Focus on N. Korea

IN THE ever-expanding list of targets on its war on terror, the Bush administration has firmly included North Korea's nuclear programme.

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Published: Sat 17 Apr 2004, 12:28 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:08 AM

During talks in China this week, US Vice-President Dick Cheney linked the resolution of the North Korean issue to Washington's efforts to reshape the Middle East and Afghanistan. Cheney presented Chinese leaders with new evidence about the scope of Pyongyang's nuclear programme and warned against the perils of open-ended negotiations. Specifically, the US vice-president brought to the attention of Chinese leaders purported claims by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, to have seen three nuclear devices in North Korea five years ago.

The lengths Cheney chose to go towards persuading his hosts of North Korea's motives and capabilities underlines the influence Washington believes Beijing can exert on Pyongyang to forgo its nuclear ambitions. After much sabre-rattling between the US and North Korea that intensified with the inauguration of the Bush administration in early 2001, a mechanism was devised under which China, Japan, South Korea and Russia have joined discussions to address the crisis. Two rounds of the so-called six-nation talks held under Chinese auspices have failed to make tangible progress.

The US is evidently anxious to avoid overt compromises, especially considering that North Korea reneged on its agreement to halt all nuclear activities and allow full inspections of its materials and facilities under the 1994 Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration. From the American viewpoint, any solution must go farther than the 1994 accord towards ensuring that all the parties understand their responsibilities and recognise that they would be held accountable to them. North Korea, for its part, has been making ambiguous statements on the precise nature of its nuclear capabilities in an effort to bolster its negotiating posture. Chinese officials have raised doubts over the contention that North Korea is close to acquiring nuclear weapons.

The faulty US intelligence about Iraq's weapons would discourage Beijing from taking hasty action against North Korea. Beijing recognises the need for a breakthrough to forestall sanctions against Pyongyang. With Japan and South Korea on perpetual alert, the Chinese leadership understands the perils of a nuclear arms race in North-east Asia. For now, dialogue seems to be the only available option for the main players and the key is firmly with Beijing.

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