U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to increase pressure on North Korea over the Pyongyang nuclear threat in his second term — something Japan does not want, experts say.
While wanting to remain united with the U.S. to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Japan and South Korea do not want tensions heightened in the Korean Peninsula.
Tokyo is also concerned that if international attention focuses on the nuclear issue, unresolved questions over the abductions of Japanese to the reclusive state might be pushed to the sidelines.
Washington is believed to have grown increasingly irritated that the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear threat, first held in August 2003, have gone nowhere over the past year.
But before Tuesday’s presidential election, the U.S. did not appear to want to up the ante on the issue as Bush was busy pushing ahead with Iraq’s reconstruction and fighting against insurgents there.
Japanese experts predict that after Bush’s new team organizes and forms its policy toward Pyongyang — perhaps by next spring — Washington might bring the nuclear issue to the United Nations Security Council to discuss possible sanctions against North Korea.
“If North Korea fails to provide a counterproposal in the next round of six-nation talks, the U.S. will probably threaten to go to the Security Council,” said Hideya Kurata, an assistant professor at Kyorin University and an expert on North Korean affairs.
Pyongyang might then resort to brinkmanship and officially declare that it possesses nuclear weapons, which would immediately raise tensions, he said.
Pyongyang has warned that it considers the imposition of economic sanctions a declaration of war.
Kurata said that the Bush administration will try to resolve the North Korean nuclear threat before the U.S. midterm elections in the fall of 2006.
But if the U.S. increases pressure on North Korea over the issue, it might put a strain on its partnership with Japan and South Korea, which have both opposed taking the issue to the Security Council.
Bush has so far emphasized America’s commitment to the six-party talks involving the U.S., North and South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. Of the group, the U.S., South Korea and Japan have coordinated their policies on North Korea.
“The six-party talks have not yet collapsed,” Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference on Oct. 1. “If it is brought to the U.N. Security Council, many more nations will be involved” and it would cause confusion.
If it went to the Security Council, China, which traditionally has had close ties with North Korea, might veto a resolution that would corner Pyongyang.
A senior Foreign Ministry official, who asked not to be named, said he believes the U.S. will probably not bring the issue to the Security Council because now there is little benefit.
“Washington needs to be determined to wage war against North Korea if it wants to bring the issue to the Security Council,” he said. “But I don’t think the American public is ready to support such a decision” because of its war in Iraq.
But Teruo Komaki, an expert on Korean politics at Kokushikan University, said Pyongyang will try to raise diplomatic tensions so that it can get the most in exchange for abandoning its nuclear program.
Diplomatic tension was at its peak in 1994, when North Korea left the International Atomic Energy Agency, a nuclear watchdog, and the United States submitted a resolution to the Security Council on economic sanctions against the North.
Then North Korea and the U.S. struck a deal on the North’s nuclear program.
The comprehensive framework required North Korea to freeze and eventually dismantle its nuclear facilities in exchange for construction of two light-water nuclear reactors by an international consortium and for a supply of oil in the interim.
The 1994 agreement collapsed after North Korea admitted to the U.S. in 2002 that it had secretly continued its nuclear arms program.
If tensions increase over the situation in North Korea, the issue of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea — a primary concern of the Japanese public — will likely be shelved, Komaki noted.
“The abduction issue will only be resolved comprehensively with the nuclear issue,” he said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.