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[Editorial] NK-US Bilateral Talks

Posted September. 14, 2009 08:54,   


Amid continued international sanctions on North Korea after its May 2 nuclear test, the possibility of bilateral talks between Pyongyang and Washington is rising. P.J. Crowley, spokesman of the U.S. State Department, said Friday that the U.S. is ready for dialogue with North Korea, adding Washington will decide on the time and venue for the talks within two weeks.

The U.S. made it clear, however, that the talks are intended to get North Korea to return to the six-party talks. Yet Washington should caution against the possibility that the six-party talks will be replaced by North Korea-U.S. bilateral negotiations or the U.S. being used by North Korea to exclude South Korea from discussion of issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula. In addition, the bilateral talks should not result in derailing the six-party framework.

Washington would have found it difficult to keep demanding Pyongyang’s return to the six-party talks as the precondition for bilateral talks amid the North’s latest peace offensive. Through the visits of U.S. special envoy on North Korea Stephen Bosworth to South Korea, China and Japan, the U.S. has finished coordination with other parties to the six-way talks on bilateral dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

As South Korea has expressed support for the bilateral dialogue as long as it helps resolve North Korea’s nuclear program, there is no need to view the Washington-Pyongyang talks from a negative perspective.

Yet the purpose of the talks should not be just to get North Korea to return to the six-party dialogue. The international community knows that the North can walk away from the negotiating table at any time. Therefore, full-fledged bilateral talks should ensure the six-party framework and its results. No more time should be wasted because of Pyongyang’s delay tactics.

Caution is also needed to temper optimism that the North’s return to the negotiating table will end its nuclear threat. Seoul should also be fully prepared against the argument that easing or lifting sanctions on Pyongyang should be done to reactivate the six-party talks.

The international community should remember that mere dialogue without sanctions on North Korea’s behavior is not enough to get the communist state moving. Sanctions must remain until the communist state’s nuclear abandonment is confirmed.

The dominant view is that Pyongyang is in a desperate situation and needs to buy time to avoid international sanctions and solidify its power succession process. Thorough international coordination is essential to prevent the North from taking advantage of its bilateral dialogue with the U.S. to get out of its dire predicament.