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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Passivity Prevents U.S. Nuclear Compromise

The bellicose proclamations ricocheting from the United States to Iran and North Korea threaten to drown out common sense. The bottom line is that the United States should proceed at top speed to stop Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. Hard-liners thunder against "bribery" or "appeasement." But negotiations are better called "diplomacy" or "compromise." The alternative of waiting for a regime change is unacceptable; there's no indication that will come anytime soon.

It has been clear for nearly two years that the United States invaded the only member of the three-nation "axis of evil" that did not have nuclear weapons or an active program to develop them. Last week, Pyongyang claimed for the first time it had the weapons; it also refused to resume negotiations with the United States, Russia, South Korea, Japan and China. Pyongyang said it needs the weapons to defend against "the Bush administration's ever more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle" North Korea. Actually, the administration had been relatively restrained in recent weeks, except when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described it during her confirmation hearings as one of six "outposts of tyranny" -- a remark cited by Pyongyang.

Iran has faced tougher rhetoric from President George W. Bush and Rice. During her recent tour of Europe, Rice castigated the "unelected few" running Iran for their terrible record on human rights. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami responded that the country was united against threats, and any invaders would be buried in "a burning hell."

Much of the verbiage could be mere posturing. Iran could be increasing the volume before more negotiations with Britain, France and Germany. Tehran and Pyongyang might be seeking greater rewards for future yielding on weapons.

The way to find out is for the Bush administration to push harder. It has been too passive with Iran and North Korea. Washington should help the three European nations offer Iran extra trade benefits if it limits its nuclear program to producing energy.

The United States should tell North Korea it is ready with money and food if it rejoins the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and readmits nuclear inspectors.

Waiting for North Korea to give up weapons has not worked. Claiming to support Europe's negotiations with Iran but denouncing the mullahs in Tehran -- Bush did both in his State of the Union speech -- sends a mixed message.

With nuclear weapons in both countries, there are greater odds for a deadly incident, accidental or otherwise, and higher risks of destabilizing the Middle East or East Asia.

This comment first appeared as an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.