Giving up nukes

THE carrot-and-no-stick approach is apparently working. Verifying Pyongyang's claims, the International Atomic Energy Agency has assured the world that North Korea has embarked upon the path of complete nuclear shutdown by sealing several of its facilities. The secretive state has closed down its sole working nuclear reactor in Yongbyon in return for a host of economic and political benefits.

This is just the first step towards denuclearising North Korea that fuelled fears of arms race in the region after it carried out nuclear tests last year. The six-nation (the US, Russia, South Korea, China, Japan and North Korea) talks in Beijing will now push for a timetable under which the country will pledge to declare and disable all its nuclear programmes. That is definitely going to be the next big hurdle for the international community that has earlier condoned such nuclear powers as India and Israel. The most crucial aspect of the talks will be the alleged uranium-enrichment programme of North Korea that brought the nation on a collision course with the nuclear superpower, America. It remains to be seen whether the Bush administration will be able to persuade the North Korean leadership to come clean insofar as the uranium programme is concerned.

Reports say that North Korea may have gathered enough plutonium over all these years to make at least a dozen bombs. But the country is gearing up for some hard bargaining. It has made clear that complete shutdown will only be possible if countries like the US and Japan end their “hostile” policies towards it. In addition to sops like oil, the regime will also want an end to the Korean War and normal diplomatic relations with the US without being dubbed a part of the “axis of evil”.

While assuring its people that it can, after all, deal constructively with less powerful nuclear states, the US should also try to keep its own nuclear ambitions within limits.

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