Has North Korea finally gone too far?
Consensus is rising in the international community: Enough cajoling, it's time to get tough.
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The US should also push for a tough new UN resolution, Klingner says. It should add North Korean companies and foreign partners involved in Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs to the UN sanctions list, he adds.Skip to next paragraph
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In addition, the US should lead a reinvigorated international effort to stop any illicit proliferation activities, as well as other alleged "illegal activity," such as money laundering and drug trafficking.
Others go farther, saying the US should reverse actions taken by the Bush administration to lure Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.
"Obama could put these fellows back on the terrorist list in 10 minutes," says Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) in Washington. "He could call [the Treasury Department] to get back on the sanctions of financial institutions that were laundering money in 15 minutes."
Mr. Sokolski is doubtful that President Obama will go that far, though an unnamed Treasury official told Reuters that officials were reviewing such an option.
As for listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, the Bush administration took North Korea off the State Department's list. It was part of a deal intended to open the North's nuclear facilities to international inspections.
Pyongyang never honored its part of the deal, yet it is too late to reverse the terrorism delisting, Klingner says. "That horse has left the barn, and any attempt at getting it back in would be difficult and distracting," he says.
It would require substantiating North Korea's involvement in terrorist activity.
A call for more patience
Another view of the appropriate international response to North Korea's action calls for greater patience. The primary advantage of this tactic is to allow time to figure out why Pyongyang is acting the way it is.
The Security Council has "no choice" but to incrementally ratchet up the pressure it put on North Korea in April after a missile launch, says James Walsh, a specialist in Korean security studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Yet if North Korea is being driven by internal factors, that could only make things worse, he adds: "Pressure on countries under transition tends to unsettle them even more."
The better response, Mr. Walsh adds, is "patient, persistent, and quiet" diplomacy. Such diplomacy would reassure countries like Japan and South Korea about their security, while waiting to see if Pyongyang will return to the negotiating table "in one, or two, or six months."
North Korea a model for other nuclear wannabes?
It is unlikely that other nations – such as Iran – would see North Korea's belligerence as a model, Walsh says: "Who wants to be North Korea? Where is there any evidence of that?"
Instead, he says that Iran has "bent over backwards to distinguish itself from North Korea" – by staying in the Nonproliferation Treaty, and by basing its nuclear program on a right to civilian nuclear energy.
Others say the "model" argument cannot be dismissed. Iran and North Korea have corroborated on missile development, notes NPEC's Sokolski.
The linchpin of the international response to North Korea's actions could be the position the Obama administration takes. This is the first direct test of Mr. Obama's preference for engaging instead of antagonizing adversaries.
The words of the president and his diplomats have been tough, regional analysts say, but they will need to be translated into deeds.
"To date, the Obama administration's rhetoric towards North Korea has been commendably firm," says Klingner of Heritage. "The question is, will the action match the rhetoric? For that, we have to wait and see."