SOUTH Korean President Kim Young Sam said yesterday that North Korea's refusal to accede to full nuclear inspections had put his country ``in a desperate position.''
Using some of the toughest rhetoric South Koreans have heard from their leader on the North Korean issue, President Kim said his government would use ``all our means'' to block the North's alleged program to develop an atomic bomb.
He made the remarks at a high-level conference of security officials in Seoul, that has not been convened since the Gulf war. Kim added: ``I can't help feeling angry at the outright challenge to the majority of countries in the world, and the consensus is that there is no other way but to seek sanctions against North Korea.'' The United States is leading an effort to have the United Nations Security Council impose economic sanctions on North Korea in order to force the country to show that it does not have a nuclear-weapons program. The North says it is not building a bomb and has warned that sanctions would provoke a war.
Analysts contacted in Seoul saw Kim's speech as an attempt to raise South Koreans' concern about the intentions of the North Korean regime. People in the South have been skeptical about the international outcry over the matter, and everyday life in Seoul betrays hardly a glimmer of concern over possible nuclear attack.
In other capitals, however, officials have been sounding more and more tense since the UN's nuclear oversight arm, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said June 2 that the North had made it impossible to carry out some key tests. The US called for punitive UN sanctions the same day.
North Korea now has all but completed the removal of some 8,000 rods of radioactive fuel from its reactor at Yongbyon. Inspectors from the IAEA had urged the North to stop the process so it could see whether radioactive materials had been removed from the reactor, during a 1989 shut-down, for possible diversion to a weapons program.
The North refused, and then prevented inspectors from using an IAEA formula for selecting a sample of 300 rods for later testing. Instead it offered to set aside 40 of its own choosing.
The North Korean proposal, IAEA spokesman David Kyd told the Reuters news agency yesterday, is ``not good enough.'' North Korean officials have said the country would never agree to the kind of inspections the IAEA is demanding.
The North's intransigence and occasional belligerence seem to have underwhelmed most Koreans. Now, says Kil Jeong Woo of the Research Institute for National Unification, ``the president and his staff want to narrow the gap between the government's interpretation of the situation and the public's perception of the situation.'' Kim himself has been accused of vacillating between conciliation and resolve on the North Korean nuclear issue in what is perhaps an unintentional reflection of South Koreans' ambivalence toward their ethnic kin and ideological foes across the 38th parallel. His speech, following several days of tough statements, may be an attempt to end that criticism, Dr. Kil says.
Lee Dong Bok, a hard-line former presidential adviser on North Korean issues who was fired in December over policy differences, says Kim wants South Koreans to recognize that the situation must be resolved through the UN.
``I think the president was coming forward to say that for the time being he would set aside any hope that diplomacy - persuading the North Koreans into making concessions on the nuclear issue - is going to be something forthcoming,'' Mr. Lee says.
``In view of the fact that we have had for some time a divided public opinion,'' Lee adds, ``he was asking the people to stand behind him.''