As we noted yesterday, the January 1 deadline for North Korea to turn in a complete accounting of its nuclear-weapons program, as it agreed to do last February, has come and gone without any sign that this homework assignment will ever be turned in.
The “silence has generated unease, even embarrassment, among North Korea’s counterparts in the six-party talks hosted by China,” reports the Economist. But the Chinese were not among those embarrassed. They described the delay simply as “natural.”
The Bush administration, on the other hand, reacted more belligerently, calling the North Korean misbehavior “unfortunate.” But such a harsh word is now generating repercussions.
Today, North Korea’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun announced that the North will “continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the U.S. stepping up its nuclear war moves.” The Los Angeles Times explains that North Korean talk about bolstering its nuclear deterrent “usually means it thinks international powers are not treating it properly.” In Korean culture, showing respect is critical. Obviously, the State Department should have been more deferential.
To revive the talks, which have been generating so many valuable broken promises, the United States should now reverse course, publicly declare that the word “unfortunate” was unfortunate, and join the Chinese in calling the North Korean delay “natural.”