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[Editorial] Terrorism Delisting Without Conditions

Posted October. 13, 2008 07:58,   


The United States yesterday removed North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism after 20 years and nine months. The North was put on the list in January 1988 after being implicated in the 1987 mid-air explosion of a South Korean airliner that killed 115 people, including 93 Koreans. North Korea has never claimed responsibility for the incident, let alone issue an apology. Considering the grief of the victims’ families, Washington’s decision to delist Pyongyang is hard to accept.

The United States insists that its decision was based on the principle of “action for action,” meaning the delisting was in return for North Korea’s acceptance of nuclear verification under the second phase of denuclearization. Pyongyang, however, has not delivered on its promises of “accurate declaration” and “complete verification.” On the contrary, verification could grow more complicated as inspection of nuclear facilities is now possible only with the North’s consent.

No one knows how long the North Korean nuclear issue will last if it is passed on to the next U.S. administration. Many critics in South Korea and Japan rightly argue that only North Korea will gain from the latest deal. Others have criticized the Bush administration for falling into Pyongyang’s trap of excluding Seoul from the bargaining table and only communicating with Washington.

It is fortunate that the Bush administration attached a warning to the delisting: North Korea could find itself back on the list if its actions are not in line with verification efforts. U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama released a statement containing similar words. Washington must make it clear that the delisting is strictly conditional, and take action if necessary over the remainder of President Bush’s term.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry has announced with a high hand, “Nuclear verification will be conducted only in return for the effective removal of North Korea from the terrorism blacklist and delivery of economic assistance by six-party member nations.” The regime must keep in mind, however, that the removal will not change anything immediately. It can receive assistance and earn respect from the international community only when it abandons its nuclear ambition and opens up. The same goes for normalizing relations with the United States.

In response to the delisting, left-leaning parties in South Korea including the main opposition Democratic Party have voiced the need to improve inter-Korean relations together with the Lee administration’s implementation of the inter-Korean declarations on June 15, 2000 and Oct. 4, 2007. Unless the left-leaning parties are anxious to ingratiate themselves with the North, they can hold on to these demands until the North proves it means what it says. Such parties should also refrain from causing confusion with comments such as “Pyongyang will go straight to Washington without stopping in Seoul.”