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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

N. Korea Confirms Talks, Citing Conditions

North Korea confirmed Wednesday that it will return to the six-party talks on its nuclear arms program, but tied the decision to the United States at some stage agreeing to lift financial sanctions.

North Korea has boycotted the talks since November 2005 in protest over the US restrictions, which include a freeze of its accounts at a Macau bank for its alleged complicity in counterfeiting and money laundering.

The six-party talks include North and South Korea, China, the US, Japan and Russia.

The US, meanwhile, denied rumors and suggestions that it had made concessions to bring North Korea back to negotiations. Speaking to reporters at the White House, President George Bush publicly thanked China for arranging the three-way meeting that produced Tuesday's agreement, while making clear that efforts to enforce the sanctions stemming from the nuclear test will go forward:

Said Bush: "We'll be sending teams to the region to work with our partners to make sure that the current United Nations Security Council resolution is enforced, but also to make sure that the [six-party] talks are effective - that we achieve the results we want, which is a North Korea that abandons their nuclear weapons programs and her nuclear weapons, in a verifiable fashion in return for a better way forward for her people."

On 'Responsible' China and Nuclear Rogues

China is anxious to be seen as a responsible stakeholder in the international system ahead of next week's Congressional elections in the United States.

The Democrats, who seem poised to regain control of the House of Representatives, have turned against job-killing free trade and globalization policies, and China is a main target of criticism. A significant minority of Republican lawmakers also opposes free trade. The party may retain control of the Senate; but anti-free/pro-fair trade sentiment in the upper house is also likely to grow.

The domestic US political situation partly accounts for China's seemingly successful pressure on North Korea to return to stalled six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program. The last thing Beijing needs right now is to come across like a sponsor and protector of nuclear rogues.

Turning to North Korea's nuclear tag team partner, Iran, China will probably make a last-ditch attempt to coax the Islamist nation into a meaningful compromise, while continuing to work with Russia to prevent the imposition of truly tough sanctions that could involve or lead to use of force.

With the exception of Israel, which views Iran as a strategic threat, there is no international support for a confrontation with Tehran. Skeptics and critics who tend to blame the US for exaggerating and exploiting, or at least mismanaging, the Iran issue are likely to be strengthened by the resumption of talks with North Korea.

At the same time, however, the embattled Bush administration is certain to claim credit for a diplomatic breakthrough, citing Pyongyang's decision to return to the negotiating table as proof (a) of the wisdom of relying on China to contain its vassal's behavior (even though the rely-on-China policy, inherited from the Clinton administration, failed to prevent the secretive Stalinist state from pursuing its nuclear and missile programs), and (b) of the effectiveness of sanctions (even though there is practically no chance the measures can prevent proliferation, absent a naval blockade and interdictions and inspections of ships entering or leaving North Korea).

Our view: talking is almost always better than shooting, especially since (a) the US does not seem to have a viable military option, and (b) the aspirations of the horrific North Korean regime seem limited to dominating the Korean peninsula, If South Korea wants to appease the North--which Seoul has more or less made clear--Washington should not stand in its way, provided Japan can be protected. The real red lines, at the end of the day, are no strategic threat to US ally Japan--the world's second largest economic power--and no nuclear (or biological) arms peddling.

How to stop North Korea from placing warheads on missiles capable of being fired with accuracy at the US or Japan is an additional challenge. With at least tacit support from Beijing, Pyongyang will probably use every stalling trick and negotiating tactic in the Stalinist/Kimist playbook to play for time while it continues to develop weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

But that's another story.

China Says Six-Party Talks Will Resume Soon

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday announced--on its website--that the long-stalled six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program will resume at a convenient time soon. The ministry said China, the United States and North Korea reached the decision at an informal meeting in Beijing.

The website text reads: "On 31st October, as proposed by China, the heads of delegation to the Six Party Talks from China, the DPRK and the United States had an informal meeting in Beijing. The three parties had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on continuing efforts to advance the process of the Six Party Talks. The three parties all agreed that the Six Party Talks be held soon at a time convenient to the six..."

The ministry also said its trade with North Korea remains unaffected by the North's nuclear test.

Referring to North Korea by the acronym for its formal name, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters at a briefing in Beijing Tuesday: "China has normal trade with the DPRK, which has been continued."

China is North Korea's main supplier of food and oil. Liu defended the shipments as a way of improving the lives of ordinary people in North Korea.

Scientists Find New Bird Flu Strain in China

Scientists in Hong Kong and the United States have detected a new strain of bird flu in China.

The discovery by researchers at the University of Hong Kong and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, is reported in the newest issue of US-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists named the new strain "the Fujian-like virus" because it was first discovered in China's southern Fujian province.

They say the strain has become the primary version of the bird flu in several Chinese provinces, and has already spread to Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand.

Public health authorities fear the virus could mutate into a strain that can easily spread from human to human, raising a potential of a worldwide pandemic.

The first wave of the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu outbreaks occurred three years ago in many parts of Asia. It has killed at least 148 people worldwide. Most victims contracted the virus from dead or sick birds.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Top US General in Seoul Expects New Nuke Test, Says North Korean Aggression Can be Defeated

The commander of United States forces in South Korea says he believes North Korea is likely to conduct further nuclear weapons tests, but that the alliance between Washington and Seoul will remain strong enough to deter any North Korean aggression.

US General Burwell Bell said Monday in Seoul, that North Korea's nuclear weapons test on October 9 probably will not be the last.

"I can only surmise that since they've tested one, that we would see some time in the future yet again another test of a nuclear device," Bell said. "I hope that that is not the case."

Bell commands about 28,000 US military personnel in South Korea under a mutual defense treaty enacted after the 1950-1953 Korean War. He briefed reporters Monday on recent high-level talks between South Korea and the US.

