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2008年12月10日 (水)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 9(IHT/Asahi: December 10,2008)

EDITORIAL: Six-party talks


After a five-month hiatus, a new round of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs got under way Monday in Beijing. The negotiating process has been going on for more than five years now, but this round is of special significance.


For the United States, this is most probably the last round under the Republican administration of George W. Bush, which in January will be replaced by a new Democratic team headed by Barack Obama.


As the six-party talks represent the only international framework aimed at getting Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programs, the Obama administration will obviously try to maintain and take advantage of this process.


What needs to be done now could not be clearer: The nations concerned must act in such a way that the negotiations will continue to the next round.


Even after Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, it should be a while before all his staffers are in place and his White House is fully functional. This makes the latest round of talks all the more important.


The Bush administration maintained a hard-line course until the middle of the second term, but it failed to avert Pyongyang's underground nuclear test in 2006. It was not until early 2007 that Bush made a major switch and tried to initiate dialogue.


The policy shift led to a series of six-party agreements. Following the agreed actions in the initial phase, such as shutting down Pyongyang's principal facilities for the development of plutonium-based nuclear weapons, work is now under way to disable these facilities.


The follow-on phase actions, which included providing economic and energy aid to North Korea in exchange for the disablement of the facilities, should have been completed by the end of October but were not. The delay owes to mutual distrust between Pyongyang and Washington.


It is quite clear now that a new agreement must be forged to complete the follow-on phase actions as soon as possible.


In the United States and South Korea, some are critical of Japan's refusal to aid North Korea due to a lack of progress on the issue of abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea. We believe Japan should get actively involved in seeking a new agreement.


North Korea submitted a declaration of its nuclear programs in June, but it was insufficient. Thus, it is important to establish a strict verification method, the details of which must be discussed during the current round of negotiations.


One divisive issue concerning the verification method is whether to spell out in writing that Pyongyang should agree to the extraction of nuclear samples from its facilities where plutonium can be produced. Collecting such samples is indispensable to analyzing the amount of plutonium extracted by North Korea. Given the latter's track record of not honoring its word, we believe we need more than just a verbal promise from North Korea.


And there are also other serious issues that have yet to be settled. Specifically, they concern inspections of undeclared nuclear facilities; clarifying suspicions of uranium enrichment and nuclear technology proliferation; and most importantly, getting Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons.


These will be tough challenges for Obama and his team. Relations between the United States and North Korea improved during Bill Clinton's administration. The North Koreans may believe that the Democratic Obama administration will be also easy to deal with.



But that will not be the case. The Clinton era's U.S.-North Korea framework agreement collapsed in the face of Pyongyang's new nuclear ambitions. Obama's foreign policy team will be hardly likely to forget that bitter experience.



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