Don’t lose flexibility

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Don’t lose flexibility

The United States and China will most likely discuss substantial ways to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis in Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Washington today. Given the sensitive timing - later this month - of a tougher UN Security Council resolution against the North, both sides are expected to narrow their differences. As Beijing has made clear its opposition to the North’s nuclear armament, sanctions are nothing new.

But the problem is how much. As we have repeatedly emphasized, sanctions end up nowhere without China’s participation - China accounts for 90 percent of the North’s total trade. Beijing must also recognize its ally has now turned into a nuisance instead of a buffer. We hope China joins sanctions in sync with the international community.

Last Wednesday, Wang raised the idea of pursuing denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and turning the truce between Washington and Pyongyang into a peace treaty at the same time. That issue will likely be put on the table in a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterpart Wang.

Washington has consistently taken the position that it won’t start any discussion of a peace treaty without the precondition of denuclearization. Yet the run-up to the secretive contact between the United States and the North surprises us. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration secretly agreed to discuss the issue a few days before the North’s fourth nuclear test. But the discussion didn’t take place due to Pyongyang’s rejection of Washington’s demand that denuclearization be included on the agenda, the paper said.

Even though the clandestine contact did not occur, it suggests many things. Above all, the Obama administration is ready to talk with the North behind the scenes despite its “no dialogue without denuclearization” principle. That means the United States is now flexible over the North Korea issue after successfully curbing Iran’s nuclear ambition.

What if North Korea had accepted the U.S. proposal? Officials from both countries must have put their heads together to discuss the peace treaty issue without our presence. We cannot accept any back-door discussions on the peninsula without our participation because it will not reflect our position accurately.

To avert disaster, we need not adhere to a principle. Even Washington has shown it can change strategies when the need arises. National interests always prevail in international politics. If our government fails to display flexibility, it will end up pushed to the side.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 24, Page 30

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