North Korea claims that it needs a nuclear arsenal to deter US aggression. Washington has said it has no intention of attacking the North. Bell said Monday the alliance's "business" is to deter North Korea--and if deterrence fails, to defeat it--but not to launch a first strike.

"The notion of Combined Forces Command developing pre-emptive strike plans, as has been reported in some news media, is simply not the case," he said.

Under the present terms of the US-South Korea alliance, US officers would command South Korean forces in the event of war. General Bell says this month's high-level talks in Washington arrived at a timetable for returning wartime command to South Korea sometime between 2009 and 2012, with details to be negotiated.

The administration of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has made the return of wartime operational control a priority as part of its policy of seeking greater strategic autonomy from the United States.

Bell said the US role in defending South Korea will become, in his words, "more air- and naval-centric" as time goes on, shifting more responsibility to South Korea's approximately half a million strong forces.

Bell called on North Korea to stop testing and building nuclear weapons, and to return to six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear programs. The US, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China say the North can receive economic and diplomatic benefits if it abandons its nuclear weapons program.

(Source: VOA)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

US: Australia Key to Enforcing NK Sanctions

America's diplomatic point person for the North Korean nuclear crisis says Australia could play a vital role in enforcing United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang that were imposed on it following its test of a nuclear weapon.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill made the remarks while on a visit to Australia to discuss Asia-Pacific co-operation on the sanctions.

Speaking Sunday at a public forum in Sydney, Hill said Australian military capability would be important in enforcing sanctions against North Korea, as it has been in the United States-led campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hill said a coalition of willing partners across the Asia-Pacific region would be the best way to police the UN resolution.

"At some point we will get beyond the problem of North Korea. Obviously the United States, and I think Australia shares this view, that what we really want to have is a trans-pacific approach more than just a pan-Asian approach," Hill said.

Hill has lead the US delegation to the six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program, which also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

The UN Security Council voted earlier this month to impose financial and military sanctions on Pyongyang after the secretive regime staged its first nuclear test on October 9th.

Precise details of how to enforce these punitive measures are still being worked out but Hill said Sunday he expected to be working closely with the Australian government on the matter.

Canberra has already offered to provide a warship to help inspect cargo vessels heading to or from North Korea as part of any UN sanctions regime.

Separately on Sunday, Hill praised China for exerting pressure on Pyongyang and said the Chinese had a crucial part to play in resolving regional tensions.

China has supported the UN sanctions but, along with South Korea and Russia, has argued for caution in implementing them. Beijing fears North Korea's fragile economy could collapse under the weight of the sanctions, leading to regional instability.

Speaking to reporters after the Sydney forum, Hill said it was unclear whether the North Koreans were preparing a second nuclear test, as some analysts suspect.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

S. Korean Media: Seoul Monitoring NK Test Site

South Korean media say the government is monitoring suspicious activities at a North Korean nuclear site where Pyongyang carried out its first nuclear test earlier this month.

The reports quote South Korean military sources as saying Pyongyang is building a new structure at the Punggye-ri site in North Korea's remote northeast. But the sources say the purpose of the facility is unclear.

The reports say South Korean intelligence agencies are closely watching movements of trucks and soldiers in the area. The activities could indicate preparations for a second nuclear test, or just a deception.

South Korean media have reported several cases of suspicious movements at the nuclear site since the first test on October 9. However, South Korean officials have said they have no information that another test is imminent.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, soon to be the new United Nations secretary general, met with Chinese leaders in Beijing Friday to discuss sanctions against North Korea for conducting the first test.

China's official Xinhua news agency says Ban met with President Hu Jintao, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan. Tang had talks last week with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Details of Friday's discussions were not immediately released.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

China-Africa Summit Set for November 3

Chinese officials say they are negotiating 2,500 trade deals with some 40 African nations ahead of a Sino-African summit in Beijing next week.

The three-day Forum on China Africa Cooperation is scheduled to begin on November 3. Bringing together more than 40 African heads of state and about 1,500 delegates, the summit reflects the importance that energy-hungry China is placing on its relations with resource-rich Africa.

Beijing last year drew more than 38 million tons of oil and is increasingly turning to the African continent for the raw materials China needs to fuel its booming economy.

Vice Minister of Commerce Wei Jianguo told reporters in Beijing Thursday trade between China and African nations rose 10-fold from 1995 to 2005. He says it is expected to exceed $50 billion this year--much of it in oil purchases from nations such as Sudan, Libya, Angola, Nigeria, and Equatorial Guinea. Angola has overtaken Saudi Arabia as China's largest source of crude oil.

Unlike with the US or the European Union, China buys from Africa far more than it sells. Aside from oil, China purchases large quantities of raw materials, agricultural products, and fish. African nations, in turn, buy manufactured products, electronics, and appliances from China.

Critics accuse China of investing irresponsibly in Africa, lending money to corrupt governments without preconditions, ignoring human rights violations and neglecting environmental standards.

But China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun on Thursday rejected the allegations.

"We cannot accept this criticism," he said. "You should know that we adhere to the principles of peaceful coexistence, the most important of which is to not interfere in other nations' internal affairs. We believe that by developing trade cooperation with other countries, especially with African countries, we are benefiting their development."

International news reports this week quoted World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz as criticizing Chinese banks for ignoring rules that require lenders to ensure that borrowers comply with social and environmental standards.

Among the nations of Africa, at least five still officially recognize Taiwan as a national government and do not have diplomatic relations with Beijing. Chinese officials on Thursday said they had extended invitations to those nations as observers, but had not received replies.

South Korea Moving Forward with Sanctions

Brushing off threats from the North, South Korea has taken its first steps to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea for its recent nuclear test, including the banning of key North Korean officials from the country.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok, announced the sanctions Thursday. He said the travel ban covers North Korean officials linked to the country's nuclear programs.

