Thursday, October 12, 2006

Trying to Put the Squeeze on North Korea..

Harsh consequences may be coming, but the U.S. is running into roadblocks in seeking agreement on what those consequences should be By TONY KARON Analysis: What North Korea Wants Posted Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 It might have been expected that, three days after North Korea announced a nuclear test in defiance of the international community, the rogue regime would be suffering harsh consequences. Not yet, anyway. The U.N. Security Council appears divided as to just how harsh those consequences ought to be. What's more, the Bush Administration's strenuous assurances that it has no plans to attack North Korea — even as it defends its continued refusal to talk directly to the regime in Pyongyang — are pointers to some of the difficulties facing Washington's efforts to put the squeeze on Pyongyang. The Security Council appears unlikely to pass a sanctions resolution before the end of this week. The Council appears unanimous in condemning North Korea, and in the belief that the regime must pay a price for crossing a red line. But veto-wielding Council members such as Russia and China, as well as South Korea, want to ensure that any U.N. response advances, rather than retards, a plausible scenario for resolving the crisis — and the only endgame they're prepared to countenance is a return to the negotiating table. "We condemn this [nuclear test]," Russia's President Vladimir Putin told a German newspaper Wednesday, "but we must not break off the process of talks." And China, while joining the call for its longtime friend and neighbor to face sanctions as punishment for its transgression, nonetheless added that such sanctions would have to be "appropriate" and "prudent." Added a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman: "The only way to resolve this issue is to get all the parties back to the negotiating table." China and South Korea — nations that North Korea depends on for vital food and energy supplies — have traditionally opposed sanctions that would put the squeeze on the regime, for fear that its collapse would send millions of refugees across their borders, and that a sense of mortal danger would likely provoke the heavily armed North Korean regime to lash out militarily. There is also a fear that proposed measures such as the interdiction of all shipping in and out of North Korean ports might actually escalate the confrontation. Its track record suggests that North Korea tends to respond to pressure by raising the ante rather than by folding. North Korea continued talking tough Wednesday, suggesting that if international pressure continues, it will conduct a second nuclear test. (That, of course, could be the cynical spin on a second test that may already be in the works.) But North Korea is also playing a diplomatic game, stressing that it is "ready for both dialogue and confrontation." It has blamed the U.S. for the collapse of the six-party process, and insisted that it remains ready to return to those talks if existing sanctions are dropped. To the extent that it indicates a willingness to revive the basic deal discussed at those talks, that could put diplomatic pressure on the U.S. Dropping sanctions, of course, is the last thing anyone has in mind right now. Japan has already implemented some new ones of its own, cutting all imports from North Korea (mushrooms, coal and shellfish) and prohibiting North Korean vessels from docking at its ports. Although the U.S. has no trade or similar ties with North Korea, it could also use its dominant role in the international banking system to tighten the squeeze on North Korean funds imposed by the financial sanctions adopted a year ago. But the appetite of others to follow suit appears to be limited. The U.S. may also be struggling to get its way at the Security Council because of doubts over the wisdom with which the Bush Administration has handled North Korea until now. Its refusal to talk directly with the North Korean regime over the past six years is seen in Beijing and Seoul as partly responsible for the failure of the existing diplomatic process to prevent North Korea testing a nuclear weapon, and pressure for the U.S. to reverse its refusal to talk directly to Pyongyang continues. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Wednesday reiterated the call for direct talks. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's rejection of such talks on the grounds that the U.S. alone lacks leverage with North Korea is unlikely to impress those who see offering Pyongyang security guarantees as the key to achieving its disarmament. The U.S., after all, and not China or South Korea, is the country that North Korea most views as a mortal threat. So, while the Security Council this week will certainly punish North Korea for its nuclear provocation, the likelihood is that such punishment will be measured with a view to restarting the six-party process. The end game, as ever, remains persuading North Korea to disarm in exchange for a package of political, economic and security incentives.

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