N. Korea issue to be placed before U.N. Security Council

Bush administration is taking international approach to nuclear crisis

January 23, 2003|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SEOUL, South Korea - After softening its rhetoric about North Korea's nuclear programs, the Bush administration said yesterday that North Korea's actions would be brought before the United Nations Security Council within days.

"It's only a matter of time," said Undersecretary of State John Bolton at news conference here, announcing that South Korea had agreed. Bolton said he hoped the International Atomic Energy Agency would formally introduce the issue by the end of the week.

That would put North Korea on the Security Council's agenda just as it is preparing to receive a key report from U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq.

While the United States has made clear its goals on Iraq, no country appears to have a clear idea how to deal with North Korea. In recent weeks the North has expelled U.N. inspectors, announced its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and threatened to restart a reprocessing plant that can produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

China and Russia, who as permanent members of the Security Council have veto power, have said that they would oppose economic sanctions against North Korea. The North has warned that sanctions would amount to a declaration of war.

At his news conference, Bolton said the council had many options, but he did not mention any. He repeated the Bush administration's vow that it will not reward nuclear blackmail, insisting that the United States will not negotiate with the North unless it first dismantles its nuclear programs.

At the urging of China, Russia and South Korea, the United States has conducted indirect negotiations, spelling out that if the North abandoned its nuclear programs, Pyongyang could be rewarded with food, energy and economic assistance.

"We're talking, we're not negotiating," Scott Snyder of the South Korea office of the Asia Foundation said of the United States' actions. "We're providing incentives that aren't incentives. It's entirely possible that there will be a deal that everybody will deny."

He continued, "Either the Bush administration avoids engagement or it's got to hold its nose and engage. Or it's got to use coercion, and coercion is not on the table right now."

The move to the Security Council would formalize the Bush administration's stated desire for an international approach. Bolton indicated that South Korea and Japan would be involved in council discussions with its five permanent members - the United States, Great Britain, China, France and Russia.

"In an administration that is always being accused of being unilateralist," Bolton said, "our goal is to bring it into a multilateralist context."

Lee Jung Hoon, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul, said the move to the Security Council could increase the pressure on the North.

"[It's] so that this will not be perceived as a North Korea-U.S. thing," said Lee, "so that this will be North Korea against the rest of the world and the nonproliferation regime."

North Korea, which admitted in October to its secret uranium enrichment program, has insisted that it would deal only with the United States. U.S. diplomats have held talks with officials here and in Tokyo and Beijing without finding any agreed-upon approach except the desirability of bringing the issue before the United Nations.

`There is no joint road map," said Lee Chung Min, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University.

Bolton contended that "all options" are available if the North does not dismantle its nuclear program. However, if the North is willing to make "dramatic changes" on a range of issues, from nuclear weapons to human rights, the United States would be willing to consider a new economic relationship with the North, he said. "But we are not in the marketplace for buying off North Korea's weapons of mass destruction."

Lee Chung Min said the United States has few choices.

"You have to ask yourself, what means does the U.S. have to persuade North Korea without buying them off?" he said. "Then you could have Libya, Iraq and Iran saying, "Well, OK, buy us off, too."

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