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Obama's push to quell a nuclear North Korea

Obama can't risk a big nuclear test by North Korea during the 2012 election campaign. Hints of talks with Pyongyang suggest the US is ready for a deal.

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The last thing President Obama may want during the 2012 campaign is a costly foreign crisis. Who might spark such an event? High on the list is North Korea, the abiding bad boy of Asia.

This calculation explains why the Obama administration is hinting of bilateral talks with Pyongyang in coming days.

North Korea has declared it will become a fully activated nuclear weapons state next year, marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of its late founder, Kim Il-sung. It may test a sizable nuclear weapon, one that may be more threatening than two previous tests and that could upset the power balance in Northeast Asia.

Another worry is that the regime of Kim Jong-il might again attack South Korea. Two incidents last year left 50 South Koreans dead. Such a repeat provocation would probably bring strong retaliation by Seoul, forcing the United States and China to square off over the divided Korean Peninsula.

As Sen. John Kerry (D), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said recently: “Make no mistake: Given North Korea’s recent irresponsible conduct, staying in a diplomatic holding pattern invites a dangerous situation to get even worse.”

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