Missiles: a stern responseNorth Korea fired three to six short-range missiles toward the waters off the west coast yesterday morning, a day after the North ejected South Korean government officials from the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The North also announced a statement denying any allegation that it developed uranium-enrichment nuclear programs and exported its nuclear programs to Syria.
All these moves seem to be Pyongyang’s counterattack on the Lee Myung-bak administration that tries to link progress in the South-North relations to progress in the North’s denuclearization.
The South Korean government played down the missile firing as part of regular drills by the North Korean military now in the winter drill season. But the move is likely a political provocation with clear ulterior motives; it must not be a coincidence that the North fired missiles a day after it ejected South Korean officials. Our view is that the recent actions are well-calculated.
In addition, North Korea sent a stern warning that the U.S. is insisting that North Korea has uranium-enrichment programs, which Pyongyang says do not exist. Such actions that delay progress in the nuclear talks can have a “serious impact” on the North’s denuclearization, the North’s Foreign Ministry announced yesterday.
The full and complete declaration of North Korea’s nuclear programs was clearly agreed upon in the past six-party talks. The North’s proposal to forego the declaration process and jump into the next phase can hardly be accepted by any parties, including the Bush administration, now thirsty for any diplomatic achievement.
It is not a fresh tactic for the North to procrastinate until the last moment and then come up with a solution right before things start to fall apart. But there is no excuse for the North to avoid demands from the U.S. that has its own evidence and reasoning. Now is a critical time for solving the North’s nuclear crisis or the six-party talks will have flopped entirely.
President Lee has a clear stance that South-North relations can make progress only under the condition that there is progress on negotiations regarding the North’s nuclear issues.
If Pyongyang continues making such reckless provocations amid an uncertain political climate, the political situation on the Korean Peninsula is bound to face serious tension. Seoul does not necessarily have to respond to each of these provocations, but it needs to make a stern response.