Wed, Dec 24, 2003 - Page 5 News List

No Libya-style deal for N Korea, experts forecast

AFP , BEIJING

North Korea is not likely to follow down the path now trodden by Libya, allowing intrusive foreign inspections in return for a place in the international community, analysts said yesterday.

The isolated regime in Pyongyang is far too fond of the diplomatic uses of its nuclear program, far too suspicious of the outside world, and far too concerned that a Libya-type deal will yield little tangible benefit.

"North Korea has a severe problem with the US in terms of trust," said Lee Geun, a professor of international relations at Seoul National University.

"It's not confident that it will indeed receive economic assistance and normalization of relations with the United States."

Libya's pledge on Friday to renounce weapons of mass destruction is just the latest piece of bad news for North Korea's beleaguered regime.

With the collapse of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and a decision by Iran to allow scrutiny of its atomic program, North Korea is the only member of the "axis of evil" to have no movement towards a solution.

Planned six-country talks on the 14-month crisis over the resumption of North Korea's nuclear programme, originally expected this month in Beijing, have now been pushed into next year.

But while it may be facing mounting diplomatic pressure following the Libya deal, North Korea is unlikely to rush into an agreement with the US.

North Korea's desperate economic situation adds to the pressure on its government to drive a hard bargain and ensure it gets an attractive deal.

It has almost no products the outside world would like to buy, unlike Libya, which derives 95 percent of its foreign currency earnings from oil exports.

At the same time, for North Korea to give up its nuclear program would mean abandoning one of the only reasons why the world takes it seriously in the first place.

"To North Korea, the nuclear program is its strongest bargaining chip," said Lee. "It doesn't have any other bargaining chip vis-a-vis the United States, so it will be very difficult for it to give it up."

North Korea may still have one of the largest militaries in the world, but given America's crushing might, that will act as a deterrence only against South Korea and Japan, he said.

A key factor forming an obstacle to a Libya scenario being replayed in North Korea is the country's entrenched culture of secrecy.

Given the regime's suspicion of foreigners, observers wonder if it would suddenly open its borders to teams of prying inspectors.

"I would think that's very doubtful," said Ralph Hassig, co-author of the book North Korea through the Looking Glass.

For North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il, there may be a powerful incentive in seeing Libya's Muammar Qaddafi survive politically from a deal with the hated Americans.

"The Libyan example shows that leadership transformation is possible even while the same leaders stay in power," said Cha.

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