Thursday, October 05, 2006

Getting ready to nuke 'em out

US 'cannot allow' nuclear N Korea
The US will not accept a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons, a top US envoy has said, a day after Pyongyang announced plans for a nuclear test.

North Korea must choose either to have a future or to have nuclear weapons "but it cannot have them both", top US negotiator Christopher Hill said.

Mr Hill, Washington's top envoy at stalled six-party talks with North Korea, said the US was rallying its allies in a diplomatic push against Pyongyang.

"I am not prepared at this point to say what we are going to do but I am prepared to say we are not going to wait for a nuclear North Korea, we are not going to accept it," he said.

China has appealed for calm saying it hopes North Korea will "exercise the necessary calm and restraint".

It says the issue should be handled in a revival of six-nation talks.

North Korea announced its plans for a nuclear bomb test on Tuesday, saying it would boost security in the face of US hostility.

It is thought to have developed a handful of warheads but never before announced it would test one.

US and South Korean reports suggest the North has at least one underground test site.

The North appears increasingly angry at sanctions imposed by the US and other countries on North Korean businesses accused of arms sales and illegal activities.

In 2002, it restarted its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and forced two UN nuclear monitors to leave the country. It is unclear how far work has progressed at the plant since then.

North Korea: The Plan for a Nuclear Test (May need a ticket to read)
The North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement through the official [North] Korean Central News Agency on Oct. 3, saying North Korea would at some point in the future conduct a nuclear test. The statement has predictably stirred up a hornet's nest of comments and condemnation from Japan, South Korea and the United States, and has gotten the attention of China, Russia and beyond.

In the past, as Pyongyang ups the public rhetoric, it eventually moves toward implementation of its announced plans.

There are several critical aspects of the announcement to consider. First, North Korea made the announcement Oct. 3, which is celebrated in South Korea as Foundation Day, the day in 2,333 B.C. that the mythical Tangun founded Korea. The symbolism of the date sends a message of a single, unified and long-standing Korea, one that is neither divided nor controlled by China.

In addition, Pyongyang claims the reason for needing a nuclear deterrent and a test is, "The U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure." The key there is "sanctions," by which North Korea is referring to the actions against banks holding and trading North Korean money abroad -- some of which were sanctioned by the United States on accusations of counterfeiting. Pyongyang has demanded the removal of those "sanctions" in exchange for returning to the six-party talks.

Nonetheless, the chances for a test have now significantly increased. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Iranian nuclear crisis has appeared to calm down in recent weeks, and now the North Korea crisis flares. Pyongyang sees a potential window of opportunity to test -- and should it test, it is seeing hints that the United States will not be willing or able to respond militarily. If that is an accurate assessment, then Pyongyang could force the issue of being recognized as a nuclear power. If it is not the case, Pyongyang hopes the pressure on the Bush administration as Washington heads into congressional elections will force the U.S. hand into easing the "sanctions" and returning to the negotiating table.

In the meantime, there will be a renewed push, particularly by the South Koreans, to reinvigorate the political process rather than issue military threats. Seoul and Beijing together will pressure Washington to take every effort to restart the talks, furthering rifts in the South Korean-U.S. alliance. And this time Japan could go along with the renewed push for talks, as new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- faced with his first foreign policy crisis -- also seeks to strengthen cooperation with Beijing and Seoul.

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