Outside editorial: North Korean nukes: Try diplomatic weapons first

Posted: Monday, February 12, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

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You may need to read this twice: U.S. diplomats are optimistic that what has become known as the "six-party talks" could lead to North Korea's agreeing to end nuclear arms production in exchange for security, economic and energy perks.

Optimism is not a word that has been associated with countering the grave threat that an atomic North Korea, which not long ago tested a nuclear device, would pose to its neighbors and U.S. security interests.

President Kim Jong Il is as cruel to his own people, who have suffered starvation and abuse under him, as he is belligerent to other nations. His malevolence is one reason talks with South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have stumbled along - and why the five are still pursuing disarmament.

Another reason has been President Bush's prior resistance to talk directly with America's enemies. His administration has preferred using the military when danger arises.

The White House has considered diplomacy the weakest course. Bush's previous idea of negotiation has been to dangle talks with the United States as a reward for the foe's giving Washington exactly what it wants. That's not a winning approach.

If these talks put a nuclear pact back on track, the administration can credit the discussions between U.S. and North Korean officials that preceded this week's meeting in Beijing. North Korea also may be feeling more cooperative because of painfully effective financial measures against the regime that Washington has been orchestrating.

As U.S. rhetoric about Iran gets more heated, President Bush can use this week's progress with North Korea as evidence that there are approaches short of war that can be tried to contain threats to security.

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