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North Korea Decries 'Act of War'

Prepared by: Carin Zissis
October 17, 2006

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Pyongyang has declared the UN Security Council resolution to apply sanctions an “act of war” (AP). The statement issued by the foreign ministry of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) described the United States as “the ringleader that pushed us to a nuclear test.” CFR Vice-President Gary Samore, in an interview with CFR.org’s Bernard Gwertzman, says the North Korean test was “a purely political act” in reaction to the U.S. decision last year to sanction illegal North Korean banking activities in Macao. According to Samore, these activities were “directly related to the personal income of the leadership in North Korea.” Samore, who helped negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework designed to control Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, praises UN Security resolution 1718 for targeting DPRK nuclear and missile programs. But he warns the sanctions are unlikely to break the back of the communist regime because they lack restrictions on Chinese and South Korean trade with the Hermit Kingdom.

The response by Beijing and South Korea has been uneven. China began searching North Korean trucks at the border for weapons in order to comply with the UN resolution, but Beijing’s UN ambassador said Chinese inspectors will not examine (AP) the DPRK’s ships. South Korea’s Chosun-Ilbo says some, but not all, Chinese banks are restricting remittance flows to North Korea. Given that Beijing not only has the greatest leverage with Pyongyang but also faces a larger threat from its missiles, “shouldn't this be China's problem, not ours?” asks Anne Applebaum, writing in Slate. South Korea backed the sanctions, but said it will continue tours to Mt. Kumgang and operations at an industrial complex, both of which are located in North Korea. Christopher Hill, the top U.S. diplomat for the region, voiced opposition (Korea Times) to South Korea’s continuation of tourism in the North during a Seoul trip ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the region this week.

Meanwhile, South Korean and Japanese officials say North Korea may be planning a second nuclear test (Guardian), a day after the United States confirmed the October 9, 2006, explosion that brought North Korea into the nuclear club. The test was “forty times less powerful” than expected, writes CFR Fellow Michael Levi in the New Republic. In a Stanford University interview on the technical aspects of the test, Siegfried Hecker, emeritus director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, says one reason for the small size of the test could be that Pyongyang wants to conserve its small amount of weapons-grade plutonium. A July report by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) estimates North Korea has enough plutonium for as many as thirteen nuclear weapons. Another ISIS brief provides imagery (PDF) of the suspected test site.

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