After a 13-month lapse, a fresh round of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear-arms programs is likely to start Monday in Beijing. It may face hitches before picking up from the Sept. 19, 2005, joint statement — in which Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees, normalized ties with the United States and Japan, and energy aid including talks on an offer of a light-water nuclear reactor.

In defiance of the wishes of the international community, North Korea test-fired seven missiles in July and detonated a nuclear device underground in October. The North’s nuclear explosion test not only poses a threat to Northeast Asia but also threatens to undermine the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Pyongyang should realize that it is necessary to declare its will first to abandon its nuclear-weapons program if it wants to see fulfillment of the promises made by the other parities in the joint statement.

The U.S. and North Korea agreed to set up a working group in parallel with the six-party talks to discuss U.S. financial sanctions against the North as punishment for counterfeiting U.S. currency and laundering money. The bilateral talks are expected to positively affect the outcome of the six-party talks.

It is reported that that during prior consultations, the U.S. told the North about details concerning the kind of economic and energy aid it would receive if it freezes work at its Yongbyong nuclear facilities, accepts inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and closes its nuclear-weapons test facility. There are reports that North Korea has shown some responsive signs. But there also is a possibility that it will up the ante.

One difference from the previous talks is that some hardliners toward North Korea, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have left the Bush administration. If the U.S. demonstrates flexibility and patience, it will greatly contribute to a firm united front among the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and South Korea for talking North Korea into denuclearizing itself.

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