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North Korea threat warrants sanctions


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POSTED: Saturday, May 30, 2009

North Korea's underground testing of a nuclear warhead and the launching of at least six missiles this week gained the world attention that dictator Kim Jong Il sought, but that should not result in a bribe of the United States in the form of economic and humanitarian aid in return for resumption of diplomacy. Instead, the U.S. should go forward with sanctions that include blocking any movement of nuclear and other unconventional weapons and freezing Pyongyang's international bank accounts.

Unlike responses to previous acts of brinkmanship by Kim, China has denounced the test through official media. South Korea has agreed to join the U.S. and 95 other nations in the Proliferation Security Initiative, created in 2003 by President George W. Bush to stop cargo ships suspected of carrying nuclear materials. North Korea's blustery but hollow threat to respond to vessel searches with “;a powerful military strike”; should not deter the interdiction.

Russia and China, the North's prime source of oil and food, have been reluctant in the past to join in tough economic sanctions against their longtime ally. Even as they are concerned about its fragility leading to a transition from an ailing Kim, who suffered a stroke last year, Russia and China reportedly now have become willing to support sanctions.

American and Japanese officials have been drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at putting teeth in existing sanctions against North Korea that never have been enforced. Those including banning imports and exports of all arms instead of just heavy weapons.

Regardless of Kim's military braggadocio, North Korea poses no serious military threat to any country, even though U.S. officials said a long-range missile shot into the sky last month had the potential of carrying a warhead to America's West Coast. Naval skirmishes between the two Koreas in past years have been dominated by the better-equipped South Korean ships.

However, the growth of Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal is of concern. North Korea's most serious threat is through sale of missiles and nuclear material to nations such as Syria and Pakistan. “;These guys have shown a penchant for selling anything they've been able to develop,”; said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

As Japan and South Korea have joined the U.S. in seeking reprisals against the North, with Russia and China indicating approval of sanctions, Pyongyang's government-controlled media declared it is “;no longer bound”; by the 1954 armistice ending the Korean War. It warned that “;even a minor accidental clash could lead to a nuclear war.”;

Resumption of the stalled six-party talks, with bilateral side talks, aimed at achieving nuclear disarmament in the Korean peninsula should proceed only when North Korea backs away from military threats. China is in the best position to exert pressure on Pyongyang to lay down its arms and return to the table.