North Korea's surprise decision to return to the suspended six-party talks over its nascent nuclear program may be the first positive glimmer from the Korean peninsula in nearly a year, but any celebration by the U.S. or its allies would be way too premature. The multilateral negotiations have been replete in the past with false starts and dashed hopes. And it's not clear that all six parties — North Korea, South Korea, Russia, China, Japan and the U.S — are on the same page.
Pyongyang had reaffirmed its commitment to a preliminary agreement that had been reached last September, shortly before the talks fizzled when the U.S. cracked down on North Korean bank accounts in the Chinese city of Macau.
The resumption of the talks, however, does represent a diplomatic win for China, which had been forced to take the central role in reining in its wayward ally Pyongyang. It was China's decision to support the U.N. sanctions that gave them teeth, and Chinese envoys made repeated trips to Pyongyang over the last several weeks.
The message was clear: North Korea had embarrassed Beijing by testing a nuclear device despite repeated warnings by the Chinese against doing so. By at least agreeing to return to the six-party talks, Kim is preventing a loss in international face for his status-conscious friends in Beijing.
The real test will be how all six parties react once the talks resume — assuming, of course, the talks really do resume this year.
[Excerpts from TIME Asia]