South Korea’s coast guard said yesterday it was drawing up guidelines on how to inspect North Korean ships suspected of carrying banned items — a move expected to enrage Pyongyang, which has warned it would consider such inspections a declaration of war.
The move came as a senior US diplomat met with South Korea’s nuclear envoy about implementing UN sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its latest nuclear test and getting the communist regime to return to talks on its nuclear program.
Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, also held talks in Japan and was expected in Thailand yesterday for Asia’s main security conference, where North Korea should be a key topic.
“We need to make sure that we’re extremely closely coordinated in a very critical period ahead,” Campbell said at the start of a meeting with Seoul’s nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac.
Wi said the two allies should work closely together to implement the UN sanctions, which include ship searches, and resume stalled nuclear talks.
North Korea quit the talks aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions in April in anger over a UN rebuke after it launched a long-range rocket. It also conducted a nuclear test in May and a series of banned ballistic missile tests early this month.
Campbell on Saturday had urged the impoverished North to return to six-party talks, warning it would otherwise face more isolation and economic hardship.
“Truth of the matter is, down this path North Korea has chosen lie greater tensions, greater hardships for its people, more isolation and lack of engagement in the international economy,” he told journalists.
“I think it’s unsustainable, and we believe that over time, North Korea will ultimately choose to re-engage,” he said.
The stalled talks involved China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the US.
Pyongyang’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong-nam, said last week that the talks were permanently over because the US and its allies did not respect North Korea’s sovereignty.
South Korea’s move to draw up the ship inspection guidelines is in line with latest UN sanctions that clamp down on North Korea’s alleged trading of banned arms and weapons-related material, a key source of hard currency for the impoverished nation.
A coast guard official said the guidelines would call for inspecting North Korean ships traveling in South Korean waters if there is concrete evidence they carry banned items. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the issue’s sensitivity, did not give details.
A North Korea ship suspected of heading toward Myanmar with a cargo of banned items turned back home earlier this month after surveillance by the US Navy as part of the UN resolution.