Kim’s not making many friends

If, as speculated in my last post, Kim Jong Il thought that his nuclear announcement and withdrawal from six-party talks would drive a wedge between the US and the other members of six-party talks, he appears to have miscalculated. CNN reports that North Korea has repeated its demand (made over the past couple of years) ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

If, as speculated in my last post, Kim Jong Il thought that his nuclear announcement and withdrawal from six-party talks would drive a wedge between the US and the other members of six-party talks, he appears to have miscalculated. CNN reports that North Korea has repeated its demand (made over the past couple of years) for direct bilateral talks with the United States on this issue. [UPDATE: Deb Riechmann reports for the AP that Scott McClellan rejected this demand at the White House press briefing.] Andrew Salmon reports in the International Herald-Tribune that the six-party talks haven't gone well for the DPRK:

If, as speculated in my last post, Kim Jong Il thought that his nuclear announcement and withdrawal from six-party talks would drive a wedge between the US and the other members of six-party talks, he appears to have miscalculated. CNN reports that North Korea has repeated its demand (made over the past couple of years) for direct bilateral talks with the United States on this issue. [UPDATE: Deb Riechmann reports for the AP that Scott McClellan rejected this demand at the White House press briefing.] Andrew Salmon reports in the International Herald-Tribune that the six-party talks haven’t gone well for the DPRK:

It is a long-running North Korean strategy to try to engage the United States in bilateral talks, believing that such meetings would improve the isolated country’s international status and help it obtain bigger concessions. In the six-nation talks, which also include China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and the United States, North Korea has increasingly found itself facing countries, including its allies China and Russia, who are critical of its nuclear ambitions.

THat same report also makes it clear that North Korea’s latest gambit has not gone down well in South Korea. If Seoul is upset, however, Japan is even more so — and they are upping the ante with a clear and specific sanctions threat. James Brooke explains in the New York Times:

Faced with North Korea’s declaration that it has nuclear weapons, Japan’s Prime Minister performed a deft political kabuki today, urging his bellicose neighbor to join disarmament talks, while letting the clock run on a new law that will bar most North Korean ships from Japanese ports starting March 1. “I understand calls for imposing sanctions are growing,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters in Sapporo, about 600 miles across the Sea of Japan from North Korea. “But we have to urge them to come to the talks in the first place.” Japan, Russia, China and South Korea all urged North Korea today to return to talks designed to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal and its weapons assembly line…. [O]f the five nations seeking to disarm North Korea, only Japan is taking new steps that will punish North Korea economically. An amended Liability for Oil Pollution Damage law requires that all ships over 100 tons calling at Japanese ports carry property and indemnity insurance. A seemingly bland piece of legislation, this law was drafted with North Korea in mind. In 2003, only 2.5 percent of North Korean ships visiting Japan had insurance. Japan is North Korea’s third largest trading partner, after China and South Korea. The insurance barrier is expected to hit North Korea’s ports on the Sea of Japan, a dilapidated, economically depressed area, far from Pyongyang, the nation’s showcase capital. In recent weeks, only one North Korean ship, a passenger-cargo ferry, is known to have bought insurance. The insurance barrier will be felt at Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, the world’s largest fish market, where North Korea is a major supplier of snow crabs, sea urchins and short neck clams. For North Korean fishing boats, Japan is the best market in the region. “It will hurt, it will pinch, it will be felt by North Koreans who are significant,” said Chuck Downs, an American expert on Korea who wrote “Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy.” “This will have a major impact on people who are on the snow-crab gravy train,” Mr. Downs said. “They are making more money than the drug runners, than the diplomats. It is one of the few lucrative things you can do if you are North Korean.” On the import side, North Korea has become a major importer of used consumer goods from Japan, a country where recycling taxes are high. Next Wednesday is the birthday of North Korea’s reclusive dictator, Kim Jong Il, a time when Communist functionaries traditionally dispense to party loyalists such gifts as rusting bicycles or hand-me-down refrigerators from Japan. But if North Korea’s rusting scows are blocked from Japan’s ports, the next birthday of North Korea’s leader may be marked with a new austerity.

Read the whole article — the U.S. and South Korea are ambivalent at best about the sanctions lever. At first glance, this would seem surprising: the best outcome is if North Korea backs down before March 1. Some people believe that the worst outcome, however, is Japan implementing sanctions on a defiant North Korea. I don’t agree — these sanctions will hurt the DPRK elite where it lives, in that it restricts hard currency access and consumer goods that only the elite can afford. This lever should be enough to get them back to six-party talks. UPDATE: For more, the BBC has a round-up of the regional press reaction. The Christian Science Monitor has a round-up of global press reaction. Their most intriguing link is this Hamish McDonald story in the Sydney Morning Herald:

A debate has begun in policy circles as to whether Beijing should go further and propose an amendment to the 1961 mutual security treaty, to remove pledges of military assistance in the event of attack. The treaty’s second article says both sides “promise to jointly take all possible measures to prevent any country from invading either of the contracting parties. Whenever one contracting party suffers a military attack by one state or several states combined and therefore is in a state of war, the other contracting party should do all it can to offer military and other aid”. The undercutting of China’s defence guarantee is part of a delicate carrot-and-stick approach by Beijing to edge North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, into verifiable nuclear disarmament in return for a new security deal with the US and its regional allies, along with economic aid.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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