Missiles, scandal and North Korean nuclear bombs

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti foreign news commentator Ivan Zakharchenko) - On March 28, North Korea launched three anti-ship missiles with a range of 46 km during war games in the Yellow Sea. This caused a stir in the world press since North Korea has some nuclear weapons.

Missiles with such a range do not carry nuclear weapons but this report has triggered numerous comments. To some extent, this was the purpose of the missile launches.

The global community is weary of the procrastinated six-lateral process of North Korea's disarmament, in which Russia is taking part. This process is gradually dying out, and may never reach its goal. In this situation, Pyongyang has several methods of drawing attention to itself. In 2006, it staged an underground nuclear test, and stirred up the negotiating process for two years.

Now North Korea may decide to act in the same vein - missiles may be followed by another nuclear test, if need be, and this would not come as surprise.

Let's see what preceded the recent launches, which were nothing special (the previous launches took place nine months ago), but sent an obvious warning that Pyongyang is not talking to the wind.

Diplomats from Russia, the United States, China, both Korean states, and Japan have conducted the talks for almost six years. The last stalemate was created by Washington's demand that North Korea should disclose its secret uranium-enrichment program, the existence of which was denied by Pyongyang. The United States also insists on proof that North Korea has not transferred its nuclear technologies to Syria.

On the day when the missiles were launched, the North Korean Foreign Ministry warned the United States that if it does not give up its demands, Pyongyang may stop the decommissioning of a nuclear reactor that produced weapon-grade plutonium.

During all the talks, an official spokesman for North Korea denied the existence of secret uranium programs, and the transfer of technologies abroad. But the United States does not believe these statements, and is refusing to remove North Korea from the list of countries supporting terrorism, and cancel economic sanctions against it. In this situation, Pyongyang is simply refusing to believe that Washington is not an enemy, and to curtail its nuclear programs.

For the last ten years, South Korea's liberal democrats pursued the Sunshine Policy of engagement to promote reconciliation with North Korea. But now the conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who won the elections in December 2007, has declared that from now on South Korea will give up cooperating with its northern neighbor until the nuclear problem is resolved.

Having outlined the principles of inter-Korean relations the other day, the new South Korean president, a former businessman, actually renounced the agreements concluded in Pyongyang by his predecessor Roh Mu-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and by the prime ministers of both countries last year. They agreed to create a zone of peace and cooperation in the Yellow Sea, but Myung-bak did not even mention this idea during his meeting with the government. Pyongyang could not fail to notice this.

The recent launches were made in the Yellow Sea, which has been a seat of tensions between the two Korean states for many years. After the war of 1950-1953, the Americans unilaterally delimitated the waters by a line, which is not recognized by North Korea. Incidents with warships were frequent there in the past because of this dispute.

This may become an insoluble problem. A spokesman for the North Korean Navy said on the radio on March 28 that if South Korean warships appear in the North Korean waters, Pyongyang will not simply watch these provocations, but will have to stop them immediately.

Like the missile launches, this is also a warning to the South Korean leaders, which have renounced rapprochement with North Korea. But the biggest sign of mistrust, which was virtually unnoticed by the world community, was the expulsion of 11 Seoul government employees from a joint industrial zone near the North Korean city of Keson. Since 2005, they worked at the coordinating bureau of the South and North Exchanges and Cooperation, South Korea's first official mission in North Korea.

This serious diplomatic conflict took place after South Korea announced on March 19 that the expansion of the joint industrial zone would be impossible without the resolution of the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula. This contradicts the agreements of last year's inter-Korean summit.

The news agency Renhap reported that South Korean experts are worried that this scandal will only aggravate the settlement of the nuclear problem. Seoul is not likely to change its course in the near future, and the situation on the Korean peninsula may become even more uncertain in connection with the presidential elections in the United States this year.

Nobody can predict what policy the new U.S. administration will pursue toward North Korea. Pyongyang does not need to rush anywhere. If the six-lateral process stops, North Korea will again resume its nuclear program, and will test ballistic rather than anti-ship missiles. In this case, everything will have to be started from scratch.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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