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[Editorial] Obama, Hu on N.K.

As expected, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao addressed two issues concerning North Korea during their summit on Wednesday ― its hostility against South Korea and its nuclear weapons program. They made agreements in broad terms. But their post-summit remarks provided no indication that they agreed to take any concrete steps with regard to the two issues.

At a joint press conference, Obama said he agreed with Hu that Pyongyang “must avoid further provocations” after the sinking of a South Korean warship in its torpedo attack in March and the barrage of shelling on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in November. He also said he agreed with Hu that “the paramount goal must be complete denuclearization of the (Korean) peninsula.”

For his part, Hu said he agreed with Obama “to strengthen coordination and cooperation on major issues that concern peace and development in the Asia Pacific region and in the world.” He added China and the United States will “work with the relevant parties to maintain peace and stability on the (Korean) peninsula, promote denuclearization of the peninsula and achieve lasting peace and security in Northeast Asia.”

Given the aforementioned remarks, it appears that the U.S. and Chinese leaders did not veer away from the policies their governments have pursued in the past. With China calling for an early resumption of the suspended six-way talks on denuclearization, the United States has demanded North Korea’s moratorium on nuclear and missile tests as preconditions for restarting the talks. When Washington demands Beijing play a more active role in restraining Pyongyang, the Chinese government says its leverage on its communist ally is limited.

If so, there will be no breakthrough in the standoff until North Korea yields to the U.S. demand that it prove its sincerity in calling for the resumption of the nuclear talks by taking some significant measures, such as promising to end its nuclear testing. The U.S. demand is supported by South Korea and Japan, both of which are parties to the six-way talks.

The demand for sincerity also applies to North Korea’s call for an early resumption of dialogue with South Korea. Several weeks after bombarding Yeonpyeong Island in the sea off North Korea’s western coast, Pyongyang turned offensive again, this time in demanding that inter-Korean talks be resumed without any preconditions. But South Korea demands as preconditions that the North hold itself accountable for the March torpedo attack and promise not to engage in any further unprovoked armed attack against the South.

Here again, there is little likelihood that an inter-Korean dialogue will resume anytime soon. But time is on the side of South Korea, which believes that the days of the cash-strapped Kim Jong-il regime will be numbered if it continues to be denied aid from the outside world, much of that from South Korea. Repeated calls for an unconditional dialogue is unmistakable evidence that North Korea finds itself under mounting pressure to secure a commitment from South Korea to resume food aid and other types of assistance.
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