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U.S. said to amend North policy

It may accept Pyeongyang as nuclear state, try to bar sales

Mar 06,2003
The United States has begun shifting its North Korea policy from preventing it from acquiring nuclear arms to preventing it from exporting them, U.S. media said Wednesday. The shift, if true, is a revolutionary swing from Washington’s official stance of zero tolerance for the North’s nuclear development.
The Washington Post quoted unnamed officials and analysts in Washington and Tokyo as saying that the United States and Asian countries have begun to accept the idea of North Korea becoming a nuclear power. “Increasingly, the Bush administration is turning its attention to preventing the Communist government in Pyeongyang from selling nuclear materials to the highest bidder,” the newspaper said.
Bush administration officials told the daily that it has no good military options for eliminating the North’s nuclear capability. “A surgical strike might neutralize the plutonium plant, but the country’s effort to enrich uranium is proceeding at another, unknown site,” it reported. The newspaper said Russia, China and South Korea would try to isolate North Korea, if it possesses nuclear weapons, seeking to prevent further proliferation.
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that Washington has concluded that it probably cannot prevent Pyeongyang from developing nuclear weapons. It quoted Capitol Hill sources. The administration indicated such a possibility in closed briefings and private conversations with congressmen over the last several weeks, the newspaper reported. A Senate staff member was quoted as saying that Washington was “preparing people up here for a de facto, if not declared, North Korean nuclear state and saying that this is something we can deal with through isolation, sanctions, deterrence and national missile defense.”
As of Monday, it still appeared that Washington was not planning to resign itself to a nuclear North Korea. In a press briefing with 14 U.S. newspapers, Mr. Bush said a military option should be used to prevent the North’s nuclear development, if diplomatic efforts fail. It was the first time he had publicly mentioned the possibility of military action. “The military option is our last choice,” Mr. Bush said, adding that Washington was still counting on diplomacy.
Asked about the reports, a senior Seoul official said the government was making inquiry to Washington through diplomatic channels. “Still, we believe that such a change in U.S. policy is unlikely,” the source said.
Other South Korean experts echoed this skepticism. A nuclear domino effect whereby Japan, South Korea and even Taiwan follow into the nuclear camp is possible, Kim Sung-han, professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, worried. The military balance between the two Koreas would collapse at once and Seoul’s engagement policy would falter, the experts said.
Military experts here sketched out four possible scenarios for the South in the changed security climate of the peninsula.
It might follow the North’s example, walking away from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and developing its own nuclear weapons. Washington, Beijing, Moscow and Tokyo as well as anti-nuclear groups in South Korea would all strongly protest.
Second, Seoul could seek shelter under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, which would heighten its military dependence on the United States.
Third, it could join the U.S.-led missile defense program, a costly option.
Finally, it could accept the North’s military predominance. Such an option is unlikely, military experts said, as it would amount to surrendering national security.
“No scenario is easy for us,” said Hwang Byong-moo, a professor at Korea National Defense University. “So putting the best efforts to urge the North to respect the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula should be our first step.”


by Ser Myo-ja


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