N. Korea's neighbors on edge


October 19, 2002

If North Korea's revelation that it has a program to develop nuclear weapons was startling to Americans, it was truly unnerving to its neighbors in the region. The news is being widely discussed, especially in South Korean and Japanese newspapers. The following are excerpts of commentaries from newspapers in the region:

The Korea Herald, Seoul

Crisis or opportunity?

North Korea has recently stunned friends and foes alike with a series of surprise moves on the economic and diplomatic fronts. But nothing could be more astounding than Pyongyang's latest admission of a clandestine nuclear weapons development program, revealed in Washington and Seoul on Thursday. What really shocked - or puzzled - longtime North Korea watchers, however, was not so much the country's pursuit of atomic weapons as its confession. The information is too fragmentary and one-sided yet to know anything for sure, so calm thinking should prevail over hasty action. ...

According to the U.S. officials who visited Pyongyang early this month, their North Korean counterparts first denied but later acknowledged the secret program when confronted with evidence. The Pyongyang officials were also reportedly more belligerent than apologetic, nullifying in effect the 1994 Agreed Framework on a nuclear freeze.

The North has yet to make any official response to these reports. But pro-Pyongyang news media have indirectly expressed complaints about the "arrogance" of U.S. envoys and Washington's "unilateral leakage" of information. ...

As it turned out, the U.S. envoy's visit was aimed not at making compromises but simply laying down the law, the trademark Bush administration style. Washington is still adamant that Pyongyang must first drop nuclear programs if it is to resume bilateral negotiations. Nor is the North likely to yield to such pressure, at least for the time being, causing some pessimists here to worry about the recurrence of the 1994 nuclear crisis, during which America considered a preemptive attack on suspected weapons production sites at the risk of massive counterattack.

We welcome in this regard U.S. President George W. Bush's reported intention to seek a peaceful resolution to this nuclear stalemate through diplomatic channels. As the U.S. administration correctly understands, the Korean Peninsula currently carries much less strategic weight than the Middle East, while any war in this densely populated part of the world would incur almost irreparable destruction. ... .

In this vein, some ultra-rightists' blaming of the appeasement policy for the latest nuclear trouble is not only undesirable but dangerous. Without the sunshine policy, the South might have not even had a chance to directly talk with the North, let alone deliver its demands.

The rival political parties ought not to seek political advantage out of a national security issue. Some conservative lawmakers calling for the severance of all ties with the North should learn from most ordinary citizens who demand caution - not to mention consider the stability of the stock market.

JoongAng Ilbo, Seoul

An outrageous admission

... This is a serious and direct threat to our national security, thus requiring the government to come up with a special measure.

Pyongyang, during last month's meeting between its leader and the Japanese prime minister, acknowledged that it had abducted Japanese nationals, but made no mention about kidnapping South Koreans. This is outrageous. The North had been concealing its nuclear development program, which threatens the peninsula, and admits it. These actions completely ignore South Korea, the true partner in reconciliation and cooperation. ...

Leaders of South Korea, the United States and Japan will announce their measures at a regional economic cooperation meeting in Mexico on Oct. 26. And yet we still worry that our government's North Korea policy, largely to engage the North until now, will probably be completely ignored before the U.S. hard-line policy.

Because the North's nuclear program has gone on amid the South's sunshine policy, our engagement policy has been dealt a fatal blow. We urge the government to come up with a strong and profound alternative.

Yomiuri Shimbun, Tokyo

Pyongyang's recent admission that it is operating a secret nuclear weapons program not only will intensify the tension on the Korean Peninsula, but also is an alarming development that undermines the peace and stability of the Northeast Asia and the whole world. ...

Pyongyang's secret nuclear development is nothing but an unpardonable violation of the world's trust. The international community must make Pyongyang halt its nuclear arms development immediately. ...

The latest development involves work on new nuclear arms using weapons-grade enriched uranium. North Korea's attempts at arming itself with nuclear weapons can thus be said to have entered an even more dangerous new phase. ...

These facts seem to indicate North Korea's essential nature of placing priority on military force.

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