International Papers

Nuke in the North?

“North Korea-US relations are heading toward the end of a cliff,” a South Korean official tells the South China Morning Post following Pyonyang’s announcement that it will reopen a nuclear power plant in violation of a 1994 pact with the United States. The Korea Herald speculates that North Korea “might have wanted to express its anger at the U.S. action against” the North Korean cargo ship stopped earlier this week by Spanish officials while en route to Yemen with SCUD missiles.

North Korea’s move heightened its already tense relations with the United States and represented a “serious escalation of [the] confrontation,” the Sydney Morning Herald said. (The United States and other countries cut off oil shipments to North Korea earlier this year after the country apparently admitted to having a secret program for developing nuclear weapons. North Korea denies making any such admission and says it needs to reopen the plant to generate power for the coming winter.)

An editorial in the Financial Times points out that “Pyongyang is counting on the US to prevent Japan and South Korea from even considering the option of going nuclear. US officials should inform North Korea that, if it insists on gatecrashing the global nuclear weapons club, Washington will urge Tokyo and Seoul to make their own decisions about whether to acquire strategic deterrents. … The one chance of getting the North to abandon its current course is if it becomes clear that Pyongyang may have to deal with nuclear neighbours.”

The Korea Herald suggests that the announcement may also be a response to President Bush’s speech earlier this year branding North Korea as part of an “axis of evil,” countries that sponsor terrorists or continue to develop weapons of mass destruction.

A piece in the London  Times warns Kim Jong-il that he should not “comfort himself that President Bush is too busy worrying about terrorist hotspots around the world to target his pariah state” :

Mr Bush could adopt several courses of action. He could make Chinese pressure on North Korea the sole benchmark of the improved Sino-American relations that Beijing seeks. … He could use the arrival of a new South Korean President this month to build a harder diplomatic edge against the North. He could plan for pre-emptive military strikes against North Korea’s missile sites, as President Clinton did before abandoning the idea. He may do all of that and more. But one thing is clear: Mr Bush will not rest on any laurels he may collect in Baghdad. Pyongyang is his next target.