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[NEWS ANALYSIS]N.K. puts ball in Obama`s court

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Published : 2010-03-30 15:46
Updated : 2010-03-30 15:46

U.S. President Barack Obama must now decide whether to engage the communist state in one-on-one talks following Pyongyang`s latest bout of threats, including the reversals of the nuclear disablement process.
"The ball is now definitely in President Obama`s court. Bilateral talks with the United States is what the North has been aiming for right from the start, and it will continue to up the offensive until it gets its way," said Chun Seong-whun, researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
"To stop the situation from getting worse, the United States will have to agree to exclusive talks with North Korea."
On Tuesday, North Korea issued a Foreign Ministry statement denouncing the U.N. Security Council`s presidential statement condeming Pyongyang`s Sunday rocket launch.
The North said it would reverse its nuclear disablement and boycott the six-party talks designed to end its nuclear weapons programs, in addition to strengthening its nuclear deterrent.
Pyongyang also has ordered the pullout of all remaining U.N. nuclear inspectors.
Considering the sharply hostile tone of the statement, experts said it was likely for Obama to eventually reach out to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
"Special representative Stephen Bosworth has already indicated that the United States is open to talks with North Korea. It has left that door open," said Baek Seung-joo, a North Korean specialist at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
But there would be distinct "redline" to how much he would permit the North, such as drawing the line against any attempts to reverse the disablement process, Baek added.
In the meantime, the six-party talks - put on hold since December - were expected to remain deadlocked, as the North said it would "never again" return to the discussions.
"It will take some time for the six-nation talks to get back on track. At least until North Korea and the United States manage to strike a new deal," said Chun.
"For the time being, the North has indeed gained more chips to bargain with, since it has now turned the entire process back to square one."
Regarding Seoul`s role in engaging Pyongyang, critics said the government would first have to patch up inter-Korean relations before it can try to get through to the North.
North Korea, in apparent attempts to get the upper hand in future relations with the United States, has been engaging in a series of saber-rattling measures aimed at grabbing Obama`s attention.
Most of the criticism had been targeted at Seoul, with Pyongyang threatening military action and shutting down the inter-Korean border several times. On Sunday, it defied international warnings to fire a long-range rocket.
The U.N. Security Council consequently issued a presidential statement, although it failed to adopt a new resolution as Seoul, Washington and Tokyo had called for. The statement largely focused on reactivating the sanctions towards the North drafted in the council Resolution 1718 adopted shortly after Pyongyang`s first nuclear test in 2006.
By Kim Ji-hyun

(jemmie@heraldcorp.com)

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