North Korea’s announcement that it possesses nuclear weapons has fuelled a diplomatic frenzy. To persuade North Korea to return to the six-party talks – with China, Japan, the US, Russia, and South Korea – on defusing the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula, Japan, the US, and South Korea have now offered to expand the scope of the talks to allow North Korea to raise any issue that concerns it. This could be a grave mistake.
The talks ground to a halt in June 2004, when the North Koreans pulled out, citing the allegedly hostile policies of the US and Japanese governments. Now they claim to have manufactured nuclear weapons for self-defense. Although there had been several unofficial statements by Kim Jong-Il’s regime admitting that North Korea possessions nuclear arsenal, the announcement was the first official confirmation.
What lay behind the declaration was the regime’s recognition that a second-term Bush administration would not soften its demand for a complete repudiation of its nuclear program, but would instead continue to pursue policies aimed at isolating and stifling North Korea. The same goes for Japan, whose stance on the abduction of its citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970’s and 1980’s was also cited by the Kim regime last June as a reason for walking out of the six-party talks.
With this in mind, the North Koreans’ motives in playing the nuclear trump card are clear, and the timing couldn’t have seemed more advantageous for them: force the Americans into making concessions while the situation in Iraq leaves the US with no room for maneuver, and undercut the rising call in Japan for economic sanctions against North Korea over the abduction issue. Thus, whereas North Korea’s announcement of its nuclear capability strongly condemned Japan and the US, it did not mention China, Russia, and South Korea, which had been more conciliatory during the six-party talks.