Korean Missile Politics Overshadow Seoul Nuclear Terrorism Summit

By Kirk, Donald | The Christian Science Monitor, March 22, 2012 | Go to article overview

Korean Missile Politics Overshadow Seoul Nuclear Terrorism Summit


Kirk, Donald, The Christian Science Monitor


More than 50 world leaders, including President Obama, are set to arrive in Seoul to discuss prevention of nuclear terrorism, but Pyongyang's plans for a new missile test have shifted the discussion.

North Korea's plan to launch a long-range rocket next month revs up the confrontation on the Korean peninsula just as South Korea is about to welcome more than 50 global leaders here to come up with an agenda for combating nuclear terrorism.

In the first substantive response to the North Korean plan, South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak has indicated he will impress upon President Obama the South's desire to update a 32-year-old agreement with the US that limits South Korean missiles to a range of 300 kilometers.

"We need an appropriate range," Mr. Lee has been telling journalists here. "Realities and circumstances have changed."

Lee is expected to make his plea for revision of the missile deal when he sees Mr. Obama on Sunday after the US president gets back from a quick visit to the demilitarized zone that has divided the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War.

The shock of North Korea's announcement of a missile test gives fresh significance to a "national security summit" in which the leaders on Monday and Tuesday will discuss a wide range of measures to keep nuclear devices from falling into the hands of terrorists.

South Korea's foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, today branded the North Korean plan to launch a rocket "a grave provocation" intended to test "a vehicle with nuclear weapons." Mr. Kim bristled, however, when asked about a threat by the North to view any mention of North Korea at the summit as "a declaration of war."

"Individual issues will not be discussed at the nuclear summit," he said. "I do not know why they keep saying that." Rather, he said, "This is a peace summit," dedicated to coming out with rules to keep terrorists from acquiring and using nuclear weapons.

Containment, not denuclearization

North Korea's plan comes as a bitter disappointment, considering that US nuclear envoy Glyn Davies and North Korea's envoy Kim Kye- gwan came up with a deal on Feb. 29 that was widely described as "a breakthrough." Mr. Kim said North Korea would observe a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests while Mr. Davies said the US would provide 240,000 tons of food aid.

"So what is Pyongyang up to?" asks Ralph Cossa, who runs the Pacific forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu. "The North Koreans pulled the rug out from everyone" at a time when it appeared "safe to go back to six-party talks," last held in December 2008, on the North's nuclear program, Mr. Cossa says.

Indeed, the specter of the North Korean missile test hangs heavy over the summit during which leaders are certain to mull the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran "on the sidelines," over meals, in quiet sessions in hotel rooms - and in mini-summits with President Lee.

In symposiums and seminars staged here all week, analysts have focused on the shock of the North Korean rocket launch rather than on nuclear terrorism.

Everyone appears to agree that North Korea's real aim is to test an advanced version of the same long-range Taepodong missile that it has test-fired on two previous occasions, in August 1998 and again in April 2009. …

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