Keep sanctions until N. Korea halts nuclear program
North Korea has agreed to resume six-nation talks about disarmament of its missile program.
CHINA'S backing of United Nations sanctions against its longtime ally North Korea has worked in reconvening six-nation talks that fell apart more than a year ago. Allowing direct talks between the United States and North Korea, on which Pyongyang had insisted, or other concessions would have been regarded as rewards for recent missile and nuclear tests.
The talks, which might resume as early as this month, could result in positive steps toward easing tensions in the region, but North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il must agree to abandon his pursuit of nuclear weapons as the talks go forward.
One way to achieve permanent stability would be to turn the six-nation talks, which include South Korea, Japan and Russia, into a permanent organization to address regional security issues. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters last week that such a group would provide a structure for taking on that task. China reportedly favors such a plan, with itself in the center.
Another idea that has been discussed for years is creation of a Northeast Asia development bank involving the same six countries, with functions that would include supporting economic development of North Korea.
"If this is realized, a basis of lasting and stable economic cooperation will be able to be established within both the South-North relationship and in Northeast Asia," says South Korean Rep. Park Geun Hye, daughter of the late president Park Chung-hee and former chairwoman of the country's main opposition party.
The six nations' negotiators will he forced to deal with more immediate issues, first of which will be North Korea's plea that sanctions be lifted. The U.N. sanctions restrict import of luxury goods and trade in arms and technology for use in Pyongyang's nuclear program. China had reduced food and oil to North Korea even before the Oct. 7 nuclear tests that prompted the U.N. sanctions, and South Korea has reduced food assistance since then.
North Korea also will ask that the United States lift financial penalties that prompted Pyongyang's withdrawal from the talks in September 2005. The Treasury Department ordered U.S. banks to sever relations with a Macao bank that had been helping North Korea launder money for drug smuggling and helping to pass counterfeit $100 bills manufactured by the North Korean government.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the lead U.S. negotiator, has agreed to discuss those restrictions. However, he says Pyongyang must abandon those "illicit activities" in order to even begin addressing the issue.
At this point, Kim Jong Il has given no indication that he plans to change any of his behavior. His reason for returning to the talks is strictly to deal with the sanctions, and he can be expected to appear to be acting in good faith. The United States should not waver from retaining the sanctions without clear evidence that Kim has changed his ways.