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North Korea and the Bomb

Comment and analysis from 15 newspapers in Seoul, Pyongyang, Sydney, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Karachi, London, and Vancouver

A North Korean soldier peers in at inspectors
A North Korean soldier in the Demilitarized Zone on the border between North and South Korea (Photo: Choi Jae-ku/AFP).
Seoul Dong-A Ilbo (independent), April 28: At a time when no other pending issue between North Korea and South Korea is more urgent than the renunciation of North Korea’s nuclear program, people are watching to see whether the [South Korean] government will do anything beyond promising to deliver a new aid package. If the government is willing and able to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear program, the current round of North-South ministerial-level talks is an opportunity to demonstrate that.

Seoul Choson Ilbo (conservative), April 26: President Roh Moo-hyon’s upcoming visit to the United States must serve as an opportunity for the leaders of South Korea and the United States to ask North Korea to choose between “catastrophe and coexistence” and to come up with a joint strategy for each and every possible situation. 

Seoul The Korea Herald (independent, English-language), April 21: North Korea has seldom disproved those who believe that it is an extremely shrewd, confounding, and reckless negotiator. This may be Kim Jong-Il’s final moment to call an end to his dangerous game. Once again, Kim may be calculating that his double-edged tactic will work—to help the South’s toddler administration save face and acquire direly needed aid to sustain its starving population through a season of severe hunger. Undoubtedly, North Korea’s apparent peace overtures are helping to ease the anguish of the Roh administration when it is despairing over being left out of the upcoming talks in Beijing. It seems almost certain that the Roh administration will comply with North Korea’s wishes.

Seoul
The Korea Times (independent, English-language), April 21: What worries the Bush administration most about North Korea’s reprocessing of spent fuel rods is that it will enable the unpredictable North to churn out at least one nuclear warhead a month, in addition to the two atomic bombs Pyongyang reportedly already possesses. The second concern is North Korea’s possible export of nuclear arms to such countries as Syria and Iran, which are on a collision course with Washington.

Seoul Taehan Maeil (government-owned), April 30: The United States is said to have asked the South Korean government for the provision of 5 million p’yong of land [10,255 miles] around U.S. bases in P’yongt’aek and Osan by 2005 in order to relocate the U.S. Second Division in northern Kyonggi Province and the Yongsan base in Seoul to P’yongt’aek and Osan [further South]….It appears the United States has been voluntarily pursuing the issue of moving U.S. forces in keeping with the changes in its global security strategy. We would like to ask whether the United States plans only to notify South Korea of [its decision] without consultations even though the South Korean government has expressed its position that any discussion of moving U.S. forces should come after the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program has been resolved.

Pyongyang Korean Central News Agency (English-language, government-owned), April 30: The United States again seeks to refer the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program to the United Nations in the wake of the North Korean-U.S. talks held in Beijing to find a solution to the nuclear issue….This is one more intolerable challenge to their partner in dialogue as the United States clearly proves it is escalating its desperate moves to put international pressure on North Korea and bring it to its knees by internationalizing the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula under the abused name of the United Nations.

Tokyo Yomiuri Shimbun (conservative), May 1: We regret to say that the Sunshine Policy advocated by former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and policies taken by current President Roh Moo-hyun, who followed Kim’s line, have revealed their limitations….We regret to say that Pyongyang is again resorting to its time-honored tactic of unilaterally precipitating a crisis and then seeking rewards in exchange for backing down. The country should know by now that this trick will not work any longer.

Taipei Taipei Times (liberal, pro-independence, English-language), April 26: There is some justification for applying the individual-level approach to the escalating nuclear crisis between the countries. Close investigation of their upbringing, experience, and convictions—all of which are instructive as to the formation of their personal traits—shows that [George W. Bush and Kim Jong-Il] have much in common. First, both of their fathers were heads of state. Their experiences when growing up and the status they enjoy today are mostly due to who their fathers were….Bush and Kim both have strong beliefs and almost religious faith in their beliefs….As a result, the two have adopted a tit-for-tat attitude toward each other. Although they keep reiterating that the door to negotiations remains open, they have maintained high-handed postures, held fast to their own positions, and expected the other side to give in first. One can’t help worrying that the two leaders’ personal clashes seem to be driving their nations into a game of chicken, in which there are two drivers speeding toward each other from opposite directions of the highway. Each is adopting radical strategies in an attempt to force his opponent into thinking the other side is unpredictable and irrational, and then giving way. The one who compromises is the chicken.
—Liu Te-hai

Sydney The Sydney Morning Herald (centrist), April 26: It did not take long for the shockwaves from Iraq to spread beyond the Middle East. North Korea, paranoiac at the best of times, appears to be giving full vent to a new fear and anger in the wake of U.S. military success in removing the regime of Saddam Hussein. The [April 23-25 talks between the United States, North Korea, and China] in Beijing could not have been expected to produce an immediate end to the confrontation between Pyongyang and Washington. The best that can be said is that the talks remain alive and, with them, the hope of a negotiated solution to the threat to peace now posed by Pyongyang’s belligerent posturing.

