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2009/05/28 11:20 KST

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

International Community Shows Stern Action against N.K.'s Nuclear Test

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Harsh international condemnation ensued after North Korea's second nuclear test May 25, with tension escalating as South Korea, the United States and Japan acted quickly to arrange tougher sanctions on North Korea.

   The U.N. Security Council is expected to draw stronger sanctions on the socialist country than it did in April, when the North fired a long-range rocket. Seoul condemned the North's move as an "intolerable provocation" that clearly violated inter-Korean and multinational agreements and a U.N. resolution that banned nuclear tests and missile-related activities.

   South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed May 26 to seek a U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolution against North Korea over its second nuclear test and reaffirmed the strong Seoul-Washington alliance. Obama said the U.S. will continue to provide strong nuclear deterrence for South Korea in a brief conversation between the two leaders over the phone one day after the North conducted its nuclear test and test-fired two short-range missiles, the South Korean presidential office said.

   Newswire reports from Washington said the U.S. Treasury Department is considering its options for further financial sanctions against North Korea. An official said May 26 that North Korea still had some limited access to the international financial system, and the Treasury has "broad authority" to take actions to close them.

   In New York, ambassadors from Japan, South Korea, and the five permanent veto-wielding council members -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France -- held talks behind closed doors at U.N. headquarters. On the NBC's "Today" show, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said the North's actions were "provocative, destabilizing, and a threat to international and regional peace and security."

   U.S. President Barack Obama said in Washington the test was "a threat to international peace" and "warrants action by the international community." Russia, Britain and France called for stern action against the violation of the U.N. resolution. China, the North's only ally and a permanent UNSC member, urged Pyongyang to cease all actions that could worsen the situation.

   President Lee Myung-bak called the test "truly disappointing" during an emergency meeting of the National Security Council in the afternoon. "The North's second nuclear test is a serious threat to peace not only on the Korean Peninsula, but also in Northeast Asia and the rest of the world, and a grave challenge to the international nonproliferation regime," presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.

   Seoul will push for "appropriate measures" at the UNSC through cooperation with the U.S., Japan, China and Russia, the spokesman added. The Seoul government banned South Koreans from visiting the North, with the exception of those traveling to the Kaesong joint industrial complex.

   On May 26, South Korea formally communicated its decision to become a full member of a U.S.-led campaign aimed at halting the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction. The announcement to join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) came one day after North Korea conducted its second nuclear test.

   Pyongyang's detonation prompted hectic consultations among six-party dialogue partners. President Lee said he had discussed joint action with the Japanese prime minister by telephone. The Japanese government is considering banning all exports to North Korea, according to sources.

   Foreign ministers from South Korea and Japan agreed to raise the issue of the North's new provocation at the UNSC as early as possible. They met on the sidelines of Asia-Europe Meeting in Hanoi. "Foreign Ministers Yu Myung-hwan and Hirofumi Nakasone agreed to call for the UNSC to convene an emergency meeting on the issue as early as possible," a Seoul official said.

   Yu also met his Chinese and Russian counterparts. It is uncertain whether the two countries will approve new sanctions against the North. In 2006, Beijing and Moscow agreed to condemn and punish the North following its nuclear and missile tests. But in April this year, they blocked a U.S. and Japanese bid to impose additional sanctions, only agreeing to a nonbinding statement and the tightening of existing sanctions.

   U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, visiting Copenhagen, told media there that he was "deeply disturbed" by the action, while the Chinese government said it is "resolutely opposed" to the test.

   Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso called it "unacceptable," while Russia said North Korea provoked "an escalation of tensions" and breached U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which imposed trade and arms sanctions on North Korea after its 2006 test.

   Despite the condemnations, a North Korean diplomat in Moscow warned his country could conduct more nuclear tests "if the U.S. and its allies continue their policy of intimidation," Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported.

   Since the U.N. Security Council condemnation of its April 5 rocket launch, North Korea has threatened additional nuclear and missile testing, vowing to toughen its "nuclear deterrent." Pyongyang claims it put a satellite into orbit with the rocket launch, while Seoul and Washington say nothing entered space and argue the rocket could be turned into a ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. South Korean and U.S. experts downplayed the likeliness that the North has developed the technology to tip intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear bombs.

   Protesting the international objection to its rocket launch, North Korea has vowed to drop out of the six-nation denuclearization-for-aid talks and has expelled outside monitors from its nuclear facilities. It has also recently vowed to restore its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which had been undergoing disablement under a pact signed by the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China.

   The latest test came hours after Kim Jong-il offered condolences over the death of former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who jumped from a cliff on May 23 amid pressure from a corruption scandal involving his confidants and family. Roh and Kim met in Pyongyang in 2007 for the second-ever summit between the two countries. The first was held in 2000, leading to a series of reconciliatory projects, including the Kaesong industrial complex.

   U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts May 25 at the Security Council meeting in Washington "and reiterated our commitment to regional security and to our alliances," spokesman Ian Kelly said.

   The North's recent provocations are seen by many as its traditional brinkmanship to get more concessions in bilateral talks with the U.S., which were suspended in 2001 by the hard-line Bush administration.

   Under the Bill Clinton administration, high-level exchanges took place between North Korea and the U.S. to address U.S. concerns over the North's nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, with then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and North Korea's Marshal Jo Myong-rok visiting each other's capitals.

   Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials have said they are ready to engage the North bilaterally, as well as through the six-party talks. Albright recently said in a forum, "Ultimately, I think that what the North Koreans want are bilateral talks with the United States."

   Secretary Clinton recently said it "seems implausible if not impossible" that North Korea will return to the six-party negotiations, at least for the time being, warning the Obama administration will not bow to North Korea's brinkmanship. "The ball is in the North Korean court, and we are not concerned about chasing after North Korea, about offering concessions to North Korea," Clinton said.

   The six-party process has been in a lull since December, when North Korea refused to accept a verification protocol of its nuclear facilities, saying the protocol regime should be discussed in the third phase of denuclearization.

   The process is currently in the second phase of disabling the North's nuclear facilities in return for the equivalent of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil and other benefits. The third and final phase calls for the complete and verifiable dismantlement of the North's nuclear facilities in exchange for massive economic aid and political and diplomatic benefits.