- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

With unpredictable and nuclear-armed North Korea on everyone’s mind, South Korea will host a nuclear security summit beginning Monday that will draw the most foreign leaders ever to visit the country.

More than 40 heads of state, including President Obama and the leaders of China and Russia, will gather in Seoul, primarily to discuss ways to prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear material. The denuclearization of North Korea isn’t expected to appear on the official agenda, but it’s likely to be discussed extensively as leaders huddle in sideline meetings.

“The Obama administration wants to focus primarily on nuclear security,” said Scott Snyder, director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But South Korea will be trying to use this summit indirectly to put pressure on North Korea.”

North Korean tensions

Concern about North Korea’s belligerence is as high as ever, with inexperienced Kim Jong-un taking the leadership role late last year and Pyongyang’s announcement that it will launch a satellite into space in mid-April on a long-range rocket.

The Obama administration, which had just reached an agreement with North Korea to suspend nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and long-range missile launches in exchange for food aid, has called the launch announcement “highly provocative.”

Both Japan and the U.S. said a launch using ballistic missile technology would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said there are other international forums, particularly six-party talks, for dealing with North Korea.

But he said the discussion on nuclear security in Seoul should send a message to Pyongyang that “the international community supports peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

North Korea has labeled the summit an “unsavory burlesque” that is intended to justify an atomic attack.

A broader focus

The White House insists that the summit in North Korea’s backyard will focus on a host of international nuclear proliferation issues, although Pyongyang’s absence will demonstrate its decision to continue its nuclear program despite severe international sanctions.

“The Nuclear Security Summit is not about North Korea,” Danny Russell told reporters Tuesday. “It is about the challenges of securing fissile material. It’s about the commitment of the participating nations to honor their pledges and their commitments, and it’s about the emerging role of the Republic of Korea as a significant contributor to the global good. North Korea will be the odd man out. “

The international community also is grappling with the immediate threat of how to resolve peacefully the subject of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the summit will also provide an opportunity for Mr. Obama to continue to push for more international pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Earlier this week, Russia and China joined the U.N. Security Council in voicing support for Arab League envoy Kofi Anna’s bid to end violence that has brought Syria to the brink of war. Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions condemning Mr. Assad’s assault on demonstrators.

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