UN resolution boosts coordination on N. Korea

A 15-0 vote Saturday to block weapons to the North showed surprising accord.

No East Asian nation thinks the 15-0 UN resolution to block the shipment of missile parts to North Korea is ideal or even adequate. Kim Jong Il still has missiles and nuclear material to develop. No clear next step is prepared, other than cajoling Mr. Kim back to the six-party talks, experts say. UN Resolution 1695 is a "prelude to the provocation of the second Korean War" says the North's foreign ministry.

But the surprising unanimous vote and smiles at the round table in New York may be the best achievable deal for now, and may offer grounds for further coordination, these experts say. Any next steps to control the North will require a degree of cooperation that has not yet been seen.

China, notably, shifted in ways that were unanticipated days earlier. After numerous fruitless visits to Pyongyang in recent weeks, Beijing appeared annoyed with the North – partly over Japan's success in developing leverage in Asia by arguing that a more robust military is needed for its self-defense.

For the North, the timing seems unfortunate. The Israel-Lebanon conflict has put the world on even higher alert than when Kim launched Scuds, Nodongs, and the long-range Taepodong-2 missile early on July 4, US Independence Day. North Korea was not the top story at the G-8 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Rather, northeast Asia's missile minicrisis suddenly evolved in a way that leading powers could agree about: a need to work together to face intractable problems each would rather handle differently.

"An important milestone," is Tokyo's official word, despite Japan's earlier hope for a Chapter Seven resolution requiring action against North Korea. "A turning point," stated Zhang Yu, China's spokeswoman, saying right after that no further action should be taken against the North.

"It's good news that it was unanimous," says Albert Kim, a retired senior United Nations official in Seoul. "China is angry with North Korea. Everyone is in agreement.

"Nobody wants a war," adds Kim. "This resolution was the strongest you could have without talking about war."

China found a need to choose between very different interests and values. It has invested in a program to help stabilize North Korea as a regional partner.

Yet it has an interest in not being isolated in the international community by siding with a pariah state. It also has to take into account the success of the United States and Japan in convincing the international community that the missile tests went too far. The US is committed to defending Japan, a longtime ally, and Japan is a main target for Kim's missiles.

"China ... accomplished its priorities and those of President Bush by rallying an international consensus that pointedly condemned North Korea, but still left open a graceful way out for Pyongyang via the six-party talks," says Kenneth Quinones, a former assistant secretary of state who visited North Korea in 1992.

"This shows that China is willing to cooperate with the US," says a Chinese professor in Beijing who does not have clearance to use his name. "China only wanted a UN presidential statement but it compromised."

Yet few experts say the UN action of itself will ameliorate the North Korean problem. "This is not a solution, but a Band-Aid," says Joseph Cheng, head of political studies at City University in Hong Kong. "Eventually, the US is going to have to make concessions in order to keep control."

The resolution, cobbled together by China and Russia to tone down a US-Japanese draft, is the first passed by the Security Council on North Korea since 1993. The US-Japanese version would have invoked the threat of strong economic sanctions – and military force – if North Korea did not abide by the terms.

China had said that it would exercise its veto power in the Security Council to block such a resolution, and Russia also strenuously opposed it. Only China and Russia, along with the US, Britain, and France, can veto resolutions.

Clearly happy that the Security Council had agreed on the weaker resolution, South Korea's national security adviser, Song Min Soon, warned the North not to engage in more provocative acts. Mr. Song blamed all problems on North Korea's failure to return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons.

President Roh Moo-hyun, who has never come out with a strong statement on the tests, remained conspicuously silent after the resolution passed. But his government now hopes to begin reviving the stalled process of North-South rapprochement.

South Korea, said Song, remains "determined to resolve North Korean problems through dialogue and diplomatic means."

As a stopgap, before six-party talks, he said, the government would go along with five-party talks involving China, Russia, the US, and Japan if North Korea still balked at returning to talks, last held in Beijing in November. China has opposed a five-party meeting.

South Korean officials appeared relieved that the resolution did not get tough with the North regarding the increasing flow of North-South trade and investment, including factories in the special Kaesong economic zone, as well as tourism.

Mr. Roh was quoted as telling visiting American evangelical Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose-Driven Life," that he did not believe North Korea would change until its security and other concerns were met. That view jibes with North Korea's oft-stated fear of a "preemptive strike" and demands for energy and food aid.

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