Washington (AFP) Jan 7, 2009
North Korea will be an "early challenge" for Barack Obama, as the United States remains locked in a tense standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, US President George W. Bush's top foreign policy advisor said in remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday.
North Korea will test Obama, who takes office on January 20, by trying to split with international negotiations aimed at verifying whether Pyongyang is stepping down its nuclear program, US national security adviser Stephen Hadley said.
"Without this verification agreement, there can be no progress," he said.
The disarmament talks -- involving the United States, the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan -- collapsed in Beijing in December after failing to reach agreement on how to determine if the secretive nation is telling the truth about its atomic programs.
Some people in the intelligence community "have increasing concerns that North Korea has an ongoing covert uranium enrichment program," said Hadley, who was to address the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Pyongyang "will test the new administration by once again trying to split the six parties.
"When its efforts to do so fail, North Korea will need to accept a verification agreement -- so we can verify the disablement and then dismantlement of that country's nuclear capabilities."
Hadley, a foreign policy operative with close ideological ties to Bush allies Vice President Dick Cheney and former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, is expected to argue that the Asia-Pacific region is of "increasing importance to America's security and economic well being."
Pyongyang, meanwhile, has stepped up its combative tone with Washington.
The ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, accused the United States of planning a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea.
"The US war-thirsty forces' moves to mount a preemptive nuclear attack are assuming an increasing danger," it said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il visited military units Monday in his first public appearance of 2009.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted Kim as saying North Korea is "invulnerable" and that strengthening the country "is sure to be accomplished as it has this matchless great army that has become steel-strong."
US, Japan hopeful on Obama approach to NKorea
Japan has taken a hard line against North Korea -- often putting Tokyo at odds with Washington -- demanding the communist state give a fuller account of Japanese civilians it kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies.
Outgoing US ambassador Thomas Schieffer, who has often voiced sympathy for Japan's position, said he would advise the Obama administration to take the issue "very seriously".
"I am confident that when he thinks about it, President Obama will understand the issue," Schieffer told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
North Korea in 2002 admitted to the kidnappings and let five victims return to Japan. But it said others were dead including the best-known victim, Megumi Yokota, who was 13 when agents snatched her on a seashore in 1977.
"You are looking at a new president who has young daughters and you cannot hear (Megumi's) story without thinking about your own children and what you would feel if someone took away your child from your home," Schieffer said.
His remarks were echoed by Kyoko Nakayama, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso's special assistant on the abduction issue, during a visit to Washington.
"I was briefed that the next administration will be fully aware of the importance of the abduction issue and continue making efforts toward its resolution," Nakayama told reporters after talks with Christopher Hill, the US chief negotiator with North Korea.
Hill "told me there is no doubt about it", she said.
Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, brokered the 2007 deal under which North Korea agreed to end its nuclear drive in exchange for security guarantees and badly needed fuel aid.
Japan refused to provide any aid to North Korea due to the abductions, locking horns with the other nations in the six-way deal that also includes China, Russia, the two Koreas and the United States.
But the United States announced last month that all countries were suspending fuel shipments after talks broke down on how to verify disarmament by North Korea, which tested an atom bomb in 2006.
Japan's Kyodo News agency, quoting an unnamed source in Washington, said Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton had asked former Harvard professor Kurt Campbell to succeed Hill as assistant secretary for Asia.
Campbell is well liked by many policymakers in Japan, with which he negotiated on military cooperation during Bill Clinton's presidency.
But Kyodo said the Obama administration was also looking to create a new post as special envoy on North Korea and that Hill could stay on.
Campbell, writing on a New York Times blog in 2007, faulted George W. Bush's administration for not engaging enough with Asia.
"The Bush administration may indeed have decided to take the risk of focusing almost exclusively on Iraq, but there are growing anxieties not only of failure there but of mounting problems elsewhere where the United States has chosen to scale back its engagement, notably in Asia," Campbell wrote.
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NKorea resumes anti-US rhetoric
Seoul (AFP) Jan 2, 2009
North Korea Friday resumed its criticism of the United States, a day after dropping its customary harsh words from a policy-setting New Year message.
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