11/21/2006, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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Kim Jong-il: world's most professional blackmailer

by Pino Cazzaniga

The North Korean bomb is causing concern, not only because its possible use, but also because it has inflicted a serious blow to the non-proliferation treaty, the only legal instrument available at international level to prevent the spread of the deadly weapons.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – For Kim Jong-il, the atomic bomb, more than a weapon – its military use would spell his end as well as his country's – is a means to blackmail the international community, to ensure the survival of the regime and economic aid. This is the conclusion Japanese and American analysts are coming to – without playing down the fear linked to nuclear weapons – as the resumption of six-party talks, slated for December, draws near.

The new game pitching Pyongyang against the rest of the world started on 9 October, when the first nuclear bomb produced by North Korea exploded in a mine. In the country, citizens were informed only after the government of the United States had confirmed the nuclear nature of the blast. Pyongyang then decked itself in glory and the domestic mass media broke the news emphatically to exalt the entry of the nation into the nuclear power family. It is the ninth member.

The news was greeted rather differently abroad, including in China, raising consternation and anxiety. On 14 October, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a motion imposing serious economic sanctions on North Korea.

The power of the bomb, the subject of the experiment, is relatively modest. "Kim has no intention of attacking anyone," said journalist Gwynne Dyer, "especially with nuclear arms, because he would have no hope of surviving the instant, crushing reprisal of the United States." According to the ex-US State Secretary, Madeline Albright, who met him in Pyongyang six years ago, the dictator of the North is no fool. He pretends to be one because the survival of his regime depends on blackmailing nations to get food aid and oil. The bomb must be seen in this picture.

When sanctions were announced, the North Korean ambassador to the UN left the hall in scorn and for two weeks, the government of Pyongyang kept up an tough attitude of rejection of diplomatic appeals of governments that are members of the six-party talks: South Korea, China, Russia, the United States and Japan.

But suddenly, on 31 October, after just one day of talks with representatives of the United States and China in Beijing, Pyongyang's delegate accepted to return to the six-party talks. The united and inflexible – at least on the essentials – front of the interlocutors left the cunning blackmailer Kim without alternatives.

The foolish experiment poses a threat to the whole world because it inflicts a serious wound on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that, until now, was the only legal instrument available at international level to prevent the spread of these deadly weapons: North Korea is the first and so far only nation that went against it. Ratifying the treaty in December 1985, North Korea left in January 2003 to be able to proceed with its nuclear programme.

In 1963, John F.Kennedy predicted that within a decade, 20 states would possess atomic weapons. Today around 50 states could easily produce them.

"Kim Jong-il loves the bomb." This is the title of an analysis by Bennet Ramberg, former military adviser in the State Department during the administration of the first Bush. The motive was simple: the bomb is the most precious object left to him by his father, Kim Il-sung, to save the regime and hence himself. Towards the end of the eighties, Kim-father, foreseeing the disruption of Soviet backing, launched a nuclear programme in the Yongbyon plant (97km north of the capital), putting his son and political heir as the ad hoc head of department. Threatened with bombardments by President Clinton, he accepted to negotiate to freeze the programme. After he died suddenly in 1994, the honour of signing the so-called Agreed Framework, which provided for the dismantling of the plutonium reactors, fell to his son. But Kim Jong-il was far more interested in the bomb than the agreement and predictably, he denounced the agreement in 2003.

According to Chinese and American sources, the resumption of "six-party talks", stalled since September last year, should take place sometimes in mid-December. The prospects are not rosy, given the irreconcilable nature of the premises of the two main protagonists: George Bush and Kim Jong-il. The first is asking for a stipulated commitment to start nuclear dismantlement as a preliminary condition for bilateral dialogue. The second, on the other hand, is demanding the immediate suspension of sanctions.

All the same, acceptance to return to dialogue is held by many to be good news. Now the main problem is whether Kim will be wise enough to take the strategic decision of abandoning all nuclear armament in exchange for huge amounts of economic aid and security guarantees. Keizo Nabeshima, an analyst of The Japan Time wrote: "On this decision depends the destiny of the six-party talks, which are currently the best diplomatic mechanism for preserving peace in north-east Asia."

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