As long as North Korea has no intention of abandoning its nuclear and missile development programs, any dialogue to be conducted with North Korea will only be used by that country to buy time to boost its military capability. The administration of President Donald Trump needs to discern the state of affairs carefully.

Speaking to a U.S. newspaper, Vice President Mike Pence emphasized that the U.S. would “continue the maximum pressure” against Pyongyang, but he also said, “But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.” Without specifying any preconditions, he expressed a positive attitude toward direct talks with North Korea.

During Pence’s meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, held on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, both were said to have agreed on the basic course of action that South Korea would first hold a dialogue with North Korea and then the U.S. would follow suit.

Since the Agreed Framework between the U.S. and North Korea in 1994, dialogues and agreements with North Korea have ended up only giving Pyongyang such benefits as economic assistance and haven’t led to solving the issue. Based on recognition of this, the Trump administration has taken the fundamental position of seeing Pyongyang’s policy change as a condition for holding a dialogue with North Korea.

Pence said that Moon assured him that South Korea will tell North Korea that it can get benefits only for taking concrete steps toward denuclearization. “I think it is different from the last 20 years,” Pence emphasized.

Starting a dialogue without any careful consideration seems to send the wrong message to North Korea. Also worrying is that Trump’s stance toward North Korea does not seem to be fixed yet. As seen from harsh remarks such as that it is “a waste of time trying to negotiate with North Korea” to such a flexible stance as expressing his willingness to hold talks with North Korea “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances,” the wavering is conspicuous.

North Korea has been taking advantage of the Olympics to deploy its “smile diplomacy,” but this does not mean its threats have been mitigated.

FROM AN EDITORIAL IN JAPAN’S YOMIURI SHIMBUN NEWSPAPER