Lee said South Korea is also increasing inspections of North Korean ships suspected of carrying weapons and other banned materials.

Just a day earlier, Pyongyang had threatened retaliation if Seoul complied with a United Nations resolution calling for the North to be punished for its October 9 nuclear test.

South Korea has been cautious in its response to the North's nuclear test because of its long-standing policy of engagement with the North. Seoul is clearly concerned that punitive action may only escalate tensions on the divided peninsula.

In the view of the United States, which has about 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea, Seoul's participation is crucial to the successful implementation of the UN resolution.

"It requires strong commitment by South Korea to the terms of that resolution, and any activities need to be seen in the light of making certain to implement that resolution," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.

The actual impact of Seoul's sanctions may be small. Travel to the South by North Korean officials is already extremely limited. And Seoul says two joint-venture projects in North Korea that are funded by the South, the Kaesong industrial park and the Mt. Kumgang tourist resort, will continue operations.

North Korea has earned nearly a billion dollars from these two projects since 1998. The US and other nations criticized the projects, asserting they may be helpinf fund Pyongyang's missile and nuclear weapons programs.

While the US and Japan have strongly backed full implementation of the UN sanctions, China, Russia and South Korea have held back. Even with their support, preventing Pyongyang from peddling a nuclear bomb or technologies (let alone biological weapons) is a nearly impossible task, according to many officials and experts, including US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

There is no real international support for either a naval blockade of North Korea or interdiction and forced inspections of North Korean and suspect ships flying so-called flags of convenience.

Some analysts fear that the sanctions, which are aimed at pressuring Pyongyang to return to long-stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks, could make North Korea feel cornered and cause it to lash out at South Korea or Japan.

North Korea Threatens South Korea Over Sanctions

North Korea is escalating its rhetoric against the United States and South Korea.

The secretive Stalinist state warned South Korea Wednesday that it will "pay dearly'' if it joins United Nations sanctions imposed on Pyongyang for carrying out its first nuclear test.

The threat came in a statement by Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland released by the state-controlled Korea Central News Agency.

"If the South Korean authorities end up joining US-led moves to sanction and stifle, we will regard it as a declaration of confrontation against its own people,'' the statement said. "South Korea will have to pay dearly and be held responsible if international sanctions joined by the South bring forth destructive results in inter-Korean relations.''

The North Korean news service also published an essay that included the following gems:

"Flunkeyism and dependence on foreign forces bring no good but only harm to peace and security in the present era where the north and the south should go in for unity and reunification....

"The United States is a dangerous force which persistently seeks to invade the north, far from working for peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.

"The Bush regime is more bellicose than any other successive regimes....

"The US is a ferocious imperialist aggression force...."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Kim's Apology Ploy Upstaged Rice Visit

Apparently, China Confidential was half-right.

As we had predicted, North Korean Dear Leader Kim Jong-il upstaged last week's visit to Japan, South Korea, and China by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. However, Kim tricked Washington by fighting with words and ideas. Instead of defiantly detonating another nuclear device, as we had expected, or provocatively test-firing more missiles toward Japan, Kim played along with what now seems to have been a clever scheme by China and South Korea to help him fake a softening stance in the face of US demands for strict enforcement of the new United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang.

China deliberately allowed the world to believe that Kim (a) had apologized for North Korea's first nuclear test, and (b) had assured an official, high-level Chinese delegation that there would be no more atomic explosions. Rice, to her credit, cast doubts on the South Korean news agency account that China appeared to confirm. But her caveats to the press were largely ignored; as a result, the impression of North Korean flexibility resulting from supposed Chinese pressure was created and quickly spread, thanks to the Internet-driven, global nonstop news cycle.

At a minimum, the story of Kim's apology undercut Rice ahead of her visit to Russia, which made clear its opposition to truly meaningful enforcement measures, such as a naval blockade and/or forced interdiction and inspections at sea of North Korean cargo ships. At worst, the disinformation, augmented by carefully staged Chinese truck inspections at the North Korean frontier, strengthened the arguments of those who want to appease Pyongyang at all costs, regardless of its intentions or capabilities. In this regard, we expect to see a stepped-up international propaganda campaign along the following lines:

1. The US has exaggerated and even lied about North Korean proliferation activities; so there is no need to get too worked up about sanctions enforcement.

2. The US pushed Pyongyang to test a nuclear device--by refusing to engage in direct talks with the Kimist regime--and is likely to repeat the mistake by applying unnecessary pressure. If North Korea tests another weapon, it will be Washington's fault.

Meanwhile, there are signs that Washington's so-called red lines are again shifting. US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who said the US would not live with a nuclear North Korea before the country's first-ever nuclear test, told reporters Wednesday that Beijing and Washington are closer than ever on the North Korean issue. The real test of China's cooperation, he said, would be if it succeeds in bringing Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. Following the regime's test, remarks by President George Bush and other officials indicated that the US would draw the line at North Korean proliferation and also never allow the regime to place a nuclear warhead atop a missile.

China Denying Kim Apology Report

China is denying South Korean news reports last week that said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il apologized for carrying out a nuclear test on October 9.

The reports said Kim had made the remarks to Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan, who visited Pyongyang last week to deliver a message from President Hu Jintao.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao spoke to reporters at a regular briefing Tuesday.

"The reports are certainly not accurate. I have not heard any information that Kim Jong-il apologized," he said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met with envoy Tang in Beijing following his visit Pyongyang, earlier cast doubt on the reports. Rice said Tang did not tell her that Kim had either apologized for the October 9 nuclear test or said that he would not ever test again.

Chinese government spokesman Liu suggests there is no guarantee that Kim will stop the tests.

"He (Kim) also indicated that the North Korean side has no plans to carry out a second nuclear test," the spokesman said. "But, if foreign influences exert more pressure or exert unfair pressure, North Korea could possibly take further measures."

