North Korea's defiance puts Obama in a corner
Its nuclear and missile tests are a setback for the president's concept of engagement with rogue nations.
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The test is a setback for the Obama concept of engagement with rogue nations. It vastly complicates his attempts to defuse Iran's nuclear program. Iran's leaders may reasonably conclude: If North Korea can get away with building a nuclear arsenal largely unscathed, why not us? Indeed, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quick to rule out nuclear negotiations with other nations, declaring: "Iran's nuclear issue is over, in our opinion."
This, in turn, injects some tension into Mr. Obama's relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After his May 18 meeting in Washington with Mr. Netanyahu, Obama said the US diplomatic route to curb Iran's nuclear program would be reassessed by year's end. Netanyahu may well argue that if this timetable does not produce results, Israel is free to launch an airstrike against Iran's nuclear installations.
North Korea's provocation could pose problems for US relations with China, the nation most able to bring meaningful pressure to bear on the rogue nation. My sources say that even before the May 25 test, China was counseling patience to the US. After the test, Beijing's reaction was slow and soft, though more pointed than its earlier rhetoric.
China is disinclined to consider drastic steps that the US might suggest. One such step would be to cut off China's critical oil supply to North Korea. Though the Obama administration might hope for tougher Chinese action against North Korea, it will have to tread carefully, since the US has been wooing China, both as an emerging superpower and the holder of much of America's debt.