If the launch of a ballistic missile caught neighbouring states unawares, it is not because Pyongyang made any secret of its intentions. The North Korean government announced plans to continue the development of such missiles back in June, claiming it was forced into the move because of United States' sanctions. Not only is the missile test a diplomatic ploy to pressure Washington over the lifting of these sanctions, it is also a giant advertisement for the country's missile technology. The US Central Intelligence Agency rates North Korea as the world's largest exporter of ballistic missiles, and believes Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria are among the purchasers. Indeed, it was the oil ban imposed by Washington following accusations of missile sales to Pakistan which appears to have spurred foreign currency-starved North Korea to step up its missile development programme. The threat is now crystal clear: North Korea is developing missiles capable of hitting targets throughout Northeast Asia. And this fact further heavily underscores the necessity of renewing efforts to draw Pyongyang out of its isolation. Sanctions are not achieving that aim. Washington's 1994 deal with North Korea involved building two light-water reactors to supply power to the country, and 500,000 tonnes of fuel oil were to be supplied yearly until the reactors were operating. In turn, North Korea would freeze its nuclear programme. But now that oil supplies are suspended, economic hardship has increased in a country already ravaged by failed harvests and disastrous floods. What is now urgently needed is renewed vigour to be injected into talks aimed at bringing sanctions to an end. Talks between the United States and North Korea are due to resume this week and US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, has indicated that the missile test will be raised. But much more is needed. Backing such a dangerous and unpredictable country into a corner through crippling sanctions is to court danger on a potentially catastrophic scale. However unpalatable it may be to run the risk of appearing to grant concessions to such a regime, it is necessary for some hard bargaining to be done in earnest. In exchange for the lifting of oil sanctions and the supply of aid to the starving country, the United States would undermine any excuse - however spurious - North Korea has to expand its missile development programme.