Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What next: High-level envoy to Pyongyang for negotiations?

Two hours after Monday's atomic test was conducted, which the U.S. Geological Survey initially registered as a 4.7-magnitude earthquake, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency declared that the regime had "successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of measures to bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense."

Kim Jong-il is again testing the resolve of the international community.Jim Walsh, an international security expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he expected U.N. members to call for sanctions — but dismissed any punishment as "political theater" that would have little effect on a country already subject to numerous sanctions.

Peter Beck, a Korean affairs expert who teaches at American University in Washington, suggests, "Kim Jong Il is trying to demonstrate his virility and that they are a power to be reckoned with." And Paik Hak-soon of the South Korean security think tank Sejong Institute said North Korea is "putting maximum pressure" on the United States for direct, high-level negotiations resulting in a "grand deal" that would include aid, concessions and a normalization of ties.

Meanwhile, North Korea has custody of two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee — accused of entering the country illegally and engaging in "hostile acts" — who are set to stand trial in Pyongyang on June 4. Their case may serve as a face-saving way for the U.S. to send a high-level envoy to Pyongyang for negotiations, Paik said.

"Had it not been for the journalists, it could give an impression of yielding to North Korea's provocation if the U.S. sends a high-level envoy for direct talks with Pyongyang," he said.


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