The United States and North Korea held two days of talks last week in Beijing — the first such talks between the two countries since the death of North Korea’s long-time leader, Kim Jong Il, in December. The talks were a chance to look for signs of any changes in the North’s positions under the leadership of its new leader, Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of the deceased leader, over dismantling of its nuclear weapons program and other issues. The negotiations produced no breakthrough, although they made “a little bit of progress,” according to the U.S.

After the Beijing talks, U.S. special envoy Glyn Davies said, “there was nothing stylistically or substantively dramatically different in terms of how the North Koreans were presenting their positions.” North Korea regards its nuclear weapons and missile programs as a great “revolutionary legacy” left by Kim Jong Il and is unlikely to give them up easily. It is all the more important for the U.S., Japan and South Korea to unify their approach on North Korea and persevere.

In December, the U.S. and North Korea appeared to have reached a deal under which North Korea would temporarily halt its enrichment of uranium and the U.S. would send the North 240,000 tons of supplementary food. But the deal failed to materialize because of the sudden demise of Kim Jong Il. In 2010, North Korea disclosed that it was enriching uranium. Although it insists that it is for peaceful use, highly enriched uranium can be used to make a nuclear bomb. In 2006 and 2009, North Korea exploded two nuclear devices that used plutonium.

Pyongyang continues to pursue its nuclear weapons program even though it is unable to grow enough food to feed its own people. This fact reveals the inherent weakness of the North Korean government. If it sticks to its “military first” policy, dissatisfaction could increase among the North Korean people and the regime could eventually crumble from within. With this in mind, the U.S., Japan and South Korea should carefully study the conditions under which North Korea would accept a deal.

In Beijing, the U.S. and North Korea also discussed the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents. Japan should seek to hold bilateral talks with North Korea to resolve the abduction issue and lay the groundwork for the eventual normalization of bilateral ties. Insisting on a resolution of the abduction issue as a precondition for starting talks would be counterproductive.

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