ANALYSIS: N. Korea could duck sanctions


SINGAPORE — Prominent analysts and former U.S. officials are downplaying prospects of tough U.N. sanctions against North Korea over last week’s nuclear test, anticipating opposition from China and Russia.

Besides having veto power in the U.N. Security Council, both nations are historical allies of North Korea and have lately expressed skepticism of the North’s purported advances in nuclear and missile technology.

“There is agreement that something more must be done, but I think Russia and China will proceed more cautiously than the U.S. would like to see,” said William S. Cohen, defense secretary in the Clinton administration who maintains contacts with officials in Beijing and Moscow.

Mr. Cohen is among current and former officials from 28 countries attending the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual conference organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

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He said the most important aspect of the Security Council’s response to the May 25 test should be a “unified approach,” even if China and Russia are reluctant to go as far as the other council members in terms of tough sanctions.

“I think they are prepared to adopt additional measures, but theirs is a more graduated approach. Whenever the North Koreans see a red line, they like to cross it, so I think there will be more ambiguity,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview.

“It’s much more important that they don’t understand exactly what the lines are going to be in terms of what actually happens - whether it’s on the financial side, shutting down the flow of credit going into North Korea, whether it’s putting more pressure on countries doing trade with the North Koreans,” he added.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said in New York last week that there was “a high degree of agreement” among council members, but “now we need to take some time to reflect on what the specific elements of the future resolution need to be.”

Both China and Russia, which share borders with the North, are worried about being overwhelmed by waves of refugees in case of instability in the reclusive state.

“The assumption is that [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il is ready to escalate [tensions] and is looking for an excuse,” which painful U.N. sanctions would provide, said Oksana Antonenko, program director for Russia and Eurasia at IISS.

“Russia is still advocating a more cautious approach, and there is no automatic assumption that it will support stronger sanctions,” she said. Still, “it’s prepared to cooperate more than before, [because] there is a lot of good will toward the Obama administration.”

The Security Council adopted Resolution 1718 after the first North Korean nuclear test in October 2006, calling for the prevention of illicit weapons and materials from reaching the North. That meant that the country’s neighbors - South Korea, China and Russia - would have to stop and inspect ships at sea, but none of them did.

Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for non-proliferation at IISS, said that “1718 was a strong resolution, but it was never implemented.” The Chinese made it clear they weren’t going to enforce it, and the Bush administration did not put any pressure on them because the North Koreans returned to six-party nuclear talks three months later, he said.

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About the Author
Nicholas  Kralev

Nicholas Kralev

Nicholas Kralev is The Washington Times’ diplomatic correspondent. His travels around the world with four secretaries of state — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright — as well as his other reporting overseas trips inspired his new weekly column, “On the Fly.” He is a former writer for the weekend edition of the Financial Times and ...

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