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North Korea Progress Unlikely

North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il.
by Staff Writers
Washington (UPI) Sep 18, 2006
While U.S. President George Bush was meeting President Roh, his South Korean counterpart, last week in Washington, North Korean officials were preparing to attend the summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement of nations which was held in Havana, Cuba over the weekend.

There they were able to make friendly with such strong critics of U.S. foreign policy as President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. At the same time they argued, to a sympathetic audience, that they had the right to a civilian nuclear energy program, and the need for a nuclear weapons program to deter a perceived U.S. threat.

North Korea has always been a difficult country to read and to deal with. Senior Chinese military officers told one American scholar that the North Koreans were "stubborn and irrational."

Nevertheless, Chinese diplomats and many American policy analysts believed a window of opportunity existed up until last year to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program in a verifiable manner in return for political recognition by the U.S. and security guarantees.

In 2002 North Korea admitted that it had a highly enriched uranium program and had resumed reprocessing plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. This effectively spelled the end of the 1994 Agreed Framework between North Korea and the Clinton administration. In August 2003 China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia, and the United States met in Beijing to explore a diplomatic solution to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, launching a process known as the Six Party talks.

The high point in the talks was reached on Sep 19, 2005, when both the U.S. and North Korea signed on to an agreement on principles for settling the North Korean nuclear issue. No sooner was the agreement signed, however, than it was torpedoed by mutual and contradictory "clarifications" of its meaning from both sides. These made it clear that the agreement, which could have been the basis of detailed negotiations on how to implement it, was going nowhere.

For North Korea's foreign ministry this was a disaster. Government bureaucracies rank low on the North Korean totem pole, below the party, the military, and at the top the Dear Leader himself, Kim Jong-il. Tellingly Kim's took as his first position of power after his father, Kim Il-sung died, the chairmanship of the National Defense Commission.

The job of the foreign ministry was to secure political recognition and security through diplomacy and when they failed to deliver they were harshly criticized by the military establishment. One South Korean who has met with high level North Korean military officials said he observed a major shouting match between military leaders and government officials.

The North Korean test launch of seven missiles on July 4 this year, including a Taepodong 2 with the potential to reach the U.S., was probably in part a response to this situation. South Korean analysts describe it either as Kim offering some red meat to his angry and frustrated generals, or as him trying to get out ahead of them. There are reports that Kim was seriously considering a nuclear test last July before being dissuaded.

Despite this things may now be settling down although not moving forward. South Korean observers with contacts in the north report that the leadership there does not believe there is the will in the White House to reach a settlement. They now expect any diplomatic initiatives to be blocked and so have no interest in returning to the Six Party talks. Instead they will wait to see what the next administration brings.

This is not an encouraging picture but if this analysis is correct there is one positive. North Korea would be unlikely to conduct a nuclear test while playing a waiting game unless further goaded by the extension of sanctions against North Korea that some in the administration are advocating. The U.S. and South Korea continue to pursue very different approaches to North Korea. The U.S. sees North Korea in terms of a security and nonproliferation threat that has to be dealt with before any of North Korea's issues are addressed. South Korea seeks to transform the north gradually over time through a policy of engagement. This is symbolized by the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea, an hour's drive from Seoul, where South Korean capital, management and technology combine with North Korean labor to produce a range of modern goods.

Recently there have been fears that these differences would drive a wedge into the 60-year U.S.-South Korean alliance. Last week's summit represented a determined attempt by both sides to pull back, play down differences and stress the ongoing importance of the alliance. They spoke jointly of reviving the Six Party process and bringing North Korea back to the table.

It is certainly better than squabbling in public but the harsh reality is that most observers consider the Six Party talks dead. Expanded sanctions, if implemented, would certainly not induce the North Koreans to return. At a conference last week on North Korea, cosponsored by the Brookings institute and the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, several speakers pointed out that waiting until the next administration for further progress would have a cost. North Korea's nuclear weapons program would be more firmly entrenched and the price for them ending it would be that much higher.

Source: United Press International

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