Tue, Jul 10, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Don't expect North Korea to just roll over

By Richard Halloran

Hearts are fluttering once again among the disarmament folks over renewed hopes that North Korea will finally take the first step toward giving up the nuclear ambitions of its leader, Kim Jong-il.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have visited Yongbyon, site of North Korea's primary nuclear facility. The US negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, has been received in Pyongyang. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔箎) urged Kim last week to move things along. The Six Party Talks central to this process are to resume this month or next.

Skeptics, however, have cautioned that not everything will go well. The Pyongyang regime has a long history of reneging on promises to other nations while keeping promises to the North Korean people, foremost of which is Kim's pledge to retain nuclear arms to deter what he sees as a US threat.

Graham Allison, who specialized in arms control as an assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton Administration and is now at Harvard, wrote recently that even if the Yongbyon plant is disabled, much remains to execute an accord reached in February by the Six Parties -- North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the US. It calls for Pyongyang to shut down all of its nuclear sites.

Allison warned: "Expect lengthy slogging through incomplete records, all in Korean script, missed deadlines, disputes about who can visit where, and all the other antics" that have frustrated those who have dealt with North Korea.

Confronted with this likelihood, the US appears to have evolved a new strategy, which is to play for time by adopting the North Korean tactic of talk, talk and more talk until Kim either gives up his nuclear weapons or his regime collapses. Whiffs of dissent have recently been wafting from Pyongyang, making regime change a possibility.

Said a US insider privy to this scenario: "The US will take note of North Korea's nuclear weapons but we will never accept North Korea as a nuclear nation. We will never tolerate a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons."

The game afoot has ruled out military action to destroy Pyongyang's nuclear sites. Bombs and cruise missiles could do enormous damage but would most likely trigger a North Korean attack on South Korea. Tens of thousands of South Koreans would die in artillery barrages before South Korean and US forces could overrun North Korean positions.

Instead, in this developing strategy, US negotiators will continue talking while implementing what might be called the five "Nots." The US will not:

■ extend diplomatic recognition to North Korea, thus depriving it of a status that Kim is said to be eager to attain;

■ sign a treaty replacing the truce that ended the Korean War of 1950 to 1953 because North Korea will not give assurances it will reduce its forces along the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas;

■ remove the threat of US nuclear weapons that could strike North Korea from submarines in the Pacific or with ballistic missiles or bombers based in the US;

■ offer substantial economic aid to a North Korea that has been stricken with famine, limping industrial output and financial disruption for a decade;

■ open trade and investment relations with a nation that, like China, could benefit from access to US markets, technology and capital.

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