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Renew 6-party talks to seek resolution of N. Korean irritant


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POSTED: Friday, April 03, 2009

FEELING ignored by the world's focus on more pressing problems, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is seeking attention the only way he knows how: preparing to shoot a rocket into the sky. His repeated swagger should bring a renewal of six-party nuclear disarmament talks aimed at achieving a permanent taming of the world's most isolated nation.

Between tomorrow and next Wednesday - the day before Kim is scheduled to be get “;re-elected”; by his rubber-stamp parliament - North Korea is expected to launch a long-range missile that it says will carry a communications satellite but is more likely an intercontinental ballistic missile. U.S. officials say it has the potential of carrying a warhead to America's West Coast and is a violation of a United Nations ban on such tests by Pyongyang. The U.S. has no plans to shoot down the missile.

“;If we had an aberrant missile, one that was headed for Hawaii, that looked like it was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider it,”; says Defense Secretary Robert Gates. One would hope so, but that is a highly unlikely scenario.

Japan's military is poised to shoot down any debris from the rocket that might fall on its territory. The North has threatened to retaliate to an interception of the rocket itself and “;relentlessly shoot down”; U.S. reconnaissance aircraft.

Kim might be trying to use brinkmanship to show that he is fully in charge of his country, after having suffered a stroke last year. Or he could simply be using his only bargaining chip to gain economic help, a familiar course of action from Kim and his predecessor father, Kim Il Sung.

Any effort to punish North Korea through the U.N. Security Council probably would be pushed aside by China, Pyongyang's source of oil and the closest it has to an ally. A more logical approach would be resumption of the stalled six-party talks.

Stephen Bosworth, a special U.S. envoy to North Korea, traveled last month to meet with officials of six-party members Japan, China, Russia and South Korea. President Barack Obama met with parties to the talks at this week's G-20 summit in London, but Kim's antics may have taken a back seat to such issues as the economic crisis, nuclear disarmament of the U.S. and Russia and the proposed free-trade agreement with South Korea.

After a half-hour meeting, Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak referred to “;the staunchness of the Korea-U.S. alliance.”; South Korea has the ability to pressure the North by reducing the $1.8 billion worth of annual trade.

Kim has an extra pressure card of his own through the arrest of American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV, along the border with China. They are accused of illegally crossing into North Korea and face prison terms of 20 years in the North's notorious prisons.