The provocations and rhetoric from North Korea are escalating. On Monday, the same day it carried out its second nuclear test, it fired two short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan. The next day it launched three more short-range missiles. There is a report that it has restarted reprocessing nuclear fuel at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
After Seoul decided, following the North’s nuclear test, to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led network of more than 90 nations aimed at stopping and inspecting ships suspected of transporting banned weapons and nuclear materials, Pyongyang said it was no longer bound by an 1953 armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War.
Saying that Seoul’s decision is tantamount to a declaration of war, Pyongyang threatens to take “substantive actions corresponding to wartime.” It also says it cannot guarantee the safety of the U.S. and South Korean ships in the Yellow Sea.
The international community should not be swayed by North Korea’s provocations and rhetoric and should send a strong message that the North cannot get concessions from the other participants in the six-party talks for denuclearization of North Korea through provocative and belligerent threats and acts.
Apparently, Pyongyang seeks direct talks with Washington to get assurance that its current regime will continue. But for the United States to agree to such talks now would only mean bowing to North Korea’s tactics. The international community should cleverly apply pressure on the North and make it realize that sticking to its present line will push it into further isolation.
At the same time, the international community should make clear that if the North stops its dangerous tactics and returns to the six-party talks, the door is open for more talks to find solutions acceptable to both the North and the other members of the talks — the U.S., Japan, China, South Korea and Russia.
China, which chairs the six-party talks and is the main supplier of fuels and consumer goods to North Korea, can play an important role. Japan, the U.S. and South Korea need to make serious efforts to form a unified front with China.
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