One Last Time for North Korea

This is it. North Korea should be allowed only this one last chance to stay in the negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear-weapons programs.

It has avoided previous opportunities for talks too many times in recent years. If it walks away from the ones that are due to start July 25, the US should ask the UN Security Council to impose economic sanctions.

With enough fissile material to make six to eight bombs, North Korea can't be allowed to go its merry nuclear way and possibly export these weapons of mass destruction. Its record of terrorist acts and of lobbing missiles toward Japan makes it too much of a threat in the Al Qaeda age.

Just why North Korea says it is returning to the six-party talks is unclear. Perhaps the Kim Jong Il regime is tottering after having left its people hungry. Perhaps China, as one of the six, realizes its errant ally really does have The Bomb. Perhaps South Korea's offer to supply 2 million kilowatts of electricity for an energy-starved North was a lure.

The US has done its part. It recently recognized North Korea as a sovereign state and said it had no intention of attacking it. President Bush even politely referred to its leader as Mr. Kim Jong Il, and let US officials meet directly with diplomats from Pyongyang.

Whatever benefits North Korea expects out of these talks will really come only after it dismantles its nuclear facilities. It cheated on a 1994 agreement to do that. Now the stakes are higher, and the need for upfront verification is imperative.

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