Pyongyang to demonstrate its sincere attitude for dialogue by stopping any hostilities toward the South.
The U.S. government’s message translates into a strong warning that it will launch additional sanctions unless the North first creates an amicable environment for the resumption of six-party talks that came to a standstill over two years ago.
North Korea had proposed a high-level military meeting with its southern counterparts Jan. 19, only eight hours after Obama and Hu Jintao made a joint statement after their summit in Washington.
Pyongyang’s move appears to be an attempt to positively respond to the two leaders’ call for a resumption of South-North dialogue. Yet South Korea and the U.S. cannot shake off doubts about the North’s gesture as they still regard it as an attempt to tip the scales in its favor in a tough situation. On top of that, as China and Russia find it more difficult to explicitly side with the North, the North is simply trying to make lemonade from lemons. But Pyongyang’s outdated approach can hardly work in the face of the strong ties between South Korea and the U.S.
Only one option awaits Pyongyang now. It should admit its responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan and its shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and express a genuine intention to abandon nuclear weapons. South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have consistently stressed the importance of such actions. The military meeting proposed by the North is expected to take place next month. If the meeting should end without results, the North will have no other choice but to face more economic sanctions and isolation. Now the ball is in Pyongyang’s court.