U.S. policy on North seen in flux
WASHINGTON ― Speaking to an American newspaper, North Korea’s top diplomat in New York said the country has shut down its nuclear reactor and plans to increase its nuclear deterrent. At the same time, the United States warned that it may soon change its policy and clamp down on the North economically and militarily.
According to a report in USA Today, Han Song-ryol, North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said Monday that his government has shut down its reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex and plans to remove spent fuel rods to build bombs in efforts to increase the country’s deterrent power against a possible U.S. attack. The communist state claims that it is nuclear armed and has been warning repeatedly that it would increase its nuclear stockpiles.
The South Korean government confirmed Monday that North Korea’s five-megawatt reactor was shut down sometime this month. The action escalates tensions on the Korean Peninsula, as it implies an imminent upgrade of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan warned Monday that Washington could refer the issue to the UN Security Council if North Korea refuses to come back to six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
A U.S. State Department official spoke of tougher options. Speaking to the JoongAng Ilbo on condition of anonymity, the official said Washington believes that Pyongyang, if left alone ,will eventually conduct a nuclear test. He said the United States would likely impose economic sanctions against North Korea in a few months, adding that Washington will have to act, rather than “bluffing,” during the summer to cope with the worsening situation.
He said the United States will seek cooperation with Japan on economic sanctions, and that it expects opposition from China and South Korea. While the actual impact of economic sanctions imposed by the United States alone will be relatively small, Japan-led sanctions could be damaging. China is North Korea’s largest trade partner, followed by South Korea and then Japan.
The State Department source also mentioned the possibility of increasing military pressure on the North, including sending more U.S. troops and an aircraft carrier to the Korean Peninsula. He said, however, that the United States will wait until June to observe the North’s moves.
Seoul yesterday downplayed the statements from Washington. Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said there had been no consultations with South Korea on the matter, adding that he thought it was just a “reminder” to the North.
by Kim Chong-hyuck, Kang Chan-ho