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(News Focus) N. Korea's rocket launch likely to lead to quick U.N. sanctions, discussions on THAAD

2016/02/07 14:51

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket is expected to break the logjam in sanctions talks at the U.N. Security Council and serve as a catalyst for putting the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea, U.S. experts said Saturday.

The communist nation defied international warnings and fired the rocket in violation of U.N. resolutions just one month after carrying out its fourth nuclear test. The launch was believed to be successful as the rocket appears to have put what Pyongyang claims was a satellite into orbit.

It represented the North's sixth long-range rocket or missile launch since the first one in 1998 and once again demonstrated that Pyongyang is making steady progress in its efforts to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

The U.N. Security Council has been struggling in negotiations on how to punish the North for its Jan. 6 nuclear test as China, the main provider of aid and diplomatic support for Pyongyang, has been reluctant to endorse tougher sanctions on Pyongyang.

"I expect quicker action to arrive at a U.N. Security Council resolution compared to the previous stonewalling and paralysis that has characterized exchanges at the U.N. Security Council up to now," said Scott Snyder, a senior analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ken Gause, a senior North Korea analyst at CNA Corp., also said it would be difficult for China to resist pressure from the international community for sanctions on the North.

"Beijing will find it very difficult to not support some sanctions," he said.

However, both experts said that China's basic calculus is unlikely to change.

China has condemned the North's nuclear test, but has been lukewarm about calls for stern responses. Analysts have long said Beijing fears that pushing Pyongyang too hard could lead to its collapse, instability on its border with China and the ultimate emergence of a pro-U.S. nation.

Beijing has instead repeated calls for dialogue and negotiations.

After Sunday's launch, China also expressed only "regret."

   "Beijing will most likely go along with sanctions, but soften the blow," Gause said, adding that the rocket launch won't impact China's basic calculus.

"China won't take any actions that could undermine stability in North Korea," he said.

As for Pyongyang's motivations, the expert said that Pyongyang has decided to use a brinksmanship strategy to give leader Kim Jong-un "successes in the lead up to the 7th Party Congress in May." Last month's nuclear test was also part of such efforts, he said.

The North's state television showed a document showing Kim's signature authorizing the launch.

"The announcement made a point of saying that Kim Jong-un gave the order to launch and showed the order with his signature -- reminiscent of how the regime handled the nuclear test," Gause said. "No doubt that this test is being linked to his leadership."

   The expert said that the rocket launch could lead to the U.S., and possibly South Korea as well, pushing for deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system "to send a signal to China."

   China has opposed THAAD deployment to the South, arguing it could be used against the country, despite repeated assurances from Washington that the system is purely defensive and aimed only at deterring North Korean threats.

Bruce Klingner, a senior Korea expert at the Heritage Foundation, also said that the North's missile test and the earlier nuclear test should serve as catalysts for South Korea to request deployment of THAAD to the peninsula.

"THAAD is more capable than any system that Seoul has or will have for decades and would reduce South Korea's vulnerability to the growing North Korean nuclear threat. South Korea is at a greater threat to nuclear attack because of its refusal to request THAAD," Klingner said.

The expert noted, however, that a recent series of positive comments that President Park Geun-hye, the Defense Ministry and other senior officials made about THAAD. Such remarks "strongly suggest the ball is moving down the field," he said.

After Sunday's rocket launch, South Korea's government said in a statement that it will take "practical measures" as part of the Korea-U.S. alliance to further strengthen defense capabilities, a remark that could be seen as suggesting the possibility of THAAD deployment.

"China's heavy-handed pressure on Seoul and its refusal to impose additional meaningful sanctions on North Korea following its violations of U.N. resolutions will help sway South Korean public opinion toward deploying THAAD," Klinger said.

jschang@yna.co.kr

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