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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

North Korea Needs Carrot and Stick

The seemingly interminable six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees and foreign aid are veering dangerously close to absurdity.

Tuesday night's meeting in Beijing was diplomatically described as the beginning of the second part of the fourth round of negotiations. But this is really the fifth installment since the process began.

Unless you count the fact that the United States and North Korea have not gone to war in the meantime, the negotiations have achieved nothing, besides granting a tyrannical regime two years of breathing space to pursue its nuclear ambitions.

For all their inflammatory public rhetoric, the North Koreans have proved to be skilled negotiators. Their latest success is to have everyone arguing about whether Pyongyang has the right to a peaceful nuclear power program when the real issue is nuclear weapons, not nuclear electricity.

Washington's case is almost fatally undermined by an inconsistent approach to nuclear proliferation, which the United States tolerates in Pakistan, India and Israel but rejects in Iran and North Korea. Even so, and in spite of widespread pessimism, a two-point solution to the crisis is in reach if all sides are willing to grasp it and make concessions.

First, the Chinese, South Korean and Russian governments must accept that indefinite negotiations are not acceptable because they allow Pyongyang to subvert one of the main purposes of the talks, which is verifiably to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons. They must agree on deadlines and threaten sanctions.

Second, the United States and its ally Japan should not allow themselves to be blinded by the North Korean smokescreen over peaceful nuclear programs and should make every concession they can to remove the issue from the immediate agenda.

Washington should call North Korea's bluff on its latest demand. Christopher Hill, the U.S. negotiator, should say aloud that North Korea has as much right as any country to nuclear power -- provided it rejoins the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and accepts verifiable dismantling of its weapons programs.

The question then will be whether North Korea was ever serious about the talks in the first place.

This comment ran as an editorial in the Financial Times, where it appeared in longer form.