06/22/2006, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA - NORTH KOREA
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Pyongyang missile rules out visit of Kim Dae-jung to North

by Pino Cazzaniga

Announcement of the postponement came after a visit by the US ambassador to the ex-South Korean president. Seoul at first sought to justify the cynical behaviour of the North, which aims at securing bilateral talks with Washington, but it later joined other states in talking about "reactions".

Seoul (AsiaNews) – On 20 June, the ex-South Korean president Kim Dae-jung met the ambassador of the United States, Alexander Vershbow, in his library in Seoul. The meeting was described as a courtesy visit, but in reality it was a move of delicate diplomacy. After the talk, the US envoy told journalists that the visit of Kim to the north would probably be postponed. The following day, Jeong Se-hyun, negotiator of the private summit, informed the press that "because of an unforeseen situation, the visit of the ex-president to the north would be difficult. It has been judged that the time is not right."

"The unforeseen situation" was and is preparations for a test launch of a three-stage Taepodong 2 missile which, according to US experts, could carry a small atomic bomb up to the western coast of the United States. Information gleaned by spy-satellites has revealed the missile has already been transported to the launch base and that fuelling operations are under way.

On Monday 19, the Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, said about the likely North Korean missile launch: "This is a very serious matter. We would consider it as a violation of the moratorium that North Korea signed in 1999 and reconfirmed in 2002. This is also part of the 'framework agreement' signed in September by participants of the 'six party talks'."

The Seoul government, which still has good ties with the North at heart, sought to tone down international alarm with explanations that were not very credible. At first a spokesman said "imminence of the launch was only a supposition: only 40 barrels of fuel were counted alongside the missile, insufficient to refuel it with 60 tons of fuel." Next, it suggested the hypothesis that the giant rocket carrier would be used to send a satellite in orbit, repeating, word for word, the lie told by Pyongyang in 1998 when it launched the first two-stage Taepodong, which flew over Japan and ended up in the Pacific.

Vershbow immediately countered the statements by saying his government considered the likely launch very seriously because "this missile has military capability."

An analyst of the JoonAng Daily said: "The insistence of Seoul on the probability that North Korea plans to launch a satellite very likely comes more from its desire to keep inter-Korean relations stable than from some technical indications." The opinion of the daily Chosun Ilbo was more blunt: "The North Korean regime starved millions of its people to death and pushed many others to a modern form of slavery and prostitution in China, and now our government comes to tell us that North Korea simply wants to launch a satellite to compete in the noble field of science and technology!"

In view of the launch, the authorities of the United States increased forays of

U-2 and RC-135 spy-planes in the region. They are also considering the option of resuming economic sanctions that had been lessened after the moratorium agreement of 1999. Japan is on the same wavelength. Last week, due to both the problem of kidnappings as well as the missile threat, the Chamber and the Senate approved a law allowing the government to impose economic sanctions on North Korea: a block on exports of even private funds, closure of ports to North Korean ships and an end to financial assistance to organizations committed to helping fugitives from North Korea.

The United States has also indicated recourse to the UN Security Council, but analysts doubt its effectiveness because of possible obstructionism from China and Russia.  

At last, the government of Seoul also decided to come out with a severe reaction. "If the missile experiment is carried out, I think the government would find it difficult to continue to provide rice and fertilizer to the North," said the Unification Minister Lee Jong-suk.

A commonly held view among analysts is that Pyongyang, as it always does in times of crisis, is resorting to the tactic of calculated risk (threat) to obtain what it would not otherwise be able to get. Behind its missile diplomacy is the intention to draw the United States into bilateral dialogue separately from the six-party talks. This was insinuated by Han Song-ryo, representative of North Korea to the United Nations: "Pyongyang understands Washington's concerns and wants to resolve the situation through (separate) discussion."

But this time, it is mistaken. A columnist of The Korea Herald wrote: "The government of the United States has chosen to ignore the diplomacy of calculated risk, insisting that it will dialogue with the North only in the framework of the 'six party talks', which have been blocked since September last year."

Some experts maintain Pyongyang knows it stands to lose everything with the Taepodong test launch, including the possibility of dialogue with Washington, which is what the solitary nation wants more than anything.

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