It’s time for Seoul to take the lead

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It’s time for Seoul to take the lead

To talk or to fire, that is the question. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has returned to the international spotlight, reaching a new turning point since it threatened to carry out a “new form” of nuclear testing. If it again discounts international warnings and carries out a nuclear test for the fourth time, a full-blown showdown is inevitable. But if Pyongyang responds to the recent dovish and engaged requests from the rest of the six-party member countries, the North Korean nuclear issue could soon return to the diplomatic stage. Dialogue is an undoubtedly better choice than conflict, and South Korea must take a leading role in drawing North Korea back to the negotiating table.

Last week, chief delegates from South Korea, Japan and the United States - three members of the six-party talks, which also include North Korea, China and Russia - met in Washington to discuss the possibilities of Pyongyang detonating another nuclear device. They also considered reactivating diplomatic measures to dismantle the country’s nuclear program. Upon returning from the meeting with Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea at the U.S. Department of State, and Junichi Ihara, director general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Hwang Joon-kook, the special envoy for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs and the new point-man to the six-party negotiations, flew back to Beijing to build rapport with the chief Chinese delegate. Seoul played a timely mediating role among the United States, Japan and China. He also indicated that the six-party nations could be more flexible on the terms they previously demanded from Pyongyang to resume six-party talks.

Washington’s position is crucial in reopening the six-party platform, as Pyongyang demands no conditions attached to the talks. So far Washington remains steadfast. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said there was no change in the U.S. policy and that the ball remains in North Korea’s court. Beijing resents Washington for the continuous pressure to do more to persuade North Korea.

“You are giving us a mission impossible,” Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai told a conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

At a time when Washington and Beijing are doing no more than blaming each other, Seoul must step up to play an active role. We should take the initiative and draw up new and inventive terms for six-party talks so that all of its members can compromise. Our diplomacy is being tested.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 14, Page 30

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