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NKorean disarmament stalled by possible succession: Clinton

The United States is "going to be engaged" in reviving the denuclearisation process after sounding out both South Korea and China, the next and last leg of her tour, "about the best way to succeed". Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Feb 19, 2009
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday a looming leadership change in North Korea seems to have stalled its nuclear disarmament and that a new strategy is needed to break the deadlock.

Clinton also said there was a "pressing need" for the United States and its partners in six-party disarmament talks to "figure out" how they would deal with North Korea's stated plans to test fire a long-range missile.

Clinton suggested that North Korea may be taking a harder line in the talks as a result of behind-the-scenes moves to find a successor to leader Kim Jong-Il, who was reported to have had a stroke last August.

It was the first time that Clinton, speaking to reporters on the plane to Seoul, had singled out the succession issue in the secretive Stalinist state as the apparent cause of the deadlock in the six-party talks.

The disarmament negotiations involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

"I think this is an especially important time for South Korea as they are confronting a lot of worries about what's up in North Korea, what the succession could be, what it means for them," Clinton told reporters.

"And they're looking to us to use our best efforts to get the agenda of denuclearisation and non-proliferation back in gear," Clinton said on the plane taking her from Jakarta to Seoul on the third leg of her Asia tour.

The six-party talks have "produced some results which we want to build on but we are still facing the reality of North Korea not only possessing, we believe, some number of nuclear weapons but showing very little willingness to get back on track," she said.

"And now some of that is attributed to their own internal situation which I will discuss with the South Koreans," Clinton said.

"But I think our goal is to come up with a strategy that is effective in influencing the behavior of the North Koreans at a time when the whole leadership situation is somewhat unclear," she said.

The United States is "going to be engaged" in reviving the denuclearisation process after sounding out both South Korea and China, the next and last leg of her tour, "about the best way to succeed".

The North, which tested an atomic weapon in 2006, has shut down its plutonium-producing reactor in return for energy aid as part of a 2007 six-nation pact.

But talks on the next stage -- full denuclearisation in return for diplomatic ties with Washington and a formal peace treaty -- are deadlocked by disputes over verifying its acknowledged nuclear activities.

Pyongyang has staked out a tough stance, saying it may not give up nuclear weapons even after normalised ties as long as a US nuclear threat remains.

Analysts say any missile test would aim to strengthen its bargaining hand.

Clinton left the door open to holding talks on the ballistic missiles under the six-party umbrella.

"I think there is a pressing need for us to figure out how we're going to engage on that," she said.

Clinton also planned to "spend a lot of time trying to determine from the South Koreans and the Chinese what their information is (about the succession) because obviously they have a lot of sources they can share with us.

"Everybody is trying to sort of read the tea leaves about what's happening and what's likely to occur. There is a lot of guessing going on," Clinton said.

"But there's also an increasing amount of pressure because if there is a succession, even if it's a peaceful succession, that creates more uncertainty and it also may encourage behaviors that are even more provocative as a way to consolidate power within the society," she added.

related report
Clinton in SKorea, focused on NKorea's nukes
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in South Korea Thursday for talks on reviving nuclear disarmament negotiations with North Korea, which she said had stalled over a looming leadership change.

After a visit to Indonesia aimed at making a new start with the Muslim world, North Korea's decades-old drive for atomic weaponry looked set to dominate her stay in Seoul.

Six-nation talks aimed at disarming the communist country are deadlocked and the North is apparently preparing to test its longest-range missile, while turning up the heat on close US ally South Korea.

Clinton, in comments to reporters on her plane, suggested that the North may be taking a harder line in the disarmament talks because of behind-the-scenes moves to find a successor to leader Kim Jong-Il, who was reported to have suffered a stroke last August.

She also said there was a "pressing need" for the US and its partners in the talks to "figure out" how they would deal with North Korea's stated plans to test fire the long-range missile.

"I think this is an especially important time for South Korea as they are confronting a lot of worries about what's up in North Korea, what the succession could be, what it means for them," she said.

"And they're looking to us to use our best efforts to get the agenda of denuclearisation and non-proliferation back in gear."

The six-party talks have "produced some results which we want to build on but we are still facing the reality of North Korea not only possessing, we believe, some number of nuclear weapons but showing very little willingness to get back on track", she said.

"And now some of that is attributed to their own internal situation which I will discuss with the South Koreans," Clinton said.

"But I think our goal is to come up with a strategy that is effective in influencing the behaviour of the North Koreans at a time when the whole leadership situation is somewhat unclear."

The forum groups the two Koreas, Russia, the US, Japan and China.

The North, which tested an atomic weapon in 2006, has shut down its plutonium-producing reactor in return for energy aid as part of a 2007 deal.

But talks on the next stage -- full denuclearisation in return for diplomatic ties with Washington and a formal peace treaty -- are deadlocked by disputes over verifying its acknowledged nuclear activities.

Pyongyang has staked out a tough stance, saying it may not give up nuclear weapons even after normalised ties as long as a US nuclear threat remains.

Analysts say any missile test would aim to strengthen its bargaining position.

Clinton left the door open to holding talks on ballistic missiles under the six-party umbrella.

"I think there is a pressing need for us to figure out how we're going to engage on that," she said.

Clinton's agenda in Indonesia was more relaxed.

Crowds clapped and smiled as she visited projects funded by US aid money in Jakarta's Petojo slum area, on the second day of her trip to President Barack Obama's former home town.

She met President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono earlier Thursday and said afterwards that Washington wanted Jakarta's "advice and counsel about how to reach out not only to the Muslim world but to Asia and beyond".

As a thriving democracy, Southeast Asia's largest economy and a moderate Muslim country, she said Indonesia was an obvious inclusion on her four-country swing through Asia, which began in Japan and will end in China.

By visiting Indonesia on her first trip abroad in her new job, Clinton said she wanted to show that the United States was not completely distracted by China and was ready to re-engage with Asia after years of neglect under Bush.

In Seoul Friday the secretary of state was expected to hold talks with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan and have a working lunch with President Lee Myung-Bak.

She was also to be briefed by General Walter Sharp, commander of 28,500 US troops stationed in the South, and to hold a "town hall" meeting at Ewha Women's University before departing for Beijing.

South Korea, a close US ally, has been subjected to increasingly strident threats from North Korea.

Early Thursday the North's military said it was "fully ready" for war with the South in response to what it termed confrontational policies by Seoul's conservative government.

South Korea's navy is on alert for any clash around the disputed Yellow Sea border.

On other issues, South Korea will push the United States for early Congressional ratification of a sweeping free trade agreement.

Foreign Minister Yu and Clinton also plan to reaffirm their governments' commitment to combating climate change and rebuilding Afghanistan, Seoul officials say.

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NKorea looms large over Clinton's Seoul visit
Seoul (AFP) Feb 18, 2009
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives Thursday in South Korea to grapple with the issue that has overshadowed her Asian tour -- how to handle a nuclear-armed and missile-capable North Korea.







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