US presses to enforce North Korea resolution

Secretary Rice travels to Northeast Asia this week following UN passage of a resolution Saturday.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Armed with a unanimously passed Security Council resolution imposing the toughest sanctions yet on North Korea, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels to Northeast Asia this week to try to ensure that the new measures work.

Long term, the goal, as approved at the United Nations in New York Saturday, is dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear-weapons program. More short term, the sanctions aim to stop the country from purchasing or transferring materials used in the production of weapons of mass destruction. It was the North's apparent test of a nuclear weapon a week ago that set off the chain reaction of diplomatic activity.

But with crucial countries in any interdiction program – including China – already balking at some resolution measures, Secretary Rice will use stops in Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing to press the international community beyond condemnation of North Korea to action.

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The US efforts in the North Korea case will also have implications for the international effort to sway Iran's nuclear ambitions, especially given that the Security Council is expected to take up this week Iran's refusal to cease its uranium enrichment program.

The United States is buoyed by the unprecedented cooperation it believes is beginning to emerge on stopping nuclear proliferation by what it considers rogue regimes. But at the same time, the flurry of nuclear diplomacy is likely to strain cooperation in cases where countries do not see eye to eye with the US.

Indeed, Rice is sure to run into interference in Beijing, which is unhappy with what it calls the North's "flagrant" acts but which nevertheless feels it has different interests in the North Korea case from those of the US.

As one example, China's UN ambassador has said it will not participate in a cargo inspections program that the resolution approves for detecting barred weapons and materials either leaving or entering the country. China, which worries about the impact of a destabilized North Korea, says such disruption of trade could have a deleterious impact on the entire region.

One aim of the US and other countries will be to convince the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that it is first and foremost its own actions, such as the recent test, that threaten its existence, experts say.

"For sanctions to be effective, they have to prevent further escalation, which I think we can do, and they have to demonstrate within the North Korean leadership that the step they have taken is going to make their regime less stable and more likely to collapse," says Michael Green, who served as Asia director in the Bush National Security Council until December and is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

But just the mention of instability gives China and South Korea cold feet about pressing the North, so Rice will face those fears as she seeks to keep key players in the North Korea equation on board.

"The Security Council resolution will be the guiding document, but the US is going to be looking for tougher actions from South Korea in particular, and that could cause some frictions," says Chung-in Moon, a professor of political science at Yonsei University in South Korea and an ambassador for international security with the South Korean government.

The reference to "tougher" measures alludes to the fact that the US did not get everything it originally sought in the resolution. But in the end the US, which all week long said it wanted "tough and swift" action by the Council, opted to water down its demands in exchange for getting a 15-to-0 vote within a week of North Korea's apparent test explosion.

In a statement following the resolution's passage Saturday, John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN, said the Council's action "proves to North Korea and others that the Security Council is prepared to meet threats to international security with swift resolve."

The resolution does not include the use of military force to require ships engaged in North Korean commerce to stop for inspection on the open seas – something the US first sought. And it whittles down a broad arms embargo originally envisioned to a focus on heavy-arms trade. The North's cash-poor regime relies heavily on arms trade for its survival, experts say.

The resolution also seeks to bring the international community in line with existing US efforts to curtail outlaw activities of the Kim regime such as counterfeiting and money laundering – primarily of US dollars – and to stop the flow of luxury goods into what is one of the world's most destitute countries.

US officials tell stories of the regime buying the loyalty of military officials in particular with bottles of French champagne and duffels of cash.

While such measures might eventually have some impact with North Korea, anything similar is less likely to work with Iran, which can rely on oil income to stay afloat and to pursue its nuclear program.

Still, US officials indicate they hope to see the kind of action taken against North Korea reflected in steps against Iran. "We will be working to do all we can to make sure the systems set up pursuant to the [UN] resolution" and other efforts like the Proliferation Security Initiative "are workable in this instance, and perhaps workable in other proliferation cases," says Christopher Hill, US assistant secretary of State for east Asian affairs and head of US efforts in the stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

Speaking with reporters on Friday, before accompanying Rice on her trip, Mr. Hill suggested the US will seek to deliver the same "unprecedented unanimity" in other cases by applying what works with respect to North Korea to other instances of proliferation.

But already Russia, which has a larger financial and geopolitical interest in Iran's evolution than with North Korea, is showing irritation at US tactics.

The problem for the international community is that while the right sanctions can work to stop proliferation, they also place pressure on key countries' overriding interests that may be intolerable, experts say.

"Do sanctions have an effect? Sure they do," says Jon Wolfsthal, who, like Mr. Green, is at CSIS. "Once a country crosses the nuclear threshold, sanctions can have some impact if the country is reliant on imports for technology.... But I don't believe any sanction in and of itself will [have] the North Koreans saying tomorrow, 'Oh you know what?... I want to give up my nuclear program so I can ... restart sales of mushrooms to Japan."

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