Within hours of North Korea walking out of talks with South Korea, officials of the Clinton administration met to draft a plan to force the North to make concessions. The joint military exercise of American and South Korean forces, postponed to encourage North Korea to talk, will go ahead.
The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, yesterday said the exercises would take place in the near future. He denied that cool relations with China following the dispute over its human rights policy and trade status in the US would make it more difficult to win co-operation in imposing sanctions.
Washington has made great efforts to persuade Pyongyang to agree to inspection of its nuclear facilities, because of difficulty putting pressure on a regime which is already so isolated economically and diplomatically. Mr Christopher said that as a near-neighbour of North Korea, China had an incentive to prevent it developing an atomic bomb.
An early move against Pyongyang may be to block the transfer of remittances, earned by North Korean workers in Japan, back to North Korea. Talks between North and South broke off on Friday when a North Korean delegate, Park Young Su, was quoted as saying 'Seoul is not far from here. Seoul will turn into a sea of fire.'
The US is preparing for a prolonged confrontation. The first step will be for the International Atomic Energy Agency at its meeting today in Vienna to say that it cannot guarantee North Korea is not diverting plutonium to build a bomb. The CIA director, James Woolsey, says the US intelligence community has concluded that the North Koreans have probably enough to make at least one bomb.
The administration hopes to get North Korea to accede to inspection or, if it does not, to enable the US to get China to go along with sanctions. Mr Christopher said he did not expect China to veto Security Council measures, since it was also against nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula.
The administration has been under increasing domestic pressure from the Republicans and some Democrats for being too conciliatory towards North Korea. Supporters of Washington's cautious policy have argued that the North Koreans regard their nuclear programme as their one important diplomatic card and they will only trade it in in return for breaking out of the isolation in which they have lived since the Korean War.
The joint military exercise will probably be held in several months' time, or in autumn, so as not to anger South Korean farmers by damaging their rice crop. Deployment of Patriots may well come much sooner.
Yesterday the Chinese reaffirmed their opposition to the issue shifting to the Security Council and said they had 'only a limited role' to play in resolving the dispute. 'This issue shall be settled through dialogue and no parties shall take measures to exert pressure or take measures that will lead to the complication of the situation,' said the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wu Jianmin.
The comments came after talks between Japan's Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, and Chinese leaders that were overshadowed by the North Korean situation.
Mr Hosokawa felt 'grave concern' and said 'the role China has to play is indeed very important'. If the UN decided on sanctions, Japan would cope 'in a responsible manner'. He added: ' . . . Since China is the country that has the strongest . . . relationship with North Korea, I have asked the Chinese to use their influence so North Korea will not move towards a negative direction, or will not make any negative actions but rather move in a positive direction.'
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