Iran, North Korea to Figure Highly at Seoul Summit

Concerns about Iran's and North Korea's "illegitimate" nuclear work will figure highly in meetings between heads of state on the sidelines of next week's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea's top diplomat told Reuters on Wednesday (see GSN, March 20).

While  preventing nuclear terrorism is to be the focus of the forum, "there is no question that [the] international community has serious concerns about the illegitimate nuclear activities of North Korea and Iran," Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan stated in writing.

"As major leaders including leaders of the participating countries in the six-party talks will attend the Seoul summit, the North Korean nuclear issue will naturally be discussed on the separate occasions such [as] bilateral talks on the margins of the summit," the minister said (see related GSN story, today; Laurence/Kim, Reuters, March 21).

The summit is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday and is to include participation from more than 50 countries. This month's event is a follow-on to the inaugural 2010 summit organized by U.S. President Obama in Washington. Leaders and top officials next week are expected to seek concrete measures on matters such as reducing civilian use of nuclear weapon-usable highly enriched uranium and plutonium and on protecting radioactive materials that could be used in a "dirty bomb."

North Korea on Wednesday said it would receive any summit statement that condemns its nuclear weapons efforts as a "declaration of war," the New York Times reported.

“If there is any provocative act such as the issuance of a so-called statement concerning 'the North’s nuclear issue’ at the Seoul conference, it would constitute an extreme insult,” the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency said . “Any provocative act would be considered as a declaration of war against us and its consequences would serve as great obstacles to talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

It has been more than three years since the last round of six-party talks involving China, Japan, Russia, the United States and both Koreas. A recent agreement between Pyongyang and Washington raised hopes for the resumption of the process. However, that optimism was dampened by the North's announcement last week of a planned rocket launch that would be widely seen as another test of the nation's ballistic missile capabilities (see related GSN story, today).

Threats from the Stalinist state are fairly normal, but there have been occasions in which Pyongyang has also responded with provocative activities such as the detonation of an atomic device (Choe Sang-hun, New York Times, March 21).

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper and ITAR-Tass that he anticipates the summit will feature a unanimous agreement on eliminating enough weapon-usable uranium and plutonium to fuel tens of thousands of nuclear bombs.

"I hope that substantial progress will be made at the summit in the cause of gradual reduction in the stockpiles of nuclear materials," Lee said.

It is imperative that the international community "realize the urgency of and necessity for international cooperation in the field of nuclear security and place such cooperation onto the track of practical actualization," the president said. "With this end in view, every country must meet its commitments to eliminate or reduce the stockpiles of nuclear materials in good faith and ratify relevant agreements" (ITAR-Tass I, March 21).

The September 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the United States show how crucial it is to guard against a nuclear terrorist strike, Lee was quoted by ITAR-Tass as saying.

"When terrorists indiscriminately attack the workplaces of civilians, the difference between a battlefield and a deep rear area disappears," he said. "Out of all kinds of terrorism, [the] nuclear one is seen as the most terrible" (ITAR-Tass II, March 21).

The heads of state from 45 countries are slated to participate in the nuclear summit, including the leaders of China, Japan, Russia and the United States, the Korea Herald reported. Top officials from another eight nations are expected, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said (Kim Yoon-mi, Korea Herald, March 21).

March 21, 2012

Concerns about Iran's and North Korea's "illegitimate" nuclear work will figure highly in meetings between heads of state on the sidelines of next week's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea's top diplomat told Reuters on Wednesday.