War of Words Over N. Korea

Tensions over North Korea’s nuclear standoff were already high with the necessary arm-twisting having started. Resounding threats of nuclear attacks following international sanctions placed on Pyongyang followed thick and fast. The high drama seems to have now degenerated to an exchange of insults and name calling between the United States and North Korea.

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Published: Sat 25 Jul 2009, 9:28 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:32 AM

It all makes for a rather tasteless and ridiculous farce, especially given the underlying seriousness of the situation. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chiding President Kim Jong-il for irresponsible behaviour, displaying all the characteristics of an ‘unruly child,’ has elicited a harsher reciprocation from Pyongyang. The fierce retaliation has termed Clinton ‘vulgar’ and ‘by no means intelligent’ for addressing the North Korean government’s actions in the above terms.

Taking up the issue of North Korea at a major security summit in Thailand, Clinton seems to have further fuelled the ongoing. The expectations aired by Clinton were aimed at harnessing support from within Asia, and among the participating European states, to dissuade North Korea from its nuclear programme.

Though Clinton, at the same time reaffirmed the US intent to use every avenue — possibly negotiations as well—to persuade Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear programme and normalise relations with the international community, there is little chance of that occurring anytime soon, in view of the latest exchange of insults.

Amid the ongoing hurtling of abuse, a serious issue has been brought up. That, of the possible link between North Korea’s communist regime in providing nuclear technology to Burma. Secretary Clinton has expressed serious concern about such a possibility. Burma is already facing international pressure on its flagrant disregard of human rights and detention of thousands of pro-democracy opposition leaders, including Ann San Suu Kyi. Burma and North Korea have in recent years built up their military relations. It is rumoured that Pyongyang may be helping Myanmar with nuclear know-how to build a covert nuclear weapons programme. Burma’s acquisition of nuclear capability, especially given the nature of its ruling regime, is bound to trigger off tremors of deep concern in Southeast Asia as well as in the larger international community.

Clinton’s appeal to the ASEAN states included, “denying North Korean vessels access to any human transshipment points and cooperating with the enforcement of financial sanctions against those designated entities that support Pyongyang’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.” This obviously translates into an extremely uncomfortable corner for North Korea, increasingly isolated and undergoing a serious economic crisis. China, in particular, has been of focus with the US hoping for its influence to force North Korea to abandon its maximalist position and re negotiate, but only after demonstrating verifiable measures at disbanding its nuclear programme in keeping with the international commitments. At the same time a reacceptance to the international fold as well as economic assistance has been dangled before Pyongyang’s reach.

It will be interesting to see how things develop. Pyongyang for all its blustering fully realises the implications that threaten its survival. It may only be a ruse to extract maximum leverage from the international community as far as financial assistance goes.

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