Hong Kong South China Morning Post (centrist), April 29: The tripartite talks last week in Beijing…ended without visible progress, as both America and North Korea refused to budge from their previous positions. But, despite the stalemate on the nuclear issue, China is already a winner. It was China, after all, that provided the solution that allowed the United States and North Korea to sit down and talk. The Chinese not only offered Beijing as the venue for talks, but, by agreeing to be a participant, they successfully met opposing demands by both the United States and North Korea—the former had insisted on a multilateral format while the latter wanted a strictly bilateral one. Getting the two sides to talk to each other was itself a big achievement, an achievement that showed the world that China is a major diplomatic player, at least where regional affairs are concerned. China was able to pull it off because no other country has the trust of both the United States and North Korea.
—Frank Ching

Karachi The News (left-wing, English-language), April 26: North Korea’s disclosure that it had nuclear weapons came in response to recent threats made by the United States. The United States, flush with its success in Iraq, was expected to try to crack the tougher North Korean nut before it took on the others on its hit list….North Korea’s admission that it has nuclear weapons—U.S. experts believe it currently has two warheads ready to deploy and the potential to build eight more quickly—could be designed to dampen any expectations Washington might have had of a quick victory. The United States already had a fair idea of the nuclear profile of North Korean military might. This new intelligence, therefore, might not be as much of a surprise as much a clear warning of the socialist state’s determination to defend itself at any cost.

Vancouver The Vancouver Sun (conservative), April 26: No one had much expectation that the trilateral talks would be more than preliminary skirmish. But where Kim fatally miscalculated was the effect his delegate’s bellicosity had on the third party in the room, the host country China. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Chinese government has been the only serious friend and ally Kim has. But China has become increasingly impatient and irritated with Kim’s antics….China supplies 70 percent of North Korea’s fuel and about 30 percent of its food. North Korea has been engulfed by famine and on the verge of economic collapse for nearly 10 years because of drought, failed Marxist economics, and the end of Soviet subsidies. China could quickly knock out the remaining props under the Kim regime and is showing signs of being increasingly willing to consider doing so. The first reason is that Kim is rapidly becoming a…threat to China’s own security….Two U.S. allies [Japan and South Korea] plus Taiwan are already considering how to counter the North Korean threat. At the moment, Japan and Taiwan are looking at missile defense systems. But they could also turn to nuclear deterrents, which Beijing would see as a direct threat to its own security. Building and maintaining a strong working and economic relationship with the United States is also a central pillar of the policies of the new Beijing leadership.

Madrid El País (liberal), April 28: Pyongyang knows that the United States has its limit: the manufacture of new nuclear weapons or passing them on to terrorist groups. But Washington now faces an immense problem. After having attacked Iraq in search of alleged weapons of mass destruction, not resolving the North Korean situation would be tantamount to sending out the message that anyone who has nuclear weapons will be safe from a U.S. attack. 

Madrid El Mundo (centrist), April 26: The United States could attack—and destroy—Pyongyang's atomic reactor. [Former U.S. President Bill] Clinton already weighed this option in 1993, but decided the North's terrible, immediate reprisal would be unacceptable. Regardless of its atomic power, Pyongyang possesses enough conventional artillery along the length of its border to annihilate hundreds of thousands of South Koreans, above all in the Seoul area. It would also kill a large number of the 50,000 North American troops who act as a deterrent force between the two Koreas….The best option [U.S. President George] Bush has for neutralizing the threat Pyongyang poses is not to go to war, but to embark on a credible global nuclear-disarmament program. At the moment he is settling for keeping the dialogue going and trying to contain the beast.

London The Guardian (liberal), April 29: When it became clear last autumn that the United States was going to execute the sentence on Iraq, North Korea went into overdrive. It deliberately revealed its secret uranium-enrichment program to Washington. Since then it has expelled the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors, withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, started up the Yongbyon reactor again, and now claims to have actual nuclear weapons. Should we believe it? Probably not. So far as U.S. intelligence knows, North Korea’s attempts to import high-grade aluminum tubing have been thwarted, and without them the expensive and technically demanding uranium route is unlikely to have produced any actual nuclear weapons yet….The probability is high that the whole thing is a bluff driven by North Korea’s fear that it faces a U.S. attack. So what should the United States do? Nothing hasty. Both sides have played this very badly, but it remains a problem that can be sorted out by diplomacy.
—Gwynne Dyer 

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