Kim seeks to boost own image
SEOUL: North Korea’s ailing leader Kim Jong-Il tested another atomic bomb to shore up his authority at home and not to strengthen his hand in international nuclear disarmament negotiations, analysts say. They believe the six-party talks which began in 2003 are dead in the water for the foreseeable future after the hardline communist state tested a bomb several times more powerful than the one in October 2006. “The successful nuclear test is greatly inspiring the army and people,” official media announced. “The internal domestic dynamic is taking precedence over external factors,” said Peter Beck, a Korea expert at the American University in Washington.
“This is part of Kim shoring up support for his regime among the inner circle and the public. The best evidence of this will be if they hold a large public rally in coming days, as they did in 2006.” Beck told AFP that 67-year-old Kim, widely believed to have suffered a stroke last August, “is not in good shape and he knows it.”
He and other analysts said Kim feels pressed to settle the power transfer — ultimately involving one of his sons — before his health worsens.
Kim’s influential brother-in-law Jang Song-Thaek, seen by some as a potential “regent” for one of the sons, was given a place on the powerful National Defence Commission in April.
“Kim is trying to impress the cadres and the elite in general that this (test) is a significant accomplishment, to convince powerholders that his family is the one that should be ruling the country,” Beck said.
He said the fact that the North made no realistic demands before its second test meant “it is not unreasonable to conclude that they are no longer interested in nuclear diplomacy.”
John Bolton, a hawkish former US ambassador to the United Nations, told AFP the North wants nuclear weapons because it is motivated by the desire to preserve its isolated dictatorship, and has no interest in nuclear diplomacy.
And Bruce Klingner said the North’s eagerness to conduct a nuclear test so soon after its April 5 long-range missile launch “shows it has abandoned its previous facade of negotiations” and is striving to achieve a viable nuclear weapon and a long-range missile to deliver it.
“The rapid pace of Pyongyang’s provocations since January indicates it has altered its objectives and is no longer responsive to diplomatic entreaties,” he wrote on the website of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think tank.
The North, said Klingner, is now bent on achieving strategic technological achievements rather than gaining tactical negotiating leverage.
As such, there was likely to be more missile and nuclear activity during 2009.
Klingner said the change in objectives “may have been triggered by Kim Jong-Il’s health crisis and a desire to achieve nuclear objectives prior to his death or a formal succession.” Some believe the North might eventually be willing to talk but only as a recognised nuclear power — something which Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have always adamantly refused to accept.
“They are interested in nuclear arms control negotiations with the US where two established nuclear states negotiate mutual arms reductions, but never fully give up their weapons,” said Victor Cha, who was President George W Bush’s top adviser on Korean affairs.
If so, the six-nation talks appear doomed.
Their objective is the North’s total nuclear disarmament in exchange for energy aid and major security and diplomatic benefits.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged recently it “seems implausible if not impossible” at present that the North will return to the negotiations.
“The ball is in the North Korean court, and we are not concerned about chasing after North Korea, about offering concessions to North Korea,” she said this month.