Good chance

In talks Friday with a South Korean cabinet minister, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said he could return as early as next month to the suspended six-party talks in Beijing on the North’s nuclear weapons programme. Upon his return to Seoul, South Korea’s Unification Minister Chung Dong You-ng said Kim had told him the North would come back to the talks “if the US firmly recognises North Korea as a partner.” This is a positive message. President Bush needs to take Kim up on the offer instead of putting unrealistic conditions.

Kim also said the North would allow inspectors from the IAEA to return and resume monitoring Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities, as they had been doing until they were expelled in December 2002. He also said he would be willing to rejoin the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Bush has everything to gain and very little to lose by testing Kim’s willingness to do what he has now said he is willing to do.

Regrettably, a State Department spokesman said the only message from Pyongyang that would matter is one that sets a firm date for returning to the Beijing talks. This stance ignores the chance that has opened up. Kim is saying that for the right price he will hand over his nuclear programme and cease both exporting and building his missiles. This deal requires that Bush muster a show of respect for North Korea. — The Boston Globe