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Originally published Sunday, March 4, 2012 at 4:01 PM

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U.S. food shipments to get North Korea back to the table

The Obama administration is using humanitarian food aid to leverage North Korea's willingness to reopen talks to dismantle the nation's nuclear program. International inspectors are the first step.

Seattle Times Editorial

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CREDIT the Obama administration with the patient pursuit of negotiations toward dismantling North Korea's nuclear program. Once again it may all come to a frustrating impasse.

Still, North Korea did announce Wednesday it would allow international inspectors into its Yongbyon nuclear complex and suspend nuclear weapons tests and uranium enrichment in anticipation of talks.

The New York Times reports the latest round of contacts began last July with the U.S. offering 265,000 tons of food to get the government in Pyongyang interested. The death of dictator Kim Jong Il in December left the future of the talks unresolved.

His young son and successor, Kim Jong Un, startled the world with his government's offer, but it was quickly embraced. North Korea needs the food, and substantive progress toward a resumption of nuclear talks is great news.

Getting talks launched means arranging for the inspectors to gain access to the reactor site. Another set of negotiations, but it is all in the works.

The U.S. understands the diplomatic chess game under way, so the food will be parceled out in monthly deliveries. The food itself is described as nutritional supplements rather than rice and grains that might be diverted to the military or sold. Practical cynicism in pursuit of a verifiable nuclear agreement.

This is another step toward Pyongyang resuming six-party talks with the U.S., South Korea, Russia, Japan and China. The latter's influence is especially key.

News that a North Korean negotiator will attend a U.S. academic meeting is another welcome sign of patient efforts to get the hermit kingdom back into the international community.

North Korea is so reliably erratic that the expectations of setbacks and impasses can overwhelm any optimism. The hopeful assumption is that a young leader wants to lead his poor, starving nation in a new direction.

Two generations of bluster and isolation yielded nothing more than international isolation and suffering.

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