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SUNDAY, JULY 9, 2006
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EDITORIAL

President Bush taking right path in North Korea crisis

"Diplomacy" used to be a dirty word to the Bush administration.

Negotiating through diplomatic channels was seen as a sign of weakness. President Bush set the United States' policies in international affairs and other countries could jump on the bandwagon or sit on the sidelines.

What a difference a war makes.

In contrast to the U.S. policy on Iraq, where the White House plowed ahead with a military invasion against international opinion, President Bush spent last week talking with world leaders about North Korea and Kim Jong Il.

The despotic North Korean dictator defiantly tested seven missiles in Southeast Asia on July Fourth. Mr. Kim insists his country has nuclear weapons, and he is trying to convince the U.S. and others that he is willing to use them.

If Tuesday's test firings are any indication, Mr. Kim may be willing but is not yet able.

The White House has taken an uncharacteristically cautious approach to Mr. Kim's saber-rattling. Rather than be drawn into one-on-one negotiations where the U.S. must give economic and technological concessions in exchange for a Kim promise to shelve his nuclear ambitions — Mr. Kim's likely goal — President Bush has been reaching out to China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, even to the United Nations, in an attempt to squelch the North Korean provocation.

Japan and South Korea, obviously, are anxious to get to the table with Mr. Kim and end the tension. China and Russia are less willing to resume the six-party talks.

But China holds the hammer here. It is by far the leading supplier of food, energy and aid to the North. If China really wants Mr. Kim back at the negotiating table, Mr. Kim will be there.

Now we'll finally have a chance to assess the current administration's skill at diplomacy. If Mr. Bush is smart, he will persuade China to put pressure on the North.

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