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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 2)

All News 09:20 April 02, 2016

Winding NK down
: Role playing by states concerned is pivotal

There are two pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that should be put into place to solve the North Korean nuclear challenge.

One is President Park Geun-hye's inflexibility of policy, or the appearance of being so, on the issue. The other is the lack of gravity by the rest of the world.

During the trilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Thursday, Park reiterated her hard-line stance of keeping pressure on the North until it buckles.

"We will have to apply more pressure (if the North does not comply)," she said in a joint press conference. The two other leaders stuck to their stances of maintaining the toughest-ever sanctions on the North.

Park's persistence is laudable in its predictability, as she has rarely backtracked from her hard-line policy after receiving one-two blows from the North over its unexpected nuclear and long-range missile tests earlier this year. With little exaggeration, she has also cajoled and coaxed her way to help form the consensus for a strong-arm tactic on Pyongyang.

This, however, may end up hobbling the South's future choices. Judging from the past, Park is running the risk of being isolated, if the big powers abruptly switch their posture to dialogue. This happened in the lead-up to the Agreed Framework deal between the United States and the North in the early 1990s. Then, President Kim Young-sam boycotted the talks, getting relegated to third-party status that relied on U.S. handouts to keep abreast of the goings-on at the talks. Park was presumed to be similarly excluded from the U.S.-China deal on delaying the deployment of the U.S. missile interceptor ― THAAD ― on the Korean Peninsula.

Closer to home, rising tensions, stoked by the North's war rhetoric, should be managed. An eventual solution should be found through no other means than dialogue. Kim Jong-un, the 33-year-old dictator, has boasted of his nation's successes in miniaturizing nuclear warheads and threatened to turn the South and Washington into a bowl of fire by nuclear weapons. Although the North's claims can be discounted as rhetorical exaggerations, it is undesirable to depend on pressure tactics alone. This does not mean falling back to appeasement. Park should be prepared for the eventuality of talking to the North again.

For that purpose, she should pay attention to the feasibility of reviving a Perry Process-like approach that mixes carrots and sticks or simultaneously conduct talks for peace and denuclearization as suggested by China and the North. It is true that both formulas have limitations but they could be put in place until a better solution can be found.

Although the multinational format of the ongoing talks may not be fit for a grand unveiling, Park might give a hint or two during her tour, laying the ground work for such an eventuality.

There is also work cut out for the world to separate the North from its weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), especially at the nuclear summit attended by leaders of 52 states and the heads of four important global organizations.

They may start to remind themselves that there is an uncluttered shot at the resolution of the North's nuclear brinkmanship this time, being fresh from the successful deal freezing Iran's nuclear program through the concerted efforts of key countries. If they work on the North's brinkmanship with the same urgency as they showed with Teheran, mixed by a sense of flexibility on the part of Seoul, the world may later remember that now was a starting point toward the end of the world's most vexing nonproliferation challenges and also the beginning of unification of the last remaining divided nation.

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