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Published: Monday, 7/7/2008

Victory for negotiation

NORTH Korea's move away from its nuclear weapons program, and the American response to it, are positive developments toward prospects for world peace.

The gains are threefold. Any action that reduces the possibility that a state like North Korea can launch a nuclear war or play a role in the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a significant contribution to global stability.

Second, any step that serves to fold what has been a rogue state like North Korea into the community of nations, making it more subject to international norms and rules, is a step forward.

Third, the statement and actions of President Bush, in removing some economic sanctions against North Korea and promising to take the country off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism within 45 days, constitutes a triumph of American foreign policy and a clear endorsement of the negotiation mode.

In 2002, Mr. Bush grouped North Korea with Iraq and Iran as an axis of evil. Apart from the fact that axis was the wrong term for three countries that did not form an alliance (like Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II), six years later Iraq has been transformed into a deadly quagmire for the United States, still evil but only in the sense that America's war there has no end in sight. Iran, a complex society which harbors some extremist politicians, poses no real threat to the United States.

North Korea appears now to be coming in from the cold. It happened through long, tortuous negotiations conducted over years by China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. The American team was led by a career diplomat, Ambassador Christopher Hill.

Mr. Bush has played a very positive role in the whole affair, making the key decisions, and, perhaps even more importantly, fending off the right wing of his own Republican Party, those who are right in not trusting North Korea but wrong in thinking that nothing can be gained by talking with the North Koreans and drawing them into verifiable international agreements.

More remains to be done in the negotiating process, but the fact that Pyongyang handed over 18,000 pages of documents on its nuclear programs and last week imploded the cooling tower of its Yongbyon nuclear facility were an important gain for the United States and the realm of international relations.

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