Saturday, Mar 17, 2018
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Don’t thwart Korea talks


Lee Joo-tae, second from left, director-general for the inter-Korean exchange and cooperation in the South Korean Unification Ministry, crosses to the North side for a meeting to discuss the North's participation in the upcoming Winter Paralympics.


The two Koreas are in a “morning after the night before” mode: The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics turned out to be a fine spectacle of sport as well as a side-game of international politics. The United States — with 28,500 troops in South Korea — China, Japan and Russia stand by with a stake in what comes after the North-South opening prompted by the games.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in is left with an invitation to visit the North and meet with its leader, Kim Jong Un, which he has accepted in principle. Mr. Moon is clearly on record as favoring dialogue with the North, as opposed to continued confrontation. That is not a universally embraced position in the South as well as one opposed to some extent by the United States.

Washington is taking an unhelpful position in the burgeoning dialogue between North and South, always with the potential to develop into Korean reunification.

The U.S. is insisting that North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear weapons program be on the table in any discussions. That demand is unrealistic — it asks North Korea to discard its ace of spades before the game begins. Its nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistics programs are pretty much all that the Pyongyang regime has in its hand in any negotiations, particularly with the United States.

North Korea’s weapons programs can be discussed, openly or in the backroom, in any U.S.-North Korea talks, but the United States requiring the North to abandon its programs publicly and pre-emptively, in advance of talks, is just another way for Washington to avoid discussions.

Recently, the U.S. media has locked onto the fact that North Korea has probably provided chemical weapons to the homicidal regime of Bashar Assad in Syria. But if that is true, it is further evidence that it is necessary somehow to rein in North Korea. How else to do that other than talking to it? North Korea’s relations with Syria also can be on the table of talks, whether it be Seoul’s or Washington’s or both, but quietly, please.

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