Pyongyang has responded angrily to United Nations sanctions that ban some trade with North Korea and prohibit the transfer of weapons-related items to and from the country.

The US, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia are trying to persuade North Korea to return to talks on ending its nuclear programs. Pyongyang has refused to do so for the past year because of financial sanctions the US has imposed on some North Korean enterprises suspected of involvement in crimes such as money laundering and counterfeiting.

Chinese officials on Tuesday had no information on a report in a South Korean newspaper that said Beijing police last month arrested two ethnic Korean men on charges of trying to sell nearly one kilogram of enriched uranium.

The report did not say how enriched the uranium was. Only highly enriched uranium can be used to make bombs. The newspaper said officials are investigating the origin of the uranium, and quoted sources as saying North Korea had not been ruled out as a possible source.

One of the greatest concerns the US and other countries have is that North Korea will try to sell nuclear weapons or technology to other countries or to terrorist groups.

The US-led Proliferation Security Initiative aims to block shipments of weapons of mass destruction by North Korea. The latest UN sanctions against Pyongyang bar it from shipping most goods that can be used in weapons of mass destruction.

(Source: VOA)

Monday, October 23, 2006

China, Russia See Iran Sanctions as Slippery Slope

Rising China and resurgent Russia are reluctant to impose tough sanctions on their common ally and economic partner, Iran. Both Beijing and Moscow see meaningful United Nations sanctions as a slippery slope toward possible use of force against the Islamist nation, which has reportedly launched a second batch of centrifuges at its pilot nuclear fuel plant.

Media reports Monday quoted diplomatic sources as saying Tehran started the new cascade of 164 interconnected centrifuges, which can enrich uranium for either a nuclear power plant or bomb fuel, earlier this month in addition to an already operating network of 164.

Also on Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasted that his country's nuclear capabilities have multiplied "tenfold" over the past year.

Approval of a UN sanctions resolution is expected to take weeks.

Meanwhile, Israel, a country that Iran has repeatedly vowed to destroy, seems to be preparing for war. Israeli leaders are increasingly outspoken in warning the public about the Iranian nuclear/missile threat; and, in a move that is certain to be seen by Israel's neighbors and the international community in general as a possible sign of things to come, the deeply unpopular government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday added to his coalition Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party. The hawkish, rightwing Russian immigrant was appointed Vice Premier Monday--as well as "Minister of Strategic Threats," a title created for him.

On accepting the appointment, which is subject to Knesset approval, Lieberman referred to Iran as Israel's primary threat.

OUR ISRAELI CORRESPONDENT reports: A polarizing political personality, Lieberman advocates transferring Israeli Arabs and certain Israeli Arab areas to a future Palestinian state. Tragically, his extreme views reflect extreme times. Visions of peace are distinctly out of fashion following this summer's month-long war with Iranian Lebanese Shiite proxy Hezbollah.

According to the results of a new survey by the Hebrew University's Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 65 percent of the Palestinian public believes Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip and West Bank should adopt Hezbollah's tactics, and shell Israeli cities and towns with rockets. Fifty-seven percent of Palestinians also supported suicide bomb attacks. And most Israeli Arabs said they think Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is "looking out for them."

Critics: Iran Sanctions Will Help Hardliners

Opponents of getting tough with Iran in its nuclear standoff with the West are advancing a new argument for a go-slow approach to United Nations sanctions: meaningful measures will strengthen support of so-called conservatives, or hardliners, in the Islamist regime by handing them an excuse for its inability to improve the economy.

The mullahocracy has lived from crisis to confrontation since its inception nearly three decades ago. Successive American and European governments have unsuccessfully tried to influence Iran by appealing to so-called moderate elements among the powers that be. With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promising to continue nuclear enrichment activities on an almost daily basis, we expect to see a last-ditch propaganda offensive by appeasement advocates to delay a showdown and basically blame the Bush administration (and Israel) for the current crisis.

Foreign Investment in Asia Reaches $165 Billion

The United Nation Conference on Trade and Development says Asia remained the largest recipient of foreign direct investment among developing regions in 2005. Investment inflows into the region reached $165 billion last year.

About two thirds of that went to mainland China and Hong Kong. Singapore ranks number three on the list, with foreign investments totaling $20 billion. Inflows to India reached $10 billion, the highest level of foreign investment in the country ever seen.

Burma attracted its highest-ever level of direct foreign investment since the country opened to outside investors in 1988. The government says foreign investment in the fiscal year was more than $6 billion, compared with less than $160 million the previous year. Most of the increase was accounted for by investments in the power sector by neighbor Thailand.

Foreign investment helped fuel China's economy, which grew 10.4 percent in the third quarter. That gain was down from a sizzling 11.3 percent expansion in the previous three months that had prompted worries about inflation and debt. Economists say the modest slowdown is a sign that government efforts to prevent the economy from overheating are taking effect.

(Source: VOA)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

US Senators Urge Direct Talks with N. Korea

Key US senators from both parties--including Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign relations Committee--are urging the Bush administration to hold direct talks with North Korea, following the impoverished, isolated country's nuclear test earlier this month. Lugar said direct talks, which the North has long sought, are "inevitable if this is to be resolved diplomatically."

The Bush administration has refused to deal directly with Pyongyang outside of the framework of the stalled six party talks, saying North Korea has cheated on previous bilateral negotiations with Washington. The negotiating process, which also includes North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, began in 2003, but has been on hold for over a year.

Democratic Senator Jack Reed, who has been among the loudest voices on the North Korean issue on Capitol Hill, said direct talks are especially urgent because of recent North Korean actions.

"Well, this [Bush] administration over the last several years has watched first as the North Koreans have taken the plutonium away from international inspectors and fashioned nuclear devices," Reed said. "They've seen a missile launch on the Fourth of July. And now they've seen the detonation of a nuclear device."

