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[Editorial] Nuke-free N. Korea Should Come 1st

Posted October. 11, 2008 06:08,   


Reports say the United States will soon remove North Korea from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring states. To make final decision on the delisting, U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are reportedly reviewing the results of the Pyongyang visit last week of top U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill. The proposal Hill agreed on with Pyongyang and presented to the White House is said to be “separate verification" to first verify plutonium-based nuclear facilities that the North declared in June. Uranium-based programs and other nuclear proliferation matters will be dealt with later. This is a far cry, however, from the complete declaration and verification the Bush administration has insisted on. Despite its incomplete nature, Washington considers Pyongyang to have accepted its verification protocol and is poised to remove the communist country from the terrorism list on the principle of “action for action.”

Though delisting is up to the United States, the apparent concession to Pyongyang raises a question on Washington’s true purpose. The Bush administration seems to place top priority on resuming the six-party talks rather than denuclearizing North Korea. Amid foreign policy fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan and financial turmoil, the battered administration is apparently conducting a desperate attempt to leave a legacy through the six-party talks. Bush has said the multilateral framework is the best way to make Pyongyang abandon its nuclear ambition and bring peace to Northeast Asia. He has also criticized the Clinton administration’s 1994 Agreed Framework to end the North’s nuclear program.

For South Korea, which feels constantly threatened from a nuclear-armed North Korea, the first and foremost priority is not getting the denuclearization talks back on track but achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. It is naïve for Washington to think that removal from the terrorism list will lead to Pyongyang’s acceptance of verification. Moreover, nobody knows how the political situation will unfold in the North, especially after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il failed to appear at the ruling Workers’ Party’s 63rd anniversary celebration. It’s been 58 days since Kim’s disappearance from public view. Under this uncertainty, the Bush administration should listen to South Korea, while raising its guard against Pyongyang’s attempt to alienate Seoul.