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. Stubborn North Korea alienating even its few friends: analysts
KUALA LUMPUR, July 30 (AFP) Jul 30, 2006
North Korea has managed to alienate even its few friends after a defiant showing at Asian security talks where it snubbed a campaign to rejoin stalled talks on its nuclear program, analysts said.

In a high-stakes test of its diplomatic skills and reputed clout over the reclusive North, its main ally China led a campaign to breath new life into the stalled six-nation nuclear talks on the sidelines of the Malaysian meeting.

But despite the concerted push, for which it joined hands with South Korea which also favours a softly-softly approach towards its neighbour, North Korea was unmoved.

"They are completely isolated," top United States envoy on Asia, Christopher Hill, said at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) after the North's representatives categorically refused to attend the proposed meeting.

Japanese officials said that after the tongue-lashing it faced at the ARF, North Korea was now considering withdrawing from the grouping, one of the few diplomatic gatherings it attends.

Kim Sung-Han, professor at the state-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul, said Pyongyang had mis-stepped by driving China and South Korea into the arms of Washington with its intransigence.

"China and South Korea, two key sympathizers of North Korea, are joining the US-led front to the communist regime's disadvantage," he said.

China is credited with having more leverage over North Korea than any other country, but Pyongyang's decision to proceed with this month's missile tests despite Beijing's protests illustrated how impervious the regime is.

In an apparent sign of the cooling mood, China's Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing stood next to his North Korean counterpart Paek Nam-Sun at a photo session Friday but chose instead to chat to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Kim said Washington had successfully adopted an approach acceptable to the other parties in the six-nation talks -- China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea -- whch meant they were presenting a united front against Pyongyang.

"Since the missile tests, the United States has successfully formed a united front of the other five countries against North Korea," he said.

"The US strategy will be to manage and maintain the five-to-one structure as long as possible. NKorea will not return to talks as long as it carries on," he added.

"To get North Korea wet, the US will likely prefer drizzling to torrential rains in order to keeep the five-to-one structure."

Observers said the six-party talks, the key initiative aimed at addressing the North's nuclear ambitions which it has boycotted since November in protest over US financial sanctions, now lay in tatters.

"The six-way talks will be drifting for a long period of time," said Nam Sung-Wook, professor and North Korea expert at Korea University in Seoul.

"There was actually nothing that the North Koreans could get from attending the multilateral talks on the sidelines of the ARF. All their interest rested on the lifting of US sanctions, while Washinton did not change all," he said.

"In the North Korean view, the participation in the talks -- even though nothing had changed -- would be tantamount to surrendering to the US."

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had said the US was ready "at any time, at any place and without any conditions" to meet North Korea under the six-nation framework which began three years ago.

But the North's refusal forced concerned nations to instead hold a 10-way dialogue that focused on the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

"We do need to deal with the security problems that are currently bedeviling the region, especially concerns about the nuclear program of the DPRK," Rice said, referring to the North's official name.

Nam said that the United States and Japan, which have promoted a tougher line on the North, were now running out of weapons.

"Further US and Japanese sanctions, which have already been active enough, would have no meaningful impact on North Korea because there have been no brisk exchanges of trade between the US, Japan and North Korea," he said.

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