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(Nuclear summit) (News Focus) N. Korea loses more than gains from rocket gambit
By Chang Jae-soon
SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- When North Korea caught the world off guard with a surprise rocket launch announcement just 10 days before world leaders gathered in Seoul for an anti-nuclear terrorism conference, the communist nation might have thought it succeeded in snatching the international spotlight from the rival South.

   But the timing was not a good idea after all.

   Analysts say Pyongyang lost more than it gained from choosing to make the rocket announcement shortly prior to the Nuclear Security Summit, handing South Korea an easy chance to make its case and drum up global criticism of the provocative regime with little effort.

  


Criticism of North Korea was a must-have fixture in about two dozen summit meetings South Korean President Lee Myung-bak held on the sidelines of the conference with top leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and even Chinese President Hu Jintao.

   The rocket gambit also made the nuclear summit and its necessity better known globally.

   "The North's announcement was rather a plus for the Nuclear Security Summit," said Yoon Deok-min, a senior researcher at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. "It sparked strong interest from the people in what otherwise would have been an event uninteresting to the public, and publicized why it is necessary."

   North Korea announced on March 16 that it will fire off a long-range rocket to put what it claims is a satellite into orbit, a move widely seen as Pyongyang's usual pretext to test its ballistic missile technology that it is banned from seeking under a U.N. resolution.

   Pyongyang's missile program has long been a regional security concern.

   What makes its missile program more worrisome is its nuclear programs. The country is believed to have advanced ballistic missile technology, though it is still not clear whether it has mastered the technology to put a nuclear warhead on a missile.

   Pyongyang has carried out two nuclear tests, first in 2006 and then in 2009.

   Earlier this week, military officials in Seoul said that the North moved a long-range rocket to the launch site in Dongchang-ri in the country's northwest for final preparations for the threatened launch, set for between April 12-16 to mark the April 15 birthday of its late founder Kim Il-sung.

   The Nuclear Security Summit is aimed mainly at discussing ways to reduce the stockpile of highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium and how to keep it out of the hands of terrorists. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., concerns have heightened that terrorists could attempt to use nuclear bombs for attacks.

   Established under Obama's initiative, the inaugural summit was held in Washington in 2010.

   Leaders and high-level representatives from 57 countries and international organizations from around the world, including all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have gathered in Seoul this week for the biennial conference.

   North Korea's rocket plan also came as a surprise because it was announced just weeks after Pyongyang reached a rare deal with Washington under which the country agreed to put a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, freeze uranium enrichment and accept U.N. nuclear monitors in return for 240,000 tons of food aid.

   That underscored the difficulty in dealing with one of the most unpredictable regimes in the world.

   North Korea claims that it has a sovereign and legitimate right to launch a satellite and its "space" program has nothing to do with the deal with the U.S. Pyongyang has also warned it will take "strongest countermeasures which no one can imagine" if South Korea "dares find fault with its nuclear deterrent and satellite launch" during the nuclear summit.

   The rocket plan would be the North's first tangible provocation under new leader Kim Jong-un, who took over after his father and late leader Kim Jong-il died in December of heart failure.

   Yoon, the analyst, said the rocket plan must have been pushed for before Kim Jong-il died, and the inexperienced new leader, believed to still be in his late 20s, decided to press ahead with it for mainly domestic purposes aimed at strengthening his stand in the country.

   In Seoul, world leaders delivered harsh criticism and warnings, with Obama saying Pyongyang will put itself into deeper isolation, make the promised U.S. food aid unlikely and face possible international sanctions if it goes ahead with the rocket launch.

   The message from Medvedev was more blunt. He said the impoverished North should first care about feeding its people before launching a missile, which costs a huge amount of money, adding Pyongyang cannot rely on international handouts for food forever.

   But China's criticism must have been the most painful to Pyongyang.

   During a summit on Monday, China's Hu expressed "deep concern" over the North's rocket plan, stressing that the destitute neighbor should concentrate on improving the lives of its hunger-stricken people first, according to South Korean officials.

   Chinese leaders said that Beijing already conveyed concern to Pyongyang and will keep trying to persuade it to call off the rocket launch.

   It is rare for China to take such a clear-cut position on a North Korean provocation.

   Beijing, one of the veto-holding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, is Pyongyang's last-remaining major ally and main aid provider. China has a track record of trying to protect Pyongyang despite international criticism that it is too soft on the North.

   "I doubt North Korea took the Nuclear Security Summit into consideration in deciding to go ahead with the rocket launch because I believe the decision was made out of domestic considerations," Yoon said. "But even if it had intended to affect the summit, it was a bad decision and the North did not achieve the intended results."

   jschang@yna.co.kr
(END)
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