North Korea Budges
Byline: The Register-Guard
Last Friday, North Korea became the first nation to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty - continuing a six-month display of brinkmanship that threatened to end in a conflict with the United States. The next day, North Korea made its first move away from the abyss, indicating that it would be willing to soften its long-standing insistence that it would negotiate only with the United States concerning its nuclear weapons program.
It's too early to call this a diplomatic breakthrough, but it's the first hopeful sign since last year, when the United States confronted North Korea with undeniable evidence that it had broken a 1994 agreement on weapons and energy. With North Korea demanding further talks with the United States, and the Bush administration declaring that talks would be pointless unless the Pyongyang government honored the earlier bilateral agreement, diplomacy had reached an impasse.
North Korea's announcement over the weekend indicates that there may be room at the negotiating table for Russia, China, Japan and South Korea. Their participation has been essential all along. It is the nations of northeast Asia that have the strongest interest in keeping peace in the region, and it is they that have leverage to influence North Korea.
The new evidence of flexibility is being interpreted as evidence that North Korean President Kim Jong Il blinked when confronted with a hard-line Bush administration policy. The demand for bilateral talks was softened after a three-week war had removed Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, leaving only North Korea and Iran as members of President Bush's "axis of evil. …