U.S. Will Refer N. Korea Nuclear Effort to U.N. (WASHINGTON POST) By Peter Slevin and Walter Pincus 12/28/02 Page A01)
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The Bush administration, surprised by the speed of North Korea´s
defiant reopening of the shuttered Yongbyon nuclear facility, intends
to refer the matter to the United Nations as part of a policy one
official described yesterday as "isolate and contain."
Rejecting direct negotiations as unpalatable and a military strike as
presently untenable, the administration expects to seek the censure
of North Korea at an emergency meeting of the International Atomic
Energy Agency governing board in early January, officials said.
They said if Pyongyang still refuses to back down, the matter likely
would be referred to the U.N. Security Council, where the
administration would try to muster greater pressure on North Korea,
particularly from China. U.S. officials are eager to avoid a
distracting confrontation with Pyongyang as conflict with Iraq
U.S. officials see no simple way to stop the maneuvers of enigmatic
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. On a day when North Korea ordered
the expulsion of international inspectors and took steps to refuel a
dormant nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, President Bush´s top foreign
policy advisers met at the White House to assess Kim´s intentions.
Some senior U.S. intelligence analysts believe Kim intends to build
nuclear weapons whether or not the international community offers
concessions. The construction of an atomic arsenal, this thinking
goes, would offer North Korea stature and leverage that he has long
"It may use the current situation to extract concessions, but there
is no reason to doubt that Pyongyang will continue," a senior
official familiar with U.S. intelligence assessments said yesterday.
CIA analysts also believe North Korea may have stored enough
plutonium for one or two bombs more than a decade ago.
The administration is facing increasing political pressure to talk
with Kim´s government, which blames the United States for the
emerging crisis. Leading Republican and Democratic foreign policy
voices in the Senate have called on Bush to open discussions -- a
step the administration believes would demonstrate weakness and
invite further brinkmanship.
U.S. policymakers and their spokesmen, mindful of Kim´s history of
building a sense of crisis to win economic and diplomatic favors,
have steadfastly avoided any hint of worry as North Korea has
dismantled a 1994 nuclear agreement. Indeed, a high-ranking official
yesterday asserted that "no one´s really concerned right now."
Yet many outside experts believe a crisis may be boiling. Specialists
throughout the national security apparatus have been studying Kim´s
moves and trying to decipher his strategy, consulting with one
another and foreign governments. The reclusive leader has many moves
he can yet make if his ambition is escalation, officials point out,
although each one brings him closer to a potentially devastating
Beyond restarting the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and a facility to
extract plutonium from 8,000 spent fuel rods, Kim could carry through
with the expulsion of IAEA monitors. He could withdraw from the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, end a moratorium on missile testing
or fire a missile over Japan, as he did in 1999.
To deter him, the administration believes it has few encouraging
The White House has rejected direct negotiations until Kim takes
steps to halt a recently discovered uranium enrichment program. A
lightning military strike would be risky, and almost certainly
unpopular in the region. And U.S. efforts to marshal international
pressure have so far been unsuccessful.
The heart of the administration´s strategy, announced in June 2001,
is a vow not to reward North Korea for provocative behavior, whether
a military or nuclear buildup or aggressive moves toward its
neighbors. Bush incensed Kim by naming North Korea a member of
his "axis of evil," but the president said he would extend economic
and diplomatic cooperation if convinced that Kim was playing fair.
Bush wanted to see progress on a range of issues, from limits on
missile sales to a pullback of North Korean troops from its border
with South Korea. Steps would be reciprocal and verifiable. Without
concrete progress, there would be no U.S. concessions.
"The approach comes from years of being burned," a U.S. official once
"When North Korea confirmed to U.S. envoys in October that it had
been working secretly to enrich uranium in violation of a 1994 pledge
to halt its nuclear program, the administration demanded to no avail
that Pyongyang stop the project. The Americans and their allies
halted promised fuel oil shipments in retaliation, angering the North
The Kim government blasted the IAEA, whose authority it disdains.
Then, last weekend, North Korean workers began removing seals and
covering cameras used by the IAEA to make sure the Yongbyon facility,
with its reactor and stored fuel remained shuttered. The IAEA, a U.N.
organization, accused North Korea of dangerous brinkmanship.
For now, the administration has been pressing foreign governments to
lean on Pyongyang and warn Kim that continued defiance will further
isolate his regime and worsen the country´s economic misery.
Analysts are divided about Kim´s ambitions, debating whether the
moves at Yongbyon are primarily a scripted drama designed to win
concessions or a determined effort to produce plutonium and a nuclear
arsenal. One view is that it may be both, with Kim having the option
to stop or continue as events dictate.
Korea specialist Don Oberdorfer believes North Korea may have been
willing to engage as recently as November, but in response to the
Bush administration´s tough stance has started on a series of actions
that are developing a momentum of their own.
"All indications are that they are moving rapidly to produce a
nuclear weapon," Oberdorfer said. Joel Wit, a scholar at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, agreed, saying that "it may
be too late to stop what´s going on in North Korea."
"It´s still possible this is some sort of negotiating tactic," said
Wit, a former Clinton administration official, "but the weight of
evidence is that they may have decided to start building up their
nuclear weapons stockpile."
The administration has itself partly to blame for North Korea´s
behavior, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control
Association. He said of U.S. officials, "When they say they have no
good options, they´re continuing a policy of neglect that´s worsening
a bad situation."
As Kim acts in precisely the provocative way the Bush administration
abhors, the unsolved riddle for the White House is how to make him
"There´s no doubt in anyone´s mind that this goes to the Security
Council," an administration official said yesterday. "The question is
one of timing: Can the Security Council handle North Korea and Iraq
at the same time?" (© 2002 The Washington Post Company 12/28/02)
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