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Posted : 2009-02-06 17:53
Updated : 2009-02-06 17:53

Shaky Start

US Must Use Both Carrots and Sticks Against N. Korea

The Barack Obama administration has just gotten off to a shaky start with North Korea after the recalcitrant country opted for tension rather than dialog. The new U.S. government's first action was to impose sanctions on three North Korean firms for their involvement in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Such a move is apparently not what President Obama wants to do, considering his stress on dialog and diplomacy to address the North Korean issue, including its nuclear programs.

It is regrettable that Pyongyang has made Washington begin with the sanctions in defiance of a conciliatory atmosphere created by the change of power from a Republican to Democratic president. It is totally the North's fault to miss the golden opportunity to revive the stalled six-nation denuclearization talks and mend ties with the United States. The sanctions are the natural consequences of the North's notorious brinkmanship tactics.

The communist country should discard its saber-rattling policy and return to the negotiating table to solve pending issues peacefully and diplomatically. It is sad to see the Kim Jong-il regime continuing its nuclear gambling despite international efforts for denuclearization. It is also frustrating that Pyongyang has been escalating tension with Seoul by cutting ties, scrapping inter-Korean agreements and threatening to nullify the maritime border on the West Sea.

North Korea has long been maintaining its outdated policy of having direct talks with the United States, while sidelining South Korea. But now the policy is doomed to failure as the world's last Stalinist country is pouring cold water over the ice-thawing mood with America. The U.S. sanctions are targeting the Korea Mining and Development Corp., Mokong Trading Corp. and Sino-Ki for violating the U.S. law aimed at stopping the spread of missiles and other technology related to weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, the sanctions have significant implications. They came at the start of the Obama administration. Besides, they are put in place, especially when North Korea is gearing up to test-fire its Taepodong-2 long-range missile at the Musudan-ri launch site on its east coast. It is apparent that the missile test has two purposes.

First, the communist regime intends to put mounting pressure on the United States and South Korea to extract more concessions. Second, it wants to boast its missile capability to tighten its grip on power amid concerns about Kim Jong-il's health. The North might attain the second aim by the missile test. But it is doubtful whether Pyongyang will force Washington to cave in to the show of its military strength, which could be seen as a provocative act.

Against this backdrop, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to visit Seoul Feb. 19-20 to discuss the North Korean issue with South Korean leaders and find ways of strengthening an alliance between the two countries. It is time for the two sides to step up cooperation in prodding the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Seoul and Washington should use carrots and sticks at the same time to force the nuclear pariah to go down the road to complete, verifiable and irrevocable denuclearization.

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