Staff writer

North Korea’s rocket launch over Japan on Aug. 31 was designed to demonstrate that the country has bargaining power in negotiations with the United States, and that it is modernizing its military capabilities, John Chipman, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Friday.

“I think the launching of a missile at this time was intended to remind the U.S. that North Korea regained bargaining chips,” chief of the London-based institute said in an interview with The Japan Times. The institute is known for the annual publication Military Balance.

He said that Pyongyang needed to make the demonstration because it is now in delicate negotiations with Washington to receive humanitarian aid, to advance the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization project to built light-water nuclear reactors with international help and to move forward with four-party talks on a peace treaty for the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea lost its leverage in 1994 when it signed a nuclear framework agreement with the U.S., suspending its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid to construct the light-water reactors, Chipman said.

Chipman said that North Korea also tried to demonstrate to the outside world and its people its military capabilities on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Stalinist state, adding that the power of leader Kim Jong Il is based heavily on his relationship with the military.

Chipman, who visited North Korea in early August, said that Pyongyang’s foreign policy is entirely focused on building a special relationship with Washington and on cutting out South Korea and other countries from any negotiations.

Washington and Pyongyang will hold talks Oct. 1 in New York to discuss North Korea’s missile program, arms sales to the Middle East and other areas of concern to Washington. North Korea is especially suspicious of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung’s so-called sunshine policy of seeking reconciliation with Pyongyang, Chipman pointed out.

President Kim “is the worst president of South Korea that North Korea has ever had to deal with,” he said. “His predecessors, who took more hardline policies, were easier for (Pyongyang) to deal with.”

North Korea interprets the sunshine policy “as a way of undermining the socialist regime in North Korea and to pollute the socialist regime with capitalist and free-market ideas,” he said.

As North Korea’s focus remains on its ties with the U.S., it does not place a high priority on normalizing relations with Japan, Chipman said.

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