US and S. Korea Strive for Unity amid Fears of a of N. Korean Nuke Test ; Analysts Are Concerned That North Korea May See an Opportunity to Deepen the Wedge between the Allies

By Donald KirkCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 2006 | Go to article overview

US and S. Korea Strive for Unity amid Fears of a of N. Korean Nuke Test ; Analysts Are Concerned That North Korea May See an Opportunity to Deepen the Wedge between the Allies


Donald KirkCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The United States and South Korea are trying to work through their differences in hopes of steering North Korea away from conducting a possible underground nuclear test.

While intelligence estimates suggest that the North may possess six or more nuclear warheads, a test would confer on the North the clout of a full-fledged member of the nuclear club. It also could trigger a nuclear arms race among regional powers, particularly Japan and Taiwan, both of which are believed to have the technology for producing nuclear weapons, as well as China, already a nuclear power.

South Korea is adopting what Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon says are "concrete" - if unspecified - measures both to counteract the threat and to persuade North Korea of the dangers of provoking a regional crisis. Mr. Ban, however, is equally interested in persuading the senior US diplomat for the region, Christopher Hill, from exacerbating tensions as he touches down in Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul in an effort to bring unified pressure on North Korea.

The US is pressing for a strict interpretation of the UN Security Council resolution banning any dealings with the North that might support its arms trade. Such a reading would deepen the economic damage done to the regime by US Treasury Department efforts to curb international trade with North Korea.

The concern is that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il will conclude he has no choice but to fight in order to survive, much "like a rat driven into a corner" - a phrase widely used among South Koreans. Or, as Ban put it, North Korea will find itself "at dead end with no way out."

The different approaches to the nuclear standoff are part of a rift between President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo- hyun, who has long pursued a soft-line policy of reconciliation with the North. As the two leaders prepare to meet next week in Washington, regional analysts are concerned that North Korea may see an opportunity to deepen the wedge between the allies.

If Kim Jong Il does not press the trigger on an underground nuclear test, he may well order another test-firing of missiles reminiscent of the July launch of seven missiles. …

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