- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - The rocket launched by nuclear-armed North Korea on Sunday appears to have fizzled in the Pacific Ocean, but positioned a defiant Kim Jong Il to make demands from an international community worried that it indicates the capacity to fire a long-range missile.

President Barack Obama and other national leaders immediately criticized the Korean leader for threatening peace and stability of nations “near and far.” The U.N. Security Council approved an emergency session for Sunday afternoon in New York, following a request from Japan just minutes after liftoff.

“North Korea broke the rules, once again, by testing a rocket that could be used for long-range missiles,” Obama said in Prague. “It creates instability in their region, around the world. This provocation underscores the need for action, not just this afternoon in the U.N. Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons.”

Pyongyang claims it launched an experimental communications satellite into orbit Sunday and that it’s transmitting data and patriotic songs. U.S. and South Korean officials claim the entire rocket, including whatever payload it was carrying, ended up in the ocean.

But it doesn’t really matter how successful the rocket launch was. Kim’s critics claim he really was testing a ballistic missile capable of hitting U.S. territory.

While the rogue communist state has repeatedly been belligerent and threatening _ as it was when it carried out an underground nuclear blast and tested ballistic missiles in recent years _ Pyongyang showed increased savvy this time that may make severe punishment more complicated than ever.

Unlike its previous provocations, the North notified the international community that the launch was coming and the route the rocket would take. Using a possible loophole in sanctions imposed after the 2006 nuclear test that barred the North from ballistic missile activity, the government claimed it was exercising its right to peaceful space development.

Since it will be hard to positively prove otherwise, objections from Russia and China _ the North’s closest ally _ will almost certainly water down any strong response. Both have Security Council veto power.

Iran, which also has a contentious relationship with the international community over its nuclear program and is believed to have cooperated extensively with North Korea on missile technology, defended the launch.

“North Korea, like any other country, has the right to enter space,” Iran’s state TV said in a commentary, adding that the “pressure on North Korea to give up its undisputable right” was “unfair and dishonest.”

Analysts say sanctions imposed after the North’s underground nuclear test in 2006 appear to have had little effect because implementation was left up to individual countries, some of which showed no will to impose them.

Kim is reportedly a big film buff, and his strategy appears to have borrowed heavily from the 1959 movie “The Mouse That Roared,” about a fictional poor country that declares war on the U.S., expecting to lose and get aid like the Marshall Plan that Washington used to help rebuild its World War II foes.

In Kim’s case, negotiation has always been about brinksmanship _ develop nuclear weapons and tell everybody you’re ready to use them. Rather than risk confrontation, world leaders have offered aid and concessions, figuring that such costs are better than finding out if the mouse really can roar.

Despite its policy of “juche,” or “self-reliance,” communist North Korea is one of the world’s poorest countries, has few allies and is in desperate need of outside help. The money that flowed in unconditionally from neighboring South Korea for a decade dried up when conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008.

Pyongyang has little collateral, and for years has used its nuclear weapons program as its trump card, promising to abandon its atomic ambitions in exchange for aid and then dangling the nuclear threat when it doesn’t get its way.

It’s been an effective strategy so far, with previous missile launches drawing Washington to negotiations. The North also has reportedly been selling missile parts and technology to whoever has the cash to pay for it.

So what does Kim want? The list is long: food for his famished people, fuel and _ perhaps most importantly _ direct talks and relations with Washington.

Right now, the main contact is through six-nation talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up its worrisome nuclear weapons program. But that means dealing with two neighbors that the North despises most, Japan and South Korea.

It probably isn’t a coincidence that the rocket was fired over Japan. North Korea had warned that debris might fall off Japan’s northern coast when the rocket’s first stage fell away, so Tokyo positioned batteries of interceptor missiles on its coast and radar-equipped ships off its northern seas to monitor the launch. Nary a shot was necessary.

Obama warned the launch would further isolate the reclusive nation. But pragmatism calls for engagement, especially with efforts to get North Korea back to the negotiating table for the six-party talks.

“We must deal with North Korea as we find it, not as we would like it to be,” Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. envoy on North Korea, said Friday. “I’ve long since suppressed my tendency toward frustration. What is required is patience and perseverance.”

Kim Keun-sik, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University, said the launch would chill ties between Pyongyang and Washington, but likely not for long.

“Wouldn’t they eventually come to hold talks? There is no other way,” Kim said.

U.S. officials also are trying to obtain the release of two American journalists recently detained by the North along its border with China. Paik Hak-soon, an analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank, predicted they would be used as bargaining chips, with the North likely “to try to link them to the nuclear and missile talks.”


Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee, Hyung-jin Kim and Jae-soon Chang in Seoul contributed to this report.

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