Really?!? Stop dangerous shipments to and from North Korea? NO! You mean before having six party talks and a session to discuss how unilateralism might inhibit Kim Jong Il's ability to self-actualize?
U.S. Weighs Intercepting North Korean Shipments
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration signaled Sunday that it was seeking a way to interdict, possibly with China's help, North Korean sea and air shipments suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology.
The administration also said it was examining whether there was a legal basis to reverse former President George W. Bush's decision last year to remove the North from a list of states that sponsor terrorism.
The reference to interdictions — preferably at ports or airfields in countries like China, but possibly involving riskier confrontations on the high seas — was made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She was the highest-ranking official to talk publicly about such a potentially provocative step as a response to North Korea's second nuclear test, conducted two weeks ago.
While Mrs. Clinton did not specifically mention assistance from China, other administration officials have been pressing Beijing to take such action under Chinese law.
Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Mrs. Clinton said the United States feared that if the test and other recent actions by North Korea did not lead to "strong action," there was a risk of "an arms race in Northeast Asia" — an oblique reference to the concern that Japan would reverse its long-held ban against developing nuclear weapons.
So far it is not clear how far the Chinese are willing to go to aid the United States in stopping North Korea's profitable trade in arms, the isolated country's most profitable export. But the American focus on interdiction demonstrates a new and potentially far tougher approach to North Korea than both President Clinton and Mr. Bush, in his second term, took as they tried unsuccessfully to reach deals that would ultimately lead North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.
Mr. Obama, aides say, has decided that he will not offer North Korea new incentives to dismantle the nuclear complex at Yongbyon that the North previously promised to abandon.
"I'm tired of buying the same horse twice," Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said last week while touring an antimissile site in Alaska that the Bush administration built to demonstrate its preparedness to destroy North Korean missiles headed toward the United States. (So far, the North Koreans have not successfully tested a missile of sufficient range to reach the United States, though there is evidence that they may be preparing for another test of their long-range Taepodong-2 missile.)
In France on Saturday, Mr. Obama referred to the same string of broken deals, telling reporters, "I don't think there should be an assumption that we will simply continue down a path in which North Korea is constantly destabilizing the region and we just react in the same ways." He added, "We are not intending to continue a policy of rewarding provocation."
While Mr. Obama was in the Middle East and Europe last week, several senior officials said the president's national security team had all but set aside the central assumption that guided American policy toward North Korea over the past 16 years and two presidencies: that the North would be willing to ultimately abandon its small arsenal of nuclear weapons in return for some combination of oil, nuclear power plants, money, food and guarantees that the United States would not topple its government, the world's last Stalinesque regime.
Now, after examining the still-inconclusive evidence about the results of North Korea's second nuclear test, the administration has come to different conclusions: that Pyonyang's top priority is to be recognized as a nuclear state, that it is unwilling to bargain away its weapons and that it sees tests as a way to help sell its nuclear technology.
"This entirely changes the dynamic of how you deal with them," a senior national security aide said.
While Mr. Obama is willing to reopen the six-party talks that Mr. Bush began — the other participants are Japan, South Korea, Russia and China — he has no intention, aides say, of offering new incentives to get the North to fulfill agreements from 1994, 2005 and 2008; all were recently renounced.
"Clinton bought it once, Bush bought it again, and we're not going to buy it a third time," one of Mr. Obama's chief strategists said last week, referring to the Yongbyon plant, where the North reprocesses spent nuclear fuel into bomb-grade plutonium.
While some officials privately acknowledged that they would still like to roll back what one called North Korea's "rudimentary" nuclear capacity, a more realistic goal is to stop the country from devising a small weapon deliverable on a short-, medium- or long-range missile.
In conducting any interdictions, the United States could risk open confrontation with North Korea. That prospect — and the likelihood of escalating conflict if the North resisted an inspection — is why China has balked at American proposals for a resolution by the United Nations Security Council that would explicitly allow interceptions at sea. A previous Security Council resolution, passed after the North's first nuclear test, in 2006, allowed interdictions "consistent with international law." But that term was never defined, and few of the provisions were enforced.
North Korea has repeatedly said it would regard any interdiction as an act of war, and officials in Washington have been trying to find ways to stop the shipments without a conflict. Late last week, James B. Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state, visited Beijing with a delegation of American officials, seeking ideas from China about sanctions, including financial pressure, that might force North Korea to change direction.
"The Chinese face a dilemma that they have always faced," a senior administration official said. "They don't want North Korea to become a full nuclear weapons state. But they don't want to cause the state to collapse." They have been walking a fine line, the official said, taking a tough position against the North of late, but unwilling to publicly embrace steps that would put China in America's camp.
To counter the Chinese concern, Mr. Steinberg and his delegation argued to the Chinese that failing to crack down on North Korea would prompt reactions that Beijing would find deeply unsettling, including a greater American military presence in the region and more calls in Japan for that country to develop its own weapons.
Mrs. Clinton seemed to reflect this concern in the interview on Sunday. "We will do everything we can to both interdict it and prevent it and shut off their flow of money," she said. "If we do not take significant and effective action against the North Koreans now, we'll spark an arms race in Northeast Asia. I don't think anybody wants to see that."
While Mrs. Clinton also said the State Department was examining whether North Korea should be placed back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, she acknowledged that there was a legal process for it. "Obviously we would want to see recent evidence of their support for international terrorism," she said.That evidence may be hard to come by. While North Korea has engaged in missile sales, it has not been linked to terrorism activity for many years. And North Korea's restoration to the list would be largely symbolic, because it already faces numerous economic sanction.