North Korea

Effort needed to resolve North Korean impasse

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 May, 2007, 12:00am


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There is a nagging sense of deja vu about last night's reports that North Korea test fired short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan. It is nearly a year since Pyongyang staged a similar test last July. Those tests were followed in October with its first explosion of a nuclear weapon - a move that confirmed the worst fears of neighbouring countries and suddenly made the region a much more dangerous place.

Considerable diplomatic effort has been expended to ease those tensions, reviving the moribund six-nation talks that led to February's agreement paving the way forward to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. Despite fears that Pyongyang would be rewarded for its bad behaviour, all sides compromised. Offering to disarm brought North Korea benefits ranging from energy aid to the prospect of a new relationship with South Korea, the US and Japan.

Yesterday's tests do no one any favours and merely serve to escalate tensions at a time when the implementation of the February deal has degenerated into a diplomatic impasse. The US insists North Korea is now free to claim its previously frozen funds in Macau's Banco Delta Asia. North Korea insists it must be able to move them through the international banking system, but cannot do so because of backroom pressure on bankers from the US Treasury Department. Quite simply, North Korea wants to ensure it still has access to basic international banking.

North Korea has once again shown itself to be recalcitrant and contrary. But that does not mean excuses should be found to scrap the February deal. Flawed as it was, it offered real hope of a future peace and the long-term prospect of finally pulling North Korea deeper into the regional community.

If further compromises are needed on the financial crackdown, which was not initially linked to the nuclear discussions, they should be found, in the more important interest of giving the February deal the chance to work. Rightly or wrongly, North Korea is now nuclear armed and the situation is vastly different from that at the time of the earlier missile tests. The sooner the country is dragged inside the regional tent, the better.