Thu, Jul 24, 2003 - Page 9 News List

For all its bluster, Pyongyang probably prefers talks to nukes

By Jane Macartney  /  REUTERS , SINGAPORE

Or, thirdly, a negotiated settlement involving highly intrusive verification that would test North Korean commitment and be virtually impossible to monitor.

"This is the least worst option," Cossa said. Complete verification would be impossible, Pinkston said.

But North Korea would know that yet more breaches -- as in previous agreements -- would bring about the wrath not only of the US, but also of Korea's closest ally, China.

And few expect North Korea to try to sell any fissile material it may possess.

"Why would they part with it?" Pinkston said. "It is more valuable than any money you could get from a terrorist group because a security agreement with the US would be priceless."

And the penalty for a sale would put an end to years of tactics aimed at regime survival.

"The North Koreans understand that if they get caught selling missiles they get a slap on the wrist," Cossa said. "If they get caught selling fissile material then it's all over."

Thus a compromise, although still some time off and with many diplomatic twists and turns en route, is the most likely scenario.

"I don't believe the sky is falling," Cossa said. "If the North Korean aim is survival then at some point they are going to blink.

"They are playing brinkmanship but it is not the Saddam Hussein brinkmanship where you go right over the brink. They have an idea of how far they can go ... and they understand they are out on the ledge right now," he said.

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