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North’s inexplicable action

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Oct 15,2009
The inter-Korean talks on preventing flooding at the Imjin River were held yesterday. The discussions were only at the working level, but they were the first such talks in more than three months. Yet only two days before this meeting, North Korea inexplicably fired five short-range missiles into the East Sea. The action breached the United Nations Security Council resolution that bans all ballistic missile-related activities.

Against the two-track approach by South Korea, the United States and Japan of applying pressure while holding open the door to dialogue, the North appears to have prepared its own set of comprehensive countermeasures. It can be surmised that the North agreed to meet with us because it decided that talks between Pyongyang and Washington would not proceed smoothly unless tensions on the Korean Peninsula eased. Whatever the North’s intentions were in terms of the meeting, it is a positive sign that the country agreed to discuss the agenda that we prepared.

Its intentions behind the missile launches, however, are much more complicated. The KN-02 missile it fired this time is the latest version. It can theoretically strike the metropolitan Seoul area, the Second Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, and the U.S. Forces Korea base currently under construction there. The North may have been trying to pressure South Korea and the United States by showing off its missile capabilities. Pyongyang wanted to prove that it won’t be easy for the combined U.S.-South Korea forces to combat this particular type of missile, which uses solid propellant and can be fired from a mobile pad.

But the North’s intentions aren’t simply military: Pyongyang appears to have a political agenda as it tries to gain the upper hand in its bilateral meeting with Washington. The North wants to make its point to the U.S. administration, which is focusing on getting Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons. The North, in other words, wants the United States to alter its “hostile” policy toward the country.

North Korea could offer to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons in exchange for the dismantling of U.S. defensive measures in place to protect the South - including the nuclear umbrella - and the withdrawal of American forces from the Korean Peninsula.

We have to keep a very close eye on this. Regardless of the North’s intentions, we have to take control of the situation. We have to come up with measures that would maximize our gains while taking into account other variables such as inter-Korean relations, China-North Korea and South Korea-U.S. ties and U.S.-North Korea talks. We must not be swayed by the constantly changing environment.



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