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[Herald Interview] Ex-top U.N. official urges tighter sanctions against N.K.

Despite the recent passage of strengthened sanctions over North Korea’s latest nuclear and missile tests, the United Nations should further tighten its squeeze on Pyongyang’s trade and financial networks to thwart its military ambitions, a former top U.N. official said.

Nobuyasu Abe, who served as under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs at the multinational body from 2003-2006, showed regret over past botched efforts to dissuade Pyongyang from building atomic bombs in return for economic assistance.

“It would be best if that sort of (economic) reward worked but now we no longer have confidence that it will,” he said in an interview with The Korea Herald on the sidelines of the Jeju Forum which capped its three-day run on Friday. 
Nobuyasu Abe, former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs and incumbent commissioner of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Nobuyasu Abe, former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs and incumbent commissioner of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
“Therefore we rely on sanctions. We know it will be hard on the people because they would suffer from sanctions, but right now there is no other way.”

Now the North appears “determined” to pursue its nuclear program, Abe said, raising the need for China to take a more proactive stance and join in reinforcing the Security Council’s sanctions.

“(The council) has tried, but perhaps not enough. They should impose very stringent restrictions on imports of any materials and equipment related to nuclear weapons or missiles production. That also involves financial resources,” he said.

“That way we can prevent, or at least slow down North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.”

During the conference, the 71-year-old retired career diplomat participated in a discussion on nuclear security and safety in the Asia-Pacific alongside other former ranking diplomats and scholars including former South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and John Carlson, a counselor to the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington.

Abe, now commissioner of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, raised concerns about Japan’s expanding plutonium stockpile which could give an erroneous impression to other countries, especially those with potential nuclear ambitions.

“If Japan wanted to make a bomb, Japan would have done so many years ago, but it hasn’t, indicating that it has no intention to,” he said.

“But it’s not a good idea for other countries to do the same (stockpiling of plutonium),” he added, referring to the substance’s potential military use.

On growing calls in the South for securing uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies, Abe said the demand may be reasonable if taken as a last resort for possible fuel supply crunches in the future.

Yet he warned against a nationalistic approach toward the issues, as shown in the run-up to last year’s amendment to the atomic energy pact with Washington which made way for Seoul to enrich uranium up to 20 percent if necessary, via bilateral consultations.

“I think it should not be made an issue of sovereignty, independence or national pride. It should be a more practical question,” Abe said.

“For the future possibility, as a precaution, it may not be a bad idea to have technology to separate plutonium. But you don’t have to rush, and you don’t need to have a big facility definitely.”

Though relations between the U.S. and Russia remain frosty over the Ukraine crisis and recent military encounters in the Baltic Sea, Abe expressed hopes for another round of negotiations over the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START.

“They have to reduce one more round so we can start involving other countries, including Britain, France and China to join in reducing nuclear weapons,” the former ambassador said.

“This could start a worldwide movement toward reducing nuclear weapons and eventually eliminating them.”

By Shin Hyon-hee (