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Still there are those, like UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, who remain confident North Korea will come back to the negotiating table, saying, “We expect that they will return to six-party talks and cooperate fully in realizing a denuclearized Korean peninsula.”
However, the exodus of North Korea from the negotiating table has failed to create any urgent impetus among the other involved parties, most notably the United States and South Korea, to resurrect any dialogue unless North Korea has demonstrated a sincere willingness to abandon its nuclear program. The UN report will do little to allay those concerns.
Yet, somewhat predictably, North Korea still holds South Korea and the United States responsible for any stalemate in negotiations, blaming the inaction on both nations for holding military drills that it says poses a nuclear threat.
The drills, of course, were a response to the sinking in March 2010 of a South Korean warship by a North Korean submarine which killed 46 sailors, an allegation that North Korea vehemently denies. South Korea, for its part, has not requested an apology be made for the sinking of its warship as a precondition to resume talks.
Given the blatant disregard North Korea has displayed toward international sanctions, the United States and South Korea may be lukewarm to a resumption of talks with North Korea at this time and more inclined to ratchet up a new set of harsher sanctions.
The Russians, however, see resumption of talks more of a necessity given they now view the threat posed by North Korea to eclipse that of even Iran. Russian President Dimitry Medvedev has said, “Despite the fact that Iran is often given special attention, I should note that Tehran, unlike Pyongyang, has not declared itself a nuclear power, has not tested a nuclear weapon and … has not threatened to use one.”
Adding to the unease expressed by Medvedev is the complete unpredictability of the North Korean regime and its leader Kim Jong-ll to any further threats of economic sanctions. Despite the presence of 27,000 American troops stationed along Korea’s demilitarized zone, serving as a tripwire to deter a North Korean invasion, it has never stopped North Korea from periodically testing the resolve of its neighbors.
Complicating matters further is the now rumored leadership succession said to be taking place in Pyongyang, as Kim Jong-ll purportedly grooms his twenty-seven year old son Kim Jong-un as his replacement. Of course, the inner workings of the extremely insulated, despotic North Korean regime remain shrouded in mystery so it’s not conclusive if or even when this transition would take place.
However, not all participants in the debate tend to view North Korea in the same light. China has long viewed North Korea to be a natural and strategic buffer against the expanding economic regional dominance of both Japan and South Korea. This view was neatly summed up by Chinese President Jiang Zemin in 2002 when he informed then President George Bush that North Korea was “my problem, not his.”
Although China has signed off on sanctions against North Korea, as well as Iran, it has been tepid in its efforts to ensure their enforcement. In fact, China has worked actively in recent years to slowdown efforts to enforce UN sanctions among most of its strategic allies.
Now, however, China, according to one diplomat, “has other priorities.” These priorities may now have less to do with protecting close partners and more to do with avoiding the embarrassment that its own weapons have been found in places that violate UN sanctions, most notably in Darfur. Given these findings, it’s not too surprising then to see China’s acquiescence in allowing the release of the UN report as a way to shift focus away from its own transgressions.
So, as the report will now find its way to the UN Security Council, it will surprise very few if that body calls for another round of sanctions to be imposed on North Korea, along with a call to resume the six-nation talks. What will be of complete surprise is if either action changes North Korea’s neverending nuclear ambitions.
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