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[Editorial] It All Boils Down to Giving Up Nukes

Posted February. 16, 2009 04:07,   


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that if North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate its nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration is willing to normalize bilateral relations. She also said Washington is prepared to seek a permanent peace with Pyongyang as long as the latter pursues nuclear disarmament and refrains from aggression against South Korea. On the North’s long-range missile launch preparation and tension building in the Yellow Sea, Clinton warned Pyongyang to avoid any provocative action or unhelpful rhetoric toward Seoul.

Clinton’s message on her four-nation tour of Asia including South Korea offers both carrots and sticks. While making clear that Pyongyang’s abandonment of its nuclear program is the prerequisite for bilateral relations, she also touched on North Korea’s human rights and its past abduction of Japanese. In other words, she delivered a firm U.S. message on Pyongyang’s latest threats against Seoul and moves to raise military tension.

Her comments signified no major departure from the previous Bush administration’s North Korea policy. Nonetheless, she made clearer the conditions for normalizing bilateral relations, establishing a peace regime, and providing economic assistance. Pyongyang might have believed it raised the hope of direct talks with Washington, something which Obama seemed in favor of in his presidential election campaign, but Clinton’s message will be a huge disappointment.

Seeking recognition as a nuclear power, North Korea has been increasingly on the offensive, something which culminated ahead of Obama’s inauguration. After pledging “an all-out confrontational posture” against South Korea Jan. 17 by the chief of the general staff of the North Korean People`s Army, Pyongyang proposed nuclear disarmament talks to Washington Feb. 2. It also asserted its status as a nuclear power to private American experts who recently visited Pyongyang. On Jan. 30, North Korea`s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said, “We nullify all agreements with South Korea on the resolution of political and military confrontational status.” The declaration was followed by long-range missile test preparations and attempts to create tension near the Military Demarcation Line and the Yellow Sea through intentional and partial exposure of its multiple launcher rocket system and coastal artillery.

Pyongyang could still believe it can have its way, including normalization of bilateral relations with Washington, without abandoning its nuclear ambition by threatening Seoul and using tactics to exclude it from North Korea-U.S. talks. The North, however, should heed Clinton’s message, which stressed that everything depends on the North’s abandonment of its nuclear program.