Reed appeared Sunday on CNN's Late Edition program. He added that what he called the "heart" of any negotiations with North Korea should be discussions with the US.

"This notion about the format of the talks is less important to me than actually negotiating, or trying to negotiate, it might not be successful, but trying to negotiate with the North Koreans," he said. "

On the same program, Republican Senator Arlen Specter said he believes there are good reasons for Washington to pursue both tracks.

"The multilateral talks are indispensable, if we're to have any sanctions that are effective," Specter said "And I've been encouraged to see that China is now talking tougher about some effective sanctions. So, from my point of view, they have to be multilateral."

Specter pointed to President Reagan's move to talk to the former Soviet Union, after declaring it the "Evil Empire" in the 1980s, as an example of the need to talk to perceived enemies, including North Korea and Iran.

"You have Iran, which wants to be part of the nuclear club," he said. "North Korea wants to pound its chest. Well, let's talk to them. The issue is serious enough with North Korea, with their having nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them, that I think we ought to use every alternative, including direct bilateral talks."

In the case of Pyongyang, the push for bilateral negotiations is partly driven by a grudging awareness by lawmakers that Washington has no realistic military option, given the presence in South Korea of some 30,000 US troops who are effectively nuclear hostages. With an army of more than a million "human bullets and bombs" deployed across the border with the South, North Korea has scores of missile bases and nuclear, biological and chemical warfare facilities. US analysts are apparently divided and in the dark about the country's precise capabilities and the exact location of its most menacing bases; therefore, the notion of military defeating Pyongyang through a series of swift, decisive air strikes seems impractical, in spite of the hundreds of billions spent annually by the US on national defense and the enduring enmity between the two adversaries, dating to the Korean War of 1950-'53.

Successive US administrations were clearly asleep at the wheel while North Korea prepared for war and developed--and peddled--its weapons of mass destruction.

North Korean Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, who regards the Korean war of more than a half-century ago as a piece of unfinished business, and has vowed to rid the Korean peninsula of US forces and reunify what was once known as the Land of the Morning Calm, understands the relative weakness of his American adversary. For the time being, he is fighting with words; but that could change in the coming weeks. Veteran North Korea watchers in Asia, including former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who was the architect of Seoul's appeasement policy toward Pyongyang, agree with our view that the secretive Stalinist state nation could retaliate fiercely against moves to stop its weapons trade under United Nations sanctions.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Chinese Think Tank Predicts New Mideast War

Researchers at a Chinese government run think tank linked to Sun Bigan, Beijing's special envoy to the Middle East, expect the region to be engulfed in war before the end of next June. Reason: non-Arab Islamist Iran and its secular Arab ally, Syria, are determined to avenge the humiliating defeat of the (overwhelmingly Muslim) Arab armies by Israel in its historic Six-Day War, which began on June 5, 1967.

The Chinese view is that the looming 40th anniversary of the conflict--which resulted in the loss of Arab lands, including the contested West Bank territories and Golan Heights--is galvanizing the fanatically anti-Israel leadership of Iran (which, in '67, was ruled by the pro-American Shah, with whom Israel enjoyed a productive and close relationship). Iran's Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly vowed to destroy the Jewish state, is reportedly obsessed with erasing the so-called stain of Israel's victory by erasing Israel itself.

Along with the recently evacuated Gaza strip, which was occupied by Egypt prior to the '67 war, the West Bank lands have been earmarked for a Palestinian Arab state. It is generally assumed that any Israeli peace pact with Syria would include return of the disputed Golan, a strategically significant area from which Syrian forces shelled Israeli farms and villages before the war.

Sun is a strong supporter of both Iran and Syria--and an effective opponent of tough sanctions and other punitive measures against Tehran. Iran's counterproposal of "serious negotiations" aimed at ending its nuclear standoff with the West, in response to a proposed package of incentives, was basically his idea, as China Confidential has reported.

Friday, October 20, 2006

France Threatens to Shoot Down Israeli Jets

Will there be peace in our time?

France ... the notoriously anti-Semitic county that quickly capitulated to and, for the most part, eagerly collaborated with the Nazis during World War II ... and actually profited from deporting Jews to Nazi death camps, as recently determined by a French court ... has threatened to shoot down Israeli fighter jets.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told a news conference Friday that Israeli overflights of Lebanese air space are "extremely dangerous" because French-led United Nations peacekeepers on the ground could see them as hostile acts and fire in self-defense.

[Update: AFP reported that French President Jacques Chirac said Friday that Israel must stop its sorties into Lebanese airspace, because it "opposes the spirit of UN Resolution 1701." The French news agency said Chirac made the comments during a press conference in Finland where a EU conference was being held.]

The French defense chief asserted that violations of Lebanese air space could give others an excuse not to obey a cease-fire imposed by the UN Security Council to end this summer's 34-day war between Israel and Iranian proxy Hezbollah.

"I remind that the violations of the airspace are extremely dangerous," Alliot-Marie said. "They are dangerous first because they may be felt as hostile by forces of the coalition that could be brought to retaliate in cases of self defense and it would be a very serious incident."

The defense minister spoke a day after French Major Generall Alain Pellegrini, who leads the so-called UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, condemned the Israeli overflights.

France has deployed anti-aircraft missiles in southern Lebanon, which can only be used for self-defense for French soldiers serving in the UN force.

Parallel to this new perfidy, Paris has assured Iran that it would abandon the allied push for United Nations sanctions against the Islamist nation if it responded to international concerns over its nuclear program.

"If Iran does show goodwill, France and France's partners are prepared to suspend the procedure in front of the the UN Security Council," Alliot-Marie said. "The only condition is that there are indeed steps forward."

Iran: 'Illegitimate' Israel Will Soon Disappear

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday said Israel no longer has any reason to exist and will soon disappear (scroll down for the story).

