Commentary: Taking care of North Korea's nuclear power

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Kim Jong Il may be thought of by many Americans as a peculiar little fellow, wildly unpredictable. North Korea's dictator appears one moment to be inclined to compromise on nuclear weapons and in the next moment, this one having come on Monday, he's conducting an underground nuclear test. Missiles are fired off for good measure. But the fact is that it's not even clear who exactly is in charge in Pyongyang, as Kim Jong Il is 67 and reportedly in questionable health.

To say that the United States must employ all the diplomatic assets at its disposal, both through the United Nations and through China, which borders North Korea, is an understatement. It is not just that scientists believe the North Koreans have enough plutonium to build more bombs. That is dangerous enough, yes. But what if North Korea's leaders decided to start marketing their nuclear knowledge or products at any stage to terrorists? The consequences could be catastrophic.

Kim Jong Il thinks not of such matters, nor apparently do those around him. The nuclear test clearly was an act of defiance against the United States, which is marketed by the dictator to the people as some sort of evil enemy. And there's the issue of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, a situation the North Koreans of course don't like.

President Obama sent diplomats into action quickly, as he should have. They have difficult work ahead. It is one thing to deal with a foe that may have a lot of hatred for the United States, or be inclined as North Korea is toward human rights violations that Americans find intolerable. But to confront a country where the leaders apparently lack simple rationality is a challenge beyond others.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.