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North Korea sanctions announced by Clinton part of a diplomatic dance for South Korea

North Korea sanctions announced by Hilary Clinton on her visit to South Korea's DMZ Wednesday are a display of solidarity to ease South Korean concerns about the American commitment.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / July 21, 2010

From left to right: US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young stand together as they lay a wreath at the Korean War Memorial, Wednesday, in Seoul, South Korea. Clinton announced Wednesday that Washington will impose new sanctions on communist North Korea in a bid to stem the regime's illicit atomic ambitions.

Paul J. Richards/AP

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Top US policy-makers did a diplomatic dance with their South Korean counterparts on Wednesday in a display of solidarity intended to calm South Korean concerns about the American commitment.

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In the highlight of a highly publicized visit to Seoul by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary Clinton announced what she said were new North Korea sanctions. The US-imposed sanctions, she said, would “increase our ability” to halt North Korea’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction along with other “illicit activities that helped fund their weapons programs.”

Sanctions would target individuals in Kim Jong Il's regime and banks that aid in trade of arms and luxury goods that are banned under earlier United Nations measures.

Analysts doubt, however, if new US sanctions will seriously go beyond those already imposed by the UN Security Council more than a year ago after North Korea conducted its second underground nuclear test.

“I don’t really think there’s anything new,” says Han Sung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister, noting that the UN sanctions already ban North Korea from importing or exporting weapons and also from importing luxury goods for the North Korean elite.

Confidence booster for South Korea

Mr. Han, who chairs the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies, sees the visit to Korea by Secretary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates as needed to build up confidence in the wake of the sinking the Cheonan navy ship that killed 46 South Korean sailors in March. A South Korean investigation, in which experts from the US, Britain, Australia, and Sweden participated, has blamed the sinking on a torpedo fired by a North Korean midget submarine.

Clinton and Gates have to “get their money’s worth in coming here,” says Han, in reference to the media attention surrounding their visit.

He sees the visit – and elaborate military exercises planned for next week in waters off South Korea’s east coast – as needed to help raise confidence here after the UN Security Council issued a weak statement on the Cheonan attack, failing to blame North Korea directly. The visit “will have the effect of reassuring the Korean public about the US commitment,” he adds. “That is why Clinton has to talk tough.”

New sanctions 'don't look impressive'

Andrei Lankov, a Russian analyst who now teaches in Seoul, was not surprised by the US announcement of sanctions.

“They were expected especially when the UN Security Council chose to have a very cautious approach and did not introduce new sanctions,” says Mr. Lankov, based years ago in North Korea with the embassy of the former Soviet Union. “They don’t look very impressive,” especially since “very few countries sell arms to North Korea and those who do are not likely to be influenced by any decision made by the US.”

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