The Monitor's View

Claps and Clapton in North Korea

Inviting Western musicians won't help the regime in its latest try at nuclear blackmail.

By the sound of it, North Korea is coming in from the cold – the cold reality of being a threat. It hosted the New York Philharmonic this week and invited Eric Clapton to play Pyongyang. Now if only it would also sing the song it promised Oct. 3 and reveal its atomic arsenal.

The regime of Kim Jong Il missed a Dec. 31 deadline to make a full and verifiable declaration of its nuclear programs. While it has partly dismantled the plutonium processing plant at Yongbyon – which created enough fissile material for six to 12 nuclear warheads – that work has greatly slowed. North Korea appears to be returning to brinkmanship diplomacy, or extracting food, oil, and money for limited concessions in its nuclear blackmail.

The delay only makes more remote Bush's plan to leave his successor with a North Korea on its way to nuclear disarmament.

Once again, though, US diplomats tried this week to persuade China to arm-twist its small neighbor into living up to its agreements, even as the head of US intelligence suggested the North is still enriching uranium in a secret facility.

And speculation remains that North Korea had been aiding Syria in building a nuclear plant – which Israeli jets destroyed in September – and might still share nuclear know-how and even bombs with other nations or terrorist groups. In 2006, it tested a crude atomic weapon and a ballistic missile, crossing a threshold in nuclear proliferation.

The North says it wants the US to deliver more oil and take it off the list of terrorist states before it proceeds further in disarmament. But the timing of that demand doesn't jibe with the agreement reached last fall by the six concerned nations, which include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, as well as the US and North Korea.

Mr. Kim could be buying time in hopes of a Democrat in the White House next year who will give him better terms. His father, Kim Il Sung, wrung an agreement from President Clinton in 1994 to dismantle the Yongbyon reactor, but then the North secretly reneged until caught in 2002. The new pact is designed to prevent such a lapse.

If Kim is playing a waiting game, he must be counting on continuing aid from China and South Korea – aid that his Stalinist regime needs to survive as his people's discontent grows over average monthly salaries of less than $3. Both his neighbors have an interest in stability: China doesn't want a rush of refugees if the regime collapses and South Korea can't afford to absorb millions of impoverished North Koreans.

But those dynamics may be changing. The other nations in the six-party talks have seen the North's duplicity. Japan is rearming and setting up defenses in response to the threat, alarming China and South Korea. And South Koreans have a new president this week, Lee Myung Bak, who takes a harder line than his predecessor and may reduce food aid to the North.

Clever tricks like letting an American orchestra play the US national anthem before a crowd of North Korea's communist elite won't change the basic need to reduce the country's nuclear threat.

Perhaps if Mr. Clapton plays in North Korea, he can sing these lyrics from "Sunshine of Your Love," one of his most memorable songs:

"I've been waiting so long."

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