Asia-Pacific, Headlines, North America, Nuclear Energy - Nuclear Weapons, Peace

/CORRECTED REPEAT*/: U.S. Urged to Engage China on N. Korea Nukes

Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, Jun 15 2010 (IPS) - On a day when North Korea’s World Cup team played its first match in South Africa – ending in a respectable two-one loss against powerhouse Brazil – a new report is suggesting that the White House engage in more active diplomacy to address the deterioration of regional attempts to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

The report, released Tuesday by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), called on the White House to back up its rhetoric of denouncing North Korea’s weapons programme with actions to change Pyongyang’s behaviour and ensure stability in the region.

At the top of the authors’ recommendations is a strong endorsement of the Six-Party Talks – which include the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Russia, China and North Korea – and a call for the administration to create a better understanding between the U.S. and China about their shared interests in creating a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

The report acknowledges that fundamental issues of distrust between the U.S. and China, particularly China’s suspicion about U.S. strategic interests in the region, must be overcome in order for the two countries to cooperate more effectively in preventing North Korea from continuing its nuclear weapons programme.

Distrust between Beijing and Washington emerged as a stumbling block after North Korea’s suspected involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, at the end of March.

While most countries accepted the findings of a South Korean investigation which had concluded that North Korea was responsible for the attack, Beijing was careful to avoid an explicit denunciation of its ally.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, however, did make a public statement that China “will not protect” the perpetrators of the attack.

But some experts here in Washington have warned that China’s influence over North Korea might be overestimated.

“[China’s influence over North Korea] has been an illusionary creature we’ve manufactured here in Washington. [We’re told] it has simultaneously an enormous amount of influence in North Korea and is willing to follow up on that influence at our suggestion,” John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS.

“Such a creature doesn’t exist,” he said. “It would be nice from the point of view of the Pentagon and the State Department, but it isn’t true. China doesn’t have that degree of influence and where it does have influence it is reluctant to use it to achieve U.S. ends.”

The CFR report emphasised that greater U.S.-led, regional cooperation would be necessary in order to deal with any host of scenarios which could occur on the Korean peninsula.

“To best address North Korea’s continuing nuclear challenge, the United States needs to provide political leadership in cooperation with regional counterparts to roll back North Korea’s nuclear development, coordinate actions designed to contain the spillover effects of possible North Korean instability while insisting that North Korea give up its destabilising course of action, and affirm that one prerequisite to a normal U.S.-DPRK relationship is a denuclearised North Korea,” according to the report.

The task force that authored the report, chaired by Charles “Jack” Pritchard, former ambassador and special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, and retired four-star general John H. Tilelli, put the highest priority on the ongoing U.S. role in limiting the proliferation of North Korean weapons.

Reports have suggested that North Korea has exported technology to Syria and Libya but regime instability – a growing concern as Kim Jong-Il’s health remains uncertain – could lead to a situation where the leadership loses control of its weapon technology or chooses to sell technology to the highest bidder.

Working toward denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula and curbing Pyongyang’s development of further weapons should also be at the top of the U.S. agenda, according to the authors.

Following these policy challenges, the CFR listed planning for contingencies of regime instability, and promoting engagement and improving the situation for North Korean people as important policy objectives.

“The Task Force finds that the efforts taken thus far by the United States and its partners are insufficient to fully prevent North Korea’s onward or vertical proliferation or to roll back its nuclear programme. The United States must seek to resolve rather than simply manage the challenge posed by a nuclear North Korea. Resolving these issues would also allow the implementation of an effective U.S. humanitarian and human rights policy toward North Korea,” the report’s authors concluded.

But an attempt by the Obama administration to engage North Korea on a wider range of issues than denuclearisation or the sinking of the Cheonan would have to be carefully orchestrated to protect the White House from attacks by its Republican opponents.

“Obama doesn’t want to expose himself to the ridicule of Republicans. But that aside, if it is difficult for the administration to engage in direct interactions with North Korea, then it can at least encourage other actors to move forward,” said Feffer.

“We have some humanitarian organisations involved in North Korea and we have some other initiatives that could go forward at the cultural level. The Obama administration could greenlight those. It’s at times like these that we need these kinds of connections,” he continued.

*The story moved on Jun 15, 2010 was missing the first paragraph.

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