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The latest round of six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs failed to set a deadline for the North’s completion of next-phase commitments in its denuclearization process, specified in a Feb. 13 deal. Although the parties confirmed that they will indeed proceed from the initial to the second phase, the possibility of future hitches cannot be ruled out if Pyongyang maneuvers for more concessions.

In the press communique, the North reiterated that it will earnestly implement its next-phase commitments to completely declare all nuclear programs and disable all existing nuclear facilities. In return, the other parties will provide the North with economic, energy and humanitarian assistance equivalent to 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.

Five working groups will meet by the end of August to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, normalization of the relationship between Washington and Pyongyang and between Tokyo and Pyongyang, economic and energy cooperation, and a peace and security mechanism in Northeast Asia. The next plenary session of the six-party talks will be held in early September, with a foreign ministerial meeting to follow.

The whole process is clearly moving toward the second phase stipulated in the Feb. 13 deal. But some difficulties may arise in determining the scope of “all nuclear programs” and defining “disabling.” Before implementing its second-phase obligations, Pyongyang may call on Washington to remove it from a U.S. list of nations supporting terrorism and to lift economic sanctions under a law governing trade with “enemy” countries.

Japan takes the position that it will not provide assistance to North Korea until the latter properly addresses the past abduction of Japanese nationals by its agents. To prevent Pyongyang from using Tokyo’s stance as an excuse to delay the implementation of its commitments, Japan needs to take a wise approach. The U.S., Japan, China, South Korea and Russia must do their best to get the North to complete the second-phase commitments as soon as possible.

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