Addressing a pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran, Ahmadinejad referred to Israeli leaders as a "group of terrorists," and threatened any country that supports the Jewish state.

He also described Israel as a fake regime that would soon disappear, recalling a similar statement made a year ago, when he threatened "to wipe Israel off the map."

Since then, Israel has watched the Iranian nuclear program with growing alarm. Jerusalem believes the international community is moving too slowly to stop Iran, and that the United Nations must change course and quickly impose sanctions.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Russia this week to urge a tougher stand on Iran; but Olmert came away empty handed from talks with President Vladimir Putin. Russia is building Iran's first nuclear reactor and opposes sanctions on Tehran.

Olmert warned that Iran would have "a price to pay" if it does not back down from its nuclear ambitions. It was a broad hint that if the international community does not act, Israel might launch a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities on its own.

Comment: Nuclear Iran is the Ultimate Red Line

Successive American administrations have failed to contain North Korea and Iran. But it is one thing to reluctantly choose to live with a nuclear North Korea and hope that rising China will prevent Pyongyang from further developing its atomic arsenal and peddling its weapons and technology for mass destruction ... which seems to be the new US policy ... and another thing, entirely, to appease Iran.

A nuclear Iran is the ultimate red line; it can't be moved. To even consider shifting would be stupid--and suicidal.

Iran's clerical fascist rulers know that Washington agrees, which is why the mullahocracy is escalating its war of words with the West over the nuclear enrichment issue and instigating Iran's secular ally, Syria, and Sunni Islamist ally, Hamas, to attack Israel. Iran is also stepping up support for Shiite militia forces in Iraq, where the security situation seems to be rapidly worsening.

Iran is nobody's vassal, in sharp contrast with North Korea. The secretive Stalinist state has nothing to offer China, apart from 22 million starving people and a useful buffer zone against US forces in South Korea (some 30,000 troops who could and should be evacuated as soon as possible). Pyongyang is also a potential deterrent to possible US intervention in the Taiwan Strait in the event of a Chinese attack on the self-ruled island (which is not at all far-fetched). Iran, however, is incredibly rich in oil and gas; not for nothing does the non-Arab Islamist nation represent energy-hungry China's most important relationship in the Islamic world.

Iran also has important, deepening, relations with resurgent Russia, which has been instrumental in building up the Islamist monster. The US has little leverage over Moscow, which, along with Beijing has blocked moves toward meaningful sanctions against Tehran.

Iran also has observer status in the increasingly important Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a tool of Chinese energy diplomacy and counterweight to US power and influence in Central Asia, in which Russia is an active partner.

The bottom line: North Korea is dangerous; but Iran is clearly a greater threat to the US.

North Korea Seems to Back Down as Iran Acts Up

Cautious optimism concerning North Korea, a watchful eye on Iran....

Concerned that a possible naval blockade by the United States, coupled with United Nations sanctions, could lead to the collapse of their North Korean vassal, Chinese leaders are pressuring Pyongyang to return to nuclear disarmament talks. And the pressure seems to be working, raising hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough among analysts in China, South Korea, Japan, and the US ... where Republican control of both houses of Congress is at stake in the November 7 midterm elections.

A North Korean breakthrough, following frantic US and Chinese diplomatic efforts and Beijing's plea for "coolheadedness," could provide the White House with an "Ooctober surprise" that could prove helpful in the looming vote.

Ironies abound. In addition to being fed up with North Korean defiance, China's Communist Party rulers may have looked at the possibility of serious change in the US Congress and decided that China prefers the party in power. Democrats at all levels are turning against free trade, blaming globalization for policies that have benefited Beijing at the expense of US manufacturers and workers.

At Asia's other end, however, America's avowed enemies--Iran and its Shiite militia allies in Iraq--apparently prefer the Democrats. While Stalinist North Korea may be backing off from making good on threats and hints of conducting more missile and nuclear tests, its Islamist tag-team partner is increasing tensions internationally in keeping with a pattern we first detected back in June.

In an exceptionally bold act of defiance, approximately 800, black-clad Mahdi Army figthers, members of a Shiite militia with close ties to Iran, seized total control of the southern Iraqi city of Amarah on Friday.

Mahdi Army militiamen, who are led by Moqtada Sadr, an anti-American cleric the US once vowed to kill or bring to justice, have long enjoyed a free rein in Amarah, the provincial capital of the southern province of Maysan. The militiamen often summon local government officials for meetings at their offices, and they roam the city with their weapons, manipulate the local police and set up checkpoints at will.

In Tehran, Iranian maniac-in-chief Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected UN resolutions aimed at ending the mullahocracy's nuclear standoff with the West, and warned Europe on Friday that it "may get hurt" by supporting Israel.

"You should believe that this regime (Israel) cannot last and has no more benefit to you," Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast on state radio." What benefit have you got in supporting this regime, except the hatred of the nations?

"We have advised the Europeans that the Americans are far away, but you are the neighbors of the nations in this region. We inform you that the nations are like an ocean that is welling up, and if a storm begins, the dimensions will not stay limited to Palestine, and you may get hurt."

Regarding the UN, Ahmadinejad said any decisions by the Security Council, which is considering imposing sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, were illegitimate.

"The Security Council, in its current situation, lacks legitimacy," he said. "Its decisions are illegitimate. You (the Council) want to be the judge, the prosecutor and the executor at the same time? Those times are gone."

Iran's nuclear standoff with the West is a growing problem for its ally, China, which, as shown by its moves regarding North Korea, wants to be seen as a responsible stakeholder in the international system. Beijing is indicating that it wants to play a "constructive role" in efforts to resolve Tehran's nuclear standoff with the West. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing made the remark in a joint news conference with visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Beijing Friday.

Li said China is ready to continue its constructive role in the process of peacefully resolving the Iranian nuclear issue.

