Sat, Dec 18, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Raising tensions, now North Korea even defies China

Kim Jong-il is blithely playing off the world’s great powers against one another, and the result is diplomatic meltdown

By Simon Tisdall  /  The Guardian, LONDON

Evidently worried by the North’s defiant insouciance, Russia announced on Tuesday it had raised the alert status of its forces in the country’s far east.

“Without a doubt, we have taken measures to increase the combat-readiness of our forces,” a military spokesman said, adding the army was “continuing to monitor” the situation.

Differences of approach are also evident between Japan and South Korea, suspicious old enemies yet to be fully united in a common cause. In South Korea itself, the fallout from last month’s attack has been damaging, prompting financial market jitters, the resignation of the army chief and the defense minister, and severe criticism of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. If the North’s aim was to sow confusion, it has succeeded — and not only in Seoul.

Two things seem clear from all of this: First, that the various parties to this crisis need to form a united front if they are to have any chance of inducing the North to behave more responsibly. Second, that at present they are incapable of doing so.

Maybe it’s time for a fresh approach. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, an experienced freelance mediator who specialized in rogue regimes under former US president Bill Clinton, arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday. In his time, Richardson has dealt face-to-face with the likes of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and the North Koreans. Perhaps he will have more luck than the diplomats in bringing order to chaos.

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