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(News Focus) N. Korea blows away dialogue mood with rocket launch
By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, April 12 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has once again gambled on a rocket launch but its bet seems to have returned far from a jackpot.

   A hard-won phase of dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington burned away with the contrails of the North's rocket Thursday, which was designed to take a supposed satellite into orbit but fell into the water in pieces just minutes after lift-off, analysts here say.

   "I think this was a kind of gamble," said Jonathan Pollack, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution. He cited the North's unusual decision to let many foreign reporters observe the launch.

   It is unclear whether North Korean officials will claim the launch as a success, as it has done with past failed rocket launches.

   "This is, at a minimum, a big embarrassment for them," Pollack said.

   South Korea and the U.S. characterized Pyongyang's launch as a provocation irrespective of its success or failure.

   Many expect the standoff between the North and the U.S. to deepen after months of recent engagement highlighted by high-level talks.

   "It is unfortunate that North Korea has decided to go ahead with this launch," Gordon Flake, executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, said.

   "With this action, the pathway back to negotiations has been effectively closed down, and the prospects for increased tension and crisis have increased dramatically," he added.

   The Obama administration is expected to announce the termination of a Feb. 29 deal under which it would provide massive food aid.

   Obama, seeking re-election in autumn, will come under heavy political pressure to get even tougher on the North.

   The first step will be a meeting Friday (New York time) of the U.N. Security Council to discuss a response to the rocket launch.

   "The United States should press for another UNSC condemnatory statement that closes existing loopholes and imposes additional sanctions," said Bruce Klingner, senior analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

   One problem with that stance is the limitations the U.S. and the council have to impose further punishments, with tough sanctions on Pyongyang already in place.

   A diplomatic source said the U.S. is unlikely to push for a new Security Council resolution calling for punishment.

   "It is instead to seek a strongly-worded chairman's statement, which is not binding," the source said, requesting anonymity.

   Washington, bracing already for diplomatic fights with China and Russia over Syria and Iran, will not want to waste its time and energy on the North Korean issue, the source added.

   Beijing and Moscow have a track record of blocking or watering down punitive measures by the U.S. and its allies on Pyongyang, which has conducted two nuclear tests and several missile launches.

   South Korea is well aware of the dilemma.

   "The best thing for now is to implement the existing sanctions, which are strong enough," a South Korean official said, on condition of anonymity. "That is, to strengthen ways to implement the sanctions in place."

   Officials and experts are concerned about the unpredictable North's next steps.

   In 2006 and 2009, the North used the U.N.'s response to its missile launches as an excuse for the underground detonation of nuclear weapons.

   "Despite its isolation and continuing economic dysfunction, Pyongyang appears determined to act according to its own policy logic and self-defined interests, thus remaining mired in circumstances very much of its own making," Pollack of the Brookings Institution noted.

   lcd@yna.co.kr
leechidong@gmail.com
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