Rice said the two sides discussed efforts at the United Nations Security Council to draft a resolution that is likely to impose sanctions on Iran for refusing to stop its uranium enrichment activity.

China and Russia have been resisting tougher measures against Iran, while urging negotiations to end the standoff.

Iran's intransigence and threats reinforce our view that while it may be possible to appease North Korea, loathsome as this may seem, appeasing Iran is simply suicidal. The oil-rich, nuclear arming nation seeks to destroy Israel, dominate and drive the US from the Middle East, and change the power relations among nations globally, in line with its self-image and ideology as the vanguard of a radical Islamic revival.

Back to North Korea.

Thousands of citizens and soldiers rallied Friday in the North Korean capital to cheer the country's recent nuclear test, North Korea's official news agency reported.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, meanwhile, was reported to have told a visiting Chinese delegation that the communist nation wasn't planning more nuclear tests.

Condoleezza Rice met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other officials, hoping to allay some of Beijing's concerns about UN sanctions approved last week in response to North Korea's nuclear test.

At the start of her visit Friday, Rice met with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and said they spoke about the importance of fully implementing the resolution to stop North Korea from shipping banned weapons materials.

"We also talked about the importance of leaving open a path to negotiation through the six-party talks because after all, President Hu and President Bush are both committed to a diplomatic solution to this problem," Rice said.

China offered hope of a diplomatic solution on Friday. Tang Jiaxuan, Hu's envoy to Pyongyang, told Rice that his visit to North Korea has "not been in vain." Tang met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, his first known meeting with a foreign dignitary since the October 9 nuclear test.

Chinese officials shared no details on Tang's Pyongyang visit, but Foreign Minister Li said Friday that both sides discussed how to restart the stalled six-nation talks, which also include Japan, Russia, and South Korea. The talks aim to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programs.

Rice also met with Premier Wen Jiabao, who said he saw "no other choice" but to resolve the nuclear crisis through dialogue.

China is the third stop on Rice's tour, which is aimed at building support for implementing the sanctions against the North. She earlier visited Tokyo and Seoul, and heads to Russia Saturday.

Speaking in South Korea, Rice said that while the US seeks full implementation of sanctions, Washington would not try to dictate to other governments what they should do.

US: NK Could Test Another Nuke, Fire More Missiles

Amid speculation that North Korea could be backing down in its standoff with the United States (scroll down), the US is reportedly preparing for the possibility of a second nuclear test by the reclusive rogue state as well as additional missile tests. Officials in Washington are telling reporters that fresh provocations by Pyongyang are not only possible, but likely.

Meanwhile, The New York Times, citing Chinese analysts, said Friday that China is ready to increase pressure on its belligerent vassal, including reducing oil shipments, in order to force its return to long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

Korean Report of Kim Apology Spurs Speculation

An intriguing South Korean newspaper report--that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il essentially apologized to a Chinese delegation for his country's test of a nuclear device--is spurring speculation that the current crisis could be entering a new phase. Analysts in South Korea and Japan suddenly see the possibility of a deal--possibly involving formal US assurances that it will not seek Kim's overthrow--which would result in Pyongyang's return to stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks.

Bilateral talks between the US and North Korea are also possible, according to some experts, who contend that Pyongyang's provocative October 9 explosion and July 4 missile tests have pushed China into a radical review of its traditional "lips and teeth" relationship with its belligerent vassal, which depends on Beijing for most of its food and fuel.

Chinese experts on the secretive Stalinist state, including Communist Party officials and intellectuals associated with China's leading state-run think tanks, have gone out of their way to make their views known to Western reporters in recent days. The emerging party line is that Kim finally went too far in defying international warnings not to test a nuclear weapon, and that China seriously intends to rein him in and actually roll back his nuclear program.

China, which was responsible, with Russia, for watering down the United Nations resolution for sanctions against North Korea, is also concerned about a possible US interdiction at sea of a North Korean ship--an event clearly capable of triggering a dangerous escalation of the crisis.

If Beijing a is seen as bringing Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, it will be a big boost for the US State Department, which has largely relied on Chinese support for dealing with North Korea.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Venezuela Supporting Mideast Terrorists

China's most important relationship in South America is with Venezuela. But the oil-producing nation, which is increasing its crude shipments to China, is emerging as a "potential hub of terrorism" in the Americas, according to a US Congressional report.

The document says "Venezuela is providing support--including identity documents--that could prove useful to radical Islamic groups." The report accuses Venezuela of issuing thousands of "cedulas"--the equivalent of social security cards--to individuals from Cuba, Colombia and Muslim and "Middle Eastern nations that host foreign terrorist organizations."

Several Pakistanis with fraudulent Venezuelan documents were allegedly apprehended recently at the US border with Mexico.

Meanwhile, sources in Caracas say Venezuela has decided to buy military cargo aircraft from Russia after a Spanish company, facing US opposition, dropped a plan to sell 12 planes to the South American country. Venezuela, which is led by a leftwing populist demagogue, Hugo Chavez, will also spend $3 billion on 24 Sukhoi fighter planes and 53 military helicopters.

Following Venezuela's purchase of 100,000 Kalashnikov AK-103 rifles and other helicopters last year, Russia is now the South American nation's largest weapons supplier. Moscow is also deepening its investments in Venezuela's energy sector.

Rumors are Rife Ahead of Rice Visit to China

Amid widespread speculation that North Korea is about to detonate another nuclear device, diplomatic circles in Beijing are abuzz with rumors that China is trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting in the Chinese capital between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a North Korean representative.

At the same time, Tokyo sources say the US is mobilizing vessels, including guided missile carriers and destroyers, under cover of a naval exercise, for a blockade of North Korea. The US Seventh Fleet is based in Japan.

Rice is scheduled to meet in Beijing Friday with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, and later with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. She arrived in Seoul Thursday for meetings with South Korean officials and met with Japan's leaders on Wednesday.

Ahead of her arrival in Beijing, a high-level Chinese diplomatic delegation met with North Korea's leader Thursday in an apparent attempt to head off a second, provocative nuclear test by the secretive Stalinist state, which receives most of its food and fuel supplies from China.

"The Chinese mission met with reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and delivered a message from China's president, Hu Jintao," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters in Beijing.

Lieu offered no details about the message; however, he said the diplomats conducted "in-depth discussions on China-North Korea relations as well as the prevailing situation on the Korean Peninsula."

"This visit was very important," Liu said. "It has major significance."

The Chinese officials, who arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday, included state councilor and former foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan and Chinese Vice Foreign Ministers Dai Bingguo and Wu Dawei, Beijing's nuclear envoy, who is also China's chief negotiator to the stalled six-party North Korea nuclear disarmament talks.

Rumsfeld: Inspections Unlikely to Stop N. Korea

America's much maligned defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, is the only senior member of the Bush administration with the courage to candidly discuss the North Korean nuclear nightmare.

In contrast with fast talking Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, currently on tour in Asia (scroll down for the story), Rumsfeld concedes that preventing Pyongyang from peddling its nuclear technology to the likes of Iran or Al Qaeda is "practically impossible."

Responding to an audience member's question following his speech at a US Air Force base in Alabama yesterday, Rumsfeld candidly assessed America's plan for inspecting cargo leaving North Korea. He said inspections would require "a high degree of cohesiveness and cooperation on the part of the international community, and that has been something that has been lacking."

Said Rumsfeld: "There's so much movement around the world by land, sea and air that it is practically impossible--not impossible--but certainly it would take a lot of countries cooperating with a high degree of cohesion.

"We have not seen that kind of cooperation that would have a high probability of being able to prevent a continued proliferation.''

Unlike Rumsfeld, Rice is a sanctions booster; but her efforts to persuade Pyongyang's primary aid donor, China, to back interdictions at sea are almost certain to fail. China and Russia were responsible for watering down the sanctions, which the UN Security Council approved on October 14, in order to exclude use of force under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Flailing and Floundering, US Sends Rice to Asia

Flailing and floundering ... and failing.

That about sums up Washington's huff-and-puff policy towards nuclear armed North Korea.

On the one hand, the United States has ruled out a military option; on the other, the US will not tolerate North Korean transfer or sale of a nuclear weapon.

Great! But how would Washington detect such a transfer, given Chinese opposition to interdiction at sea of North Korean ships?

Nobody knows.

And what about biological weapons--how will Washington prevent Pyongyang's sale of deadly germs to the likes of Al Qaeda?

Nobody knows.

Not to worry! China is a ... responsible stakeholder. America's rising adversary is inspecting North Korean ... trucks. Yes! It does not get better than that ... until we simply outsource our national security to China's Communist Party rulers.

American ally Japan? Rest assured, democratic Japan--the world's second largest economy--will be defended. With all available weapons. Really? Well, maybe ... as long as China is OK with the arrangement.

And so on and so forth....

The important point is that the politically battered Bush White House has sent the incredibly ineffective and arrogant Condoleezza Rice ... America's Foreign Policy President ... to Asia. To save the day. Or, at least, to put on a good show. Or, more likely, to throw oil on the North Korean nuclear fire, further inflaming tensions ... while some 30,000 US troops in South Korea are sitting ducks for the deranged Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.

Nuclear Nutcases Threaten the Planet

Life imitates pop art and vice versa.

China Confidential has learned that a Japanese media company is planning publication of either a graphic novel or a manga book inspired by the current Korean crisis. In the fictional story, a North Korean nuclear bomb test awakens a nest of angry, fire-breathing, flying Chinese dragons that threaten to wipe out humanity until they are finally destroyed.

In the real world, meanwhile, North Korea's crazy Communist cult leader is reportedly ready to detonate another atomic device (China Confidential has been predicting since last Thursday that he will stage a second test) and also planning to test-fire a missile in the direction of Japan.

At the other end of Asia, a cave dwelling multimillionaire--mastermind of mega-terrorist attacks on New York and Washington--manages a global network of suicidal, so-called holy warriors, while a rival religious nutcase heads an oil-rich, nuclear arming theocracy bent on world domination.

Cheering them on in South America is the pro-Castro Crackpot of Caracas, a kind of tropical Mussolini, seemingly unhinged and clearly increasingly consumed by his hatred of the United States. He, too, heads a land awash in oil (though his crude is heavier and more costly to produce) and dreams of changing the power relations among nations with nuclear-tipped missiles.

Nuclear threats ... missile mad tyrants and terrorists ... news stories nowadays resemble the plots of 1950s and '60s comic books. Let's hope we have the heroes to beat the villains. Our men and women in uniform are certainly up to the job; but we can't help but worry about our politicians and diplomats.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Abe Said to be Disappointed by US Intel on N. Korea

Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was reportedly disappointed by the quality of intelligence he received from the United States regarding North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities and intentions. The prime minister has told aides that he feels he should have been better informed--and thus better prepared--before his recent summit talks in China, which were overshadowed by Pyongyang's first nuclear test.

US intelligence agencies are said to be in the dark or at least seriously divided concerning key Korean issues, including the size of the North Korean nuclear arsenal and whether or not Pyongyang is capable of putting a nuclear warhead on a missile.

Meanwhile, Japan is focusing on the domestic activities of a semi-secret society of North Korean sympathizers, spies, and agents of influence. The Gakushu-gumi, with an estimated membership of 5,000, is believed to be the underground arm of the 200,000-strong Chosen Soren, an association of Korean residents in Japan. Known as the Chongryon in Korean, the Chosen is a a well established business and propaganda network that directly or indirectly controls a substantial portion of the incredibly lucrative Japanese pachinko industry. