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North Korean Progress Still As Elusive As Ever

"We really have fundamentally different interests," Derek J. Mitchell of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told UPI. Photo courtesy of AFP.
By Michael Mclaughlin, Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Jul 22, 2006
The United States and four other key players in East Asia found an elusive unity in their condemnation of North Korea's missile test a month ago. But experts say divergent national interests will challenge the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea in their campaign to jumpstart talks aimed at pressuring the Kim Jong Il regime to end its nuclear program.

"We need to work hard to maintain the current unity of purpose about North Korea that has emerged," said Arnold Kanter of The Scowcroft Group, a consulting company founded by former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Thursday in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The "purpose" is to deter North Korea from further developing its nuclear weapons program, according to Kanter, who served as under secretary of state in George Herbert Walker Bush's administration.

"Anything less than resoluteness creates a tremendously unstable environment," Michael Needham of The Heritage Foundation told United Press International.

The State Department was adamant over the importance of sustained international cooperation. "The notion that you can make progress without the six-party process is a notion that is not validated," said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, referring to the six-party talks that stalled last November after Pyongyang rejected U.S. financial sanctions based on charges it counterfeited U.S. currency and trafficked drugs.

Senators questioned Hill about Asian press reports that Iranian envoys had witnessed the July 4 missile test-launchings. He said it was his understanding that one or more Iranians were in attendance, but later told reporters outside the committee room the reports are unconfirmed.

The U.N. Security Council on July 15 unanimously passed Resolution 1695 condemning North Korea's launch of seven ballistic missiles and demanding the suspension of its ballistic missile program. It also banned the tranfer of missile technology and related materials from outside countries to the North.

Six-party talks began after North Korea withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 2003. Different regional visions lie behind the consensus among the nations involved that North Korea ought not possess nuclear weapons.

"We really have fundamentally different interests," Derek J. Mitchell of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told UPI.

The United States sees North Korea as a security threat and "in Japan, you have similar interests. North Korea explicitly views Japan with hostility," Mitchell said, adding this fear was not shared to the same degree by all.

'South Korea you think would have similar security perception as ours, but they don`t take the nuclear weapons threat that seriously. They are much more concerned with reconciliation' and 'stability on the peninsula at all costs,' Mitchell told UPI.

'China is similar to South Korea, they don`t want instability. They don`t want refugees flowing across the border,' Mitchell said.

The actions of the isolated North Korean government are tough to understand for Americans, according to Hill. 'We`re left to speculate' at what they want to gain, he said, noting that Pyongyang may well have intended to demonstrate its military strength with the missile tests to fortify its bargaining position. Alternately, domestic pressures from the Communist Party or high-level members of the military could have forced Kim Jung Il to fire the weapons.

Regardless, analysts insist that managing the differences among the five partners for a long period of time will be difficult.

'The current situation cannot hold. It`s inherently unstable,' Hill said.

China`s influence in North Korea is considered the key to eliciting a compromise with its ally. China supplies North Korea with food and fuel to help with the latter`s chronic shortages in both areas.

'China has pressure to put on them,' Needham said, conceding that brokering an agreement is 'going to be very tough if the Chinese are not interested in putting the pressure on them that needs to happen.'

There are concerns China might not be able to compel North Korea to comply with international goals, despite its leverage on its neighbor.

'The questions is whether they can really create change in Korea, but I`m not sure they have than kind of lever. They have concerns about what would happen if they shut down food and fuel,' Mitchell said. North Korea 'might feel more threatened,' if China cuts off aid, he added.

Malaysia`s foreign minister Thursday announced six-party talks may resume in his country on the sidelines of a regional security summit next week which Secretary Rice and representatives from South Korea, Japan, Russia and China are slated to attend. However, analysts hold that a breakthrough is not forthcoming.

'Pyongyang has probably given up on the Bush administration as a negotiating partner. They will wait for another American administration two years down the pike,' said Morton Abramowitz of the Century Foundation in his Senate testimony Thursday.

'I think there could be six-party talks, but progress? No, almost assuredly,' said Mitchell.

Source: United Press International

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