Seoul (AFP) Nov 13, 2006
South Korea confirmed Monday it would not join a US-led initiative to inspect cargo to and from nuclear-armed North Korea for fear of sparking naval clashes, despite US pressure to take part. It also announced it would not take any new steps to enforce UN sanctions imposed on the North following its October 9 nuclear test, saying it already had stronger measures in place than any other country.
Seoul's "sunshine" engagement policy with the North -- in particular two joint projects which have earned Pyongyang almost a billion dollars -- has come in for fierce criticism since the test.
It has also come under US pressure to join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) drills to curbs shipments of weapons of mass destruction.
Seoul and other nations must report to the United Nations by Monday on steps they are taking to comply with the sanctions, which authorise cargo inspections among other measures.
"The government has declared that it has a special status of officially supporting the goals and principles of the PSI while not formally joining it, in consideration of special circumstances on the Korean Peninsula," said deputy foreign minister for arms control, Park In-Kook.
He said this would end the possibility of naval clashes off the peninsula.
Park said Seoul was "faithfully implementing measures" aimed at stopping North Korea from trading in weapons of mass destruction and related items.
The government would modify or strengthen existing regulations to fulfil its commitments more faithfully.
Late last month, the government announced a travel ban on North Korean officials involved with weapons programmes and said it was tightening inspections of goods and materials shipped to the North.
The unification ministry told the same press conference it had already taken various punitive measures, regardless of the UN sanctions, since Pyongyang's July missile tests.
"The government has suspended some 80 percent of the total volume of inter-Korean economic cooperation since the July missile tests," said deputy minister Lee Kwan-Sei.
Out of the previously-agreed 454 million dollars of economic exchanges this year, only 94 million dollars had been spent by the South, Lee said.
"It is a stronger measure than any other countries have taken so far," he added.
After the missile tests, South Korea suspended regular humanitarian aid shipments to the North worth tens of millions of dollars.
Lee also said Seoul had suspended a government subsidy for tours by students or the disabled to the Mount Kumgang resort, and was suspending its plan to expand the industrial estate at Kaesong.
The two projects in the North are funded by the South, which has vowed to maintain them as a symbol of rapprochement.
The main opposition Grand National Party blasted the government's refusal to undertake cargo searches.
"This is a declaration that it will voluntarily isolate itself from the international community. If security collapses on the Korean Peninsula, the ruling party should take all responsibility," said spokesperson Na Kyung-Won.
Officials have said they did not want to further alienate the North, after it agreed this month to return to six-nation talks on scrapping its nuclear programme.
The International Crisis Group, in a report published Monday, said the Seoul administration was deeply split.
The foreign and defence ministries wanted to get tougher with the North while the presidency and unification ministry remained committed to engagement, it said.
The UN sanctions demand the elimination of all North Korean nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
They provide for a travel ban on officials working on such programmes and a ban targeting missiles, tanks, large artillery systems, warships and combat aircraft.
Shipments of luxury goods are also banned.
earlier related report
The announcement came as Seoul reported to the United Nations the list of measures it has taken or will take in line with the Security Council's resolution on North Korea's nuclear test on Oct. 9.
"The (South Korean) government supports the purpose and principles of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)," Deputy Foreign Minister Park In-kook told a press conference.
But South Korea has a "special status" that does not allow it to formally join the U.S.-led campaign, referring to its geopolitical situation facing lingering threats from the North.
"Because of the special circumstances we are in, we are declaring that we are not formally joining (in the PSI)," Park said. "We will adjust the scope of our participation at our discretion."
Officials said Seoul's participation may lead to armed clashes in the Korean peninsula, which is technically in a state of war with North Korea as their 1950-53 armed conflict ended without a peace treaty. Their border is the world's last Cold War flashpoint, with nearly 2 million troops on both sides.
Launched by President George W. Bush in 2003, the PSI aims to halt trade that facilitates the construction of weapons of mass destruction and includes stopping and searching ships on the high seas. North Korea is a primary target of the PSI.
Seoul, which has participated in the program only as an observer, is concerned stopping and searching North Korean ships may lead to clashes with the North.
"Our declaration of holding this special status in the PSI could exclude the possibility of an armed clash in waters between the two Koreas," Lee Kwan-se, head of the Unification Ministry's public relations office, said at the press conference.
Lee said South Korea has already participated in maneuvers, other than the PSI, to control weapons of mass destruction, including the 2004 inter-Korean maritime agreement on sea cargo that can be used to check the North's suspicious shipments passing through the South's territorial waters.
Lee said South Korea has also been implementing the U.N. resolution by regulating cross-border trade and suspending food and economic aid.
"Some 80 percent of inter-Korean trade and economic aid to the North have been halted," Lee said. "These are stronger than measures taken by any other country," he said.
Seoul's decision comes in defiance of a U.S. request to join its PSI efforts to curb the trade of weapons of massive destruction and related materials by North Korea and other "rogue" states.
The rejection seemed to be backed by the Democrats' victory in last week's U.S. Congressional elections, which raised hopes in Seoul that the Bush administration may soften its stance against North Korea.
Seoul officials also cited the North's recent agreement to resume the six-party nuclear talks as another factor behind their decision to abstain from the PSI campaign.
Earlier, South Korean officials had vowed to increase their role in the nonproliferation initiative against North Korea to punish its nuclear weapon test.
The country's ruling Uri Party has pressed the government to withdraw its decision, saying it could trigger armed conflicts on the peninsula. Civic groups have staged rallies against Seoul's participation in the campaign
But the country's opposition Grand National Party blasted the government's refusal to undertake cargo searches. "This is a declaration that South Korea will voluntarily isolate itself from the international community. The ruling camp should take all responsibility," party spokesperson Na Kyung-won said in a statement.
"South Korea is the main victim of North Korea's nuclear threat so it should take a bigger role in curbing shipments of weapons of mass destruction," said Nam Joo-hong, a strategy expert at Kyonggi University in Seoul.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Nuclear Japan Would Cause Huge Damage Warns Russia
Tokyo (AFP) Nov 13, 2006
A Russian envoy on Monday warned Japan against developing nuclear weapons, saying it would set off a nuclear arms race and cause "huge damage" to regional stability. Top Japanese lawmakers have called for Japan to debate the long-time taboo on developing nuclear weapons in the wake of North Korea's test of an atom bomb last month.
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