- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

While President Obama pushes soft power, the North Korean dictator plays hardball.

North Korea’s underground nuclear test and missile trials show that the regime is probing Mr. Obama’s resolve. Pyongyang apparently has concluded that the president’s rhetoric of conciliation and understanding betrays serious weakness as a global leader. Like all tyrants, Kim Jong-il sees an open hand as a weak one.

North Korea is determined to be a nuclear power. Pyongyang has vowed to continue missile tests and uranium enrichment. The Korean Central News Agency, the communist regime’s mouthpiece, declared the regime’s goal: to “further [increase] the power of nuclear weapons and steadily [develop] nuclear technology.”

This comes in the face of a string of goodwill gestures by the United States and its allies. America removed North Korea from the list of states that support terrorism in October and pointedly has overlooked the North’s shipment of illegal drugs, counterfeiting, money laundering and abduction of Japanese nationals.

How did North Korea respond to these open-handed, friendly gestures? Pyongyang thanked us by conducting a ballistic missile test (under the cover of a satellite launch), restarting a plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon, taking two American women hostage and now testing what it calls its “self-defensive nuclear deterrent.” This proves that no good deed goes unpunished.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice said the nuclear test was “a grave violation of international law” and pledged that the United States would pursue a “strong [Security Council] resolution with strong measures.” These are words cross-dressing as deeds.

American policymakers would be wise to remember U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, passed a week after the 2006 nuclear test. The resolution strongly condemned the North Korean nuclear test and imposed extraordinary financial sanctions. It called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs and authorized member states, including the United States, to intercept ships bound for North Korea to inspect them for nuclear components.

The United States also can take action under the 2006 North Korea Nonproliferation Act, which authorizes punishing foreigners trading in nuclear and missile technology with North Korea.

So far, the United States and other countries have failed to press North Korea to the limit of these U.N. measures, preferring diplomacy over action. This has only served as a means for North Korea to pursue its nuclear ambitions while the West mouths empty words.

This issue is not limited to the Korean peninsula. North Korea has emerged as the world’s leading nuclear proliferator state. The “axis of evil” is alive and well despite the loss of Iraq as one of its charter members. North Korea and Iran have had a long-standing cooperative relationship in nuclear and missile technology.

As is well known in the intelligence community, Iranian technicians were present during North Korea’s 2006 nuclear test. North Korean nuclear specialists were covertly videotaped at the secret Syrian nuclear reactor that Israel destroyed in September 2007. The reactor reportedly was underwritten by Iran as a means of carrying out nuclear-weapons development outside the country, thus evading the United Nations and other inspection regimes. Iranian missile experts were in North Korea helping prepare for the April 2009 missile launch, and according to Japan’s Sankei Shimbun newspaper, they brought a letter for Kim Jong-il from Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asserting the importance of mutual cooperation on missile programs, euphemistically referred to as “space technology.”

Iran seems to be using North Korea as a platform for nuclear-weapons research and development, keeping away from prying eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Israel’s reach. Recent reports of nuclear cooperation between Iran and Venezuela raise the specter of the evil axis extending into the Western Hemisphere.

North Korea has demonstrated a dogged immunity to sanctions. It already is one of the poorest countries in the world, and there are few remaining economic levers at the world’s disposal. The communist leadership is willing to pay any price, bear any burden to become a nuclear power, regardless of the cost to its economy or the suffering of its people.

If the six-party talks are to mean anything, China must become more active by restricting fuel and electricity exports to North Korea and ending economic support.

President Obama should order the U.S. Navy, acting under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, to inspect all shipping in and out of North Korea. Measures also should be taken to inspect all aircraft and ground transport. If more resolute action is not taken, North Korea will hold a knife to the throat of the world - forever blustering demands into its frightened ear.

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