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What Next for North Korea?

The Obama administration should continue to seek North Korea’s return to the negotiating table.

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For most countries, isolation from the international community and global economy would be a stiff sentence for ignoring the consequences of testing another atomic weapon illegally, as North Korea did this past weekend. Few domestic economies could survive without access to international markets, but North Korea is no ordinary country. Isolation helps sustain North Korea’s national ideology, known as juche, which stresses self-reliance and national independence.

The Obama administration should continue to seek North Korea’s return to the negotiating table. The shape of the table—whether there are two seats or six—should be dictated by whatever is most likely to yield results. The advantage of the so called six-party format—comprised of the United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea—is that it integrates all regional players in the process. Bilateral talks are not inconsistent with this approach if the six-party approach has outlived its usefulness.

The Obama administration and its partners in the six-party process also should continue to offer incentives and disincentives, conditioned as always on concrete changes in North Korean behavior. Although the long-term goal must remain the complete denuclearization of North Korea, it is essential that the administration strive to achieve the intermediate goal of preventing North Korea’s stockpile of fissile material from growing.

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