The former President of South Korea, Kim Daejung, has urged the US to lift its financial sanctions on North Korea. Daejung is among those that believe that these economic sanctions are, in fact, encouraging North Korea to develop its nuclear arms program.

The reasoning is simple enough and makes sense. The money being blocked by the US and its allies is needed for the North Korean regime to survive; without it, the country’s leadership needs to assert its power in other ways.

In that sense, the October 9 nuclear test was the government’s way of showing resolve and strength to its domestic audience. The test could have been postponed indefinitely, but it was North Korea’s last option with the financial sanctions in place. This would also explain President Kim Jong-Il belligerent discourse following the nuclear test.

The weakness of the North Korean regime is undeniable; in a document released yesterday, Amnesty International outlined the country’s worsening food crisis as well as the problem of child malnutrition. On the same day, the International Red Cross signed a three-year agreement with North Korea which will see the organization assist the government with food shortages and the provision of water supplies.

In the run up to the resumption of nuclear talks, North Korea has repeatedly called for the lifting of US financial sanctions. When these sanctions were originally imposed in 2005, North Korea walked away from the negotiating table. After the October 9 nuclear test, and several weeks of diplomatic signaling, North Korea said it was ready to return to talks.

The paradox is that the regime has gained strength in the meantime; having tested its nuclear capability, it has acquired the negotiating advantage.

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North Korea has asked that Japan not participate in the nuclear negotiations, because officials are “imbeciles” for not accepting North Korea as a nuclear power. North Korea sees Japan as “no more than a state of the U.S. and it is enough for Tokyo just to be informed of the results of the talks by Washington.”

North Korea is yet again making the headlines by finding the least offensive way to be offensive. Targeting the US directly would not be in its best interest, but taking a stab at an ally of the US — and North Korea’s regional competitor — will keep North Korea in the news, without the repercussions. It is also something designed for a domestic audience; because the Koreans have agreed to go back to negotiations, they don’t want to look too weak domestically and making big statements is one way to do it. It is also something of great significance historically, because of Japan’s incursion into Korea and its hyper-industrialization which was achieved with a lot of Korean manpower.

Koreans in Japan today are still a separate part of society and there’s still issues of citizenship which have been unresolved.

Thus saying that Japan has a “wicked intention” vis-à-vis North Korea, is one way to get the domestic support that the Korean may need.

North Korea Ready to Talk

November 1, 2006

In a not-so-surprising announcement, North Korea has made itself available to resume the 6-way negotiations on its nuclear program, which initiated a few years ago.

This outcome is the culmination of several weeks of diplomatic effort on the part of the US, China, South Korea as well as Russia. The announcement came after several hours of talks and is not being perceived by the international community as a solution, but only as a first step. Japan, for one, is continuing its diplomatic pressure on the country and currently has no plans to drop the UN sanctions against North Korea. Likewise, Australia has said it will not stop sanctioning North Korea until it stops its nuclear weapons program.

Of note is the report that North Korea has placed conditions on its participation in the negotiations; it has apparently demanded that financial sanctions are settled.

North Warns South

October 25, 2006

North Korea has warned its southern neighbor against going ahead with the UN sanctions. The warning comes as a response to South Korea setting up a task force to figure out how to implement the sanctions.

After making the headlines after the October 9th test and the following week, as the world reacted, North Korea is no longer in the headlines. This seems like an effort to make the news and keep the story in the public eye. There have been no signs of impending negotiations and this may be worrying North Korea.

Boomerang reports that Russia is pursuing a railway project that would link Russia and North Korea. Russia’s state-run railway monopoly is building a railway (that will be linked to the Trans-Siberian) that will cross the Russia-North Korea border, asserting Russian influence in North Korea. This project was originally conceived in 2001, when Kim Jong Il visited Russia and traveled on the Trans-Siberian railway.

The railway does not violate Resolution 1718, but it does show a willingness by the Russians to cooperate with the isolationist state. It also goes on to show Russia’s interest in influence in the region. Asia is Russia’s largely untapped market for energy export and this gives Russia a step in the door in terms of having influence in the region.