Summit avoids N. Korea in statement
By Kim Young-jin
As expected, world leaders steered clear of mentioning North Korea in a statement at the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, thwarting a possible attempt by Pyongyang to steal the spotlight with its plan to launch a satellite from a long-range rocket next month.
While the matter was vigorously discussed on the sidelines, the event followed through on its goal to focus dialogue on nuclear safety and the prevention of nuclear terrorism. An official communique released Tuesday contained no references to the North.
Regional tensions are once again taut over the North’s plan, which it says intends to send a satellite into orbit but Seoul says is cover for a long-range missile test. Concern is rising that the North could develop such a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.
President Lee Myung-bak, chairman of the event, acknowledged that the launch was raised by leaders at the main conference, adding during a news briefing that the North would be "affected psychologically” by international efforts to keep nuclear material from “dangerous people."
Coming just 10 days before the summit, some said the North’s announcement was partly aimed at disrupting the meeting of top leaders from 53 nations and four international organizations.
But the summit provided the opportunity for heads of state _ including those of countries with which it shares ties _ to urge Pyongyang to back off its plan. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon affirmed that the launch would breach U.N. Security Resolutions.
“I think it was a strategic mistake,” Yoo Ho-yeol, an international relations expert at Korea University, said. “It boosted the North Korean nuclear issue on the international agenda by calling so much attention to the program.”
In addition to Washington and Seoul, Tokyo and Moscow both reaffirmed that the launch would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions. China said it was working to persuade its Cold War ally to refrain from the act. Those countries, along with Pyongyang, comprise the six-party talks on denuclearizing the North.
Pyongyang, which earlier said it would view any statement mentioning it a declaration of war, lashed out Tuesday, insisting again that the launch was for scientific purposes.
Analysts have long said the summit would provide the international community with a chance to show a united front against the North, which has pursued a nuclear weapons program outside of international treaties.
In a sign of increased pressure, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao urged the North to refrain from the launch and instead concentrate on improving living conditions for its people, according to officials here.
Those countries, particularly China, have been perceived as protecting the North from the full brunt of punitive international measures through the U.N. Security Council, including after the 2010 sinking of the warship Cheonan.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010, also sharpened his stance on the North, continually challenging Pyongyang to improve life for its people during events here. Washington says the launch breaks the nuclear deal under which the North stands to gain food assistance.
Analysts say Seoul was strategically chosen to host the event to provide a measure of regional stability, given the North’s nuclear program and elections in Seoul and Washington and a leadership transition in Beijing, all this year.