North Korea’s agreement to return to the six-party talks on its nuclear-weapons program is good news. At least, there will be no new nuclear-weapons tests by Pyongyang for the time being. But optimism is not warranted. The difficult task of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and related development program awaits.
Credit for Pyongyang’s agreement to return goes to China, North Korea’s traditional ally and largest food and oil supplier, which chairs the six-party talks. China’s tough stance against Pyongyang after its Oct. 9 nuclear test must have exerted pressure on North Korea to consider the consequences of refusing to return to the talks. But more importantly, the whole international community’s united stand against North Korea following the United Nations Security Council’s Oct. 14 resolution calling for economic sanctions against Pyongyang should be regarded as a strong factor that has forced a change in North Korea’s thinking.
In the coming talks, North Korea is likely to call for ending the United States’ financial sanctions on North Korean firms suspected of counterfeiting U.S. dollar bills and of money laundering. North Korea should realize that these are illegal activities and that the U.S. will never allow the North to use a nuclear threat as a means of having the U.S. lift the sanctions. But the U.S.’s agreement to discuss the matter through the creation of a working group has saved the six-party talks from falling into total dysfunction.
Past experience indicates the strong possibility that North Korea may use its return to the six-party talks as a tactical means to buy time for its nuclear-weapons development and gets concessions. North Korea may also try to drive a wedge between China, South Korea and Russia, on the one hand, and the U.S. and Japan, on the other. These five countries need prudence and close cooperation.
All the parties are called on to make strenuous efforts to concretize the September 2005 joint statement under which North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear-weapons program while the U.S. made it clear that it has no intention of attacking or invading the North with nuclear or conventional weapons.
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