EDITORIAL: New diplomacy needed to reduce North Korean nuclear risks

April 04, 2013

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon said the nuclear crisis generated by North Korea "has already gone too far."

Ban made the comment after Pyongyang said April 2 that it plans to restart a mothballed graphite-moderated nuclear reactor. The announcement marked the latest step in a series of provocative acts. If it is brought back online, the reactor could produce plutonium that can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Under a 2007 agreement among the countries involved in six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear development program, Pyongyang halted operations of the graphite-moderated reactor and a spent fuel reprocessing plant in Yongbyon. The following year, the isolated regime destroyed the cooling tower needed to operate the reactor.

Its decision to restart the reactor could wipe out all the progress made in the six-party talks, which are aimed at denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. One more time, we strongly urge North Korea to exercise self-restraint.

A year will soon have passed since Kim Jong Un became first secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, making him the country's supreme leader.

In recent days, Kim has announced that North Korea is nullifying the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War (1950-1953). He has also said North Korea reserves "its right to stage pre-emptive nuclear strikes." These belligerent moves are apparently aimed at dragging the United States into dialogue.

On April 3, in a move that seemed to be timed to coincide with a meeting between the foreign ministers of the United States and South Korea in Washington, Pyongyang even blocked South Koreans from crossing the border to a jointly operated industrial park in Kaesong. The industrial park is the only channel of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

Even if North Korea's provocations are intended as mere tactics for diplomatic bargaining instead of steps toward actual war, its actions could trigger an unforeseen incident.

The countries involved in the six-party talks need to map out a new diplomatic strategy to manage the risks posed by Pyongyang's belligerence. First of all, the United States and its two regional allies, Japan and South Korea, should start working closely together in serious efforts to figure out the best way to deal with North Korea.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who took office in February, has pledged to pursue a "process of trust-building" as her policy toward North Korea. Even after Pyongyang conducted a third nuclear test in February, Park has not abandoned her quest to have constructive dialogue with North Korea. She has stressed the importance of making joint efforts by South Korea and the international community to create an environment in which North Korea has no other choice but to change, instead of simply waiting for the country to change on its own.

Park will visit the United States next month and discuss the North Korea problem with President Barack Obama. Through close cooperation with Washington and Seoul, Japan should contribute to creating an environment that encourages change in North Korea.

For neighboring countries, Pyongyang's move to bring the graphite-moderated reactor back on stream is disquieting not only because of the country's nuclear arms program but also from the viewpoint of the risk of accidents.

Restarting a reactor that has been out of operation for years raises many safety concerns. That's all the more so when it is an old-fashioned graphite-moderated reactor.

In addition to the graphite-moderated reactor, North Korea has been building a light-water reactor on its own. It started work on this project three years ago. Some experts believe the new reactor could be in operation as early as next year.

Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, there has been growing anxiety in South Korea about radioactive contamination that could be caused by a nuclear accident in North Korea. There are many serious safety concerns about the light-water reactor being built by the secretive regime.

New diplomatic efforts to reduce the risks stemming from North Korea's reckless acts are urgently needed.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 4

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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