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U.S. to Press China to Prevent New North Korea Nuke Test

The United States intends to press China to use its influence with North Korea to convince the aspiring nuclear power to refrain from detonating a third atomic device, the leading U.S. diplomat for East Asia said this week (see GSN, April 13).

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell in an interview with The Australian verified that Washington has killed plans to send food assistance to Pyongyang in response to the North's long-range rocket launch on Friday (see related GSN story, today). The nutritional aid was agreed to in a bilateral agreement that if implemented would have required the North to cease uranium enrichment and other atomic activities and to establish a moratorium on new nuclear and long-range missile trials.

The United States condemned the rocket firing as a clear violation of the terms of the February deal. Pyongyang claimed the launch was aimed at placing a satellite into orbit, but the rocket broke apart shortly after liftoff. In the immediate aftermath of the national embarrassment, a number of international observers predicted North Korea would carry out a third atomic test as a means of rebuilding internal support around the Kim Jong Un regime.

"One of the most difficult things is to make predictions about what North Korea will do next," Campbell said.

"There is a clear determination among all the partners in the six-party talks and throughout the region to discourage further provocations by Pyongyang," the assistant secretary said in reference to the regional aid-for-denuclearization negotiations that encompass China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States.

"Similarly we want to send a clear message to China about our hopes and expectation that they will weigh in with Pyongyang about the need to engage positively with its neighbors and refrain from further provocations," Campbell said.

China is North Korea's leading economic supporter and is viewed by Washington as having the most sway over Pyongyang's actions (Greg Sheridan, Australian, April 16).

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi talked with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday about responses to North Korea's rocket launch, Reuters reported.

"We're asking them to use their relationship with North Korea to convey our concern about their recent actions," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

The U.S. Defense Department said it was monitoring the North amid concerns about a possible new atomic blast. "It's not just about missiles. It's about other things that they have and might do," Pentagon spokesman George Little said at a press briefing. He declined to verify rumors the North was making preparations for a new subterranean nuclear test.

Jane's Defense Weekly Asia Pacific Editor James Hardy said an examination of recent satellite photographs of the North's Punggye-ri site did point to readiness activities for another atomic test.

Nuclear-weapon experts have previously said a third test would probably be focused on improving North Korea's ability to develop warheads compact enough to be mounted on ballistic missiles.

Ex-U.S. special envoy for negotiations with North Korea Charles Pritchard said Pyongyang would require a "spectacular achievement to overcome the national embarrassment it finds itself in now. ... What that means is that it is now much more likely that North Korea will move forward with its third nuclear test."

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass said in a Web post that Pyongyang's chief aim in a new test would be to build up domestic support for Kim Jong Un, who assumed power following the December death of his father, longtime dictator Kim Jong Il.

"There is thus a real risk that he will turn to a tried and true path to accomplish the same ends," Haass said. "If history is any guide, this suggests that a test of a nuclear warhead or some sort of aggressive military action -- for example, an artillery strike -- against South Korea could be in the offing," Haass wrote. "And if this latter scenario occurs, South Korea, unlike on previous occasions, is almost certain to retaliate" (Susan Cornwell, Reuters, April 14).

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