Friday, December 12, 2008

How hard is it to pressure North Korea?

Good to see the United States sticking to common sense and demanding that North Korea live up to earlier agreements before being able to take advantage of them. The United States said Friday that future shipments of fuel oil will be held up until Pyongyang signs on to protocol to allow verification of its denuclearization activities, according to the Reuters international news service. At least U.S. officials have been able to reach common ground with its four negotiating partners -- Japan, Russia, China and South Korea -- to hold up future shipments under an accord reached last year. Negotiations between the United States and fuel-starved North Korea over the past 10 years have yielded several agreements but little verifiable progress. North Korea first tested a nuclear device in 2006. The Bush administration has been negotiating with Pyongyang in hopes of reaching a new agreement before President George W. Bush leaves office next month, but talks in Beijing collapsed Thursday, Reuters said. Lead U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill briefed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday on the failure of the talks, Reuters said. "There's the opportunity for North Korea to sign on to this verification protocol," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "That still exists. We'll see. The ball is in their court." About half of the heavy fuel oil promised under last year's agreement remains to be delivered. But how hard can it be to get North Korea to agree to live up to its denuclearization pledge? The country cannot even grow enough food to feed its own people and depends on food shipments from the West to get through winter. Reuters said Pyongyang may think it can get a better deal under Bush's successor, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20.

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