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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 69/No. 21May 30, 2005


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Washington, Tokyo threaten
sanctions against north Korea
lead article
U.S. Department of Defense/John Pistone
U.S. troops simulate attack on north Korean forces March 20 during annual exercises with Seoul’s military in south Korea. Pyongyang says it is developing nuclear arms for defense against 40,000 U.S. troops in Korea and U.S. and Japanese belligerence.

U.S. and Japanese government officials stated in mid-May that the two imperialist powers would seek retaliatory sanctions or other punitive measures against north Korea if the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) carried out a test of a nuclear weapon.

When asked on CNN television’s “Late Edition” May 15 what Washington would do in the event of a test, White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said, “The North Koreans would be defying not only us, but our partners in the six-party talks, and action would have to be—have to be taken.”

Speaking earlier that day on “Fox News Sunday,” Hadley said, “If there is a nuclear test…at that point we will have to have a serious conversation about other steps we can take.” He pointed out that Tokyo is “already saying that those steps need to include going to the Security Council and potentially sanctions.”

Hadley was referring to a statement made by Shinzo Abe, the secretary general of Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party, earlier that day. “If North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons becomes definite and [the DPRK] conducts nuclear testing, for instance, Japan will naturally bring the issue to the UN and call for sanctions against North Korea,” Abe told Asahi TV. Dangling both the carrot and the stick, Abe added, “We try to bring North Korea back to the dialogue, and when they return to the table we might even have to consider a reward.”

In an earlier interview with the New York Times, Abe reportedly said Tokyo could cut off cash remittances from Koreans living in Japan to their families back home as part of these measures. Starting in August 2003, the U.S. government has insisted on negotiating with the DPRK only as part of “six-party talks” along with the governments of Japan, south Korea, Russia, and China. This is part of Washington’s moves to isolate Pyongyang and place the maximum pressure on the DPRK to give up its nuclear program.

In face of this hostile campaign, the DPRK withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003. Faced with a country divided with a wall built decades earlier with U.S. government support and tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the south, the north Korean government has defended its right, and proclaimed its intention, to continue developing nuclear weapons for the DPRK’s defense. At the same time, Washington has worked with the south Korean regime to sweep under the rug the fact that as recently as 2000 it produced weapons’ grade plutonium and uranium in secret experiments.

While Beijing, Seoul, and Moscow have joined the calls on the DPRK to abandon its nuclear arms program, they have expressed disagreement with the imperialist governments in Washington and Tokyo on how far and fast to go in pressuring the DPRK to achieve that goal.

While stating that it opposes a “nuclearized Korean Peninsula,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said May 10 that Beijing opposes putting pressure on Pyongyang through the UN Security Council or through economic sanctions.

“The normal trade flow should not be linked up with the nuclear issue. We oppose trying to address the problem through strong-arm tactics,” Jianchao said. “We think the six-party talks, and not the United Nations Security Council, are the right channel for addressing the issue.” The government of south Korea has also distanced itself from Washington and Tokyo’s threats, denying there was evidence that Pyongyang would test a nuclear weapon. Seoul participated in bilateral talks with the DPRK government May 16, and, in recent speeches, south Korean president Roh Moo Hyun has stressed that his government wishes to play a “balancing role” between its U.S. and Japanese allies and Pyongyang.

The Korean peninsula has remained divided since it was carved up in the deals between Moscow, London, and Washington at the close of the second world war. The Korean War, which started five years after the end of World War II, ended in a stalemate in 1953. While capitalist social relations were overturned in the DPRK, capitalist regimes allied with Washington have ruled south Korea ever since. No formal peace was ever signed at the end of the conflict. The U.S. government still maintains over 40,000 U.S. troops in the south and continues to outfit the regime there with the latest military hardware.

There is deep popular support on both sides of the dividing line for reunification of the country and an end to the presence of U.S. troops there. Seoul has to balance its close relationship with Washington against that popular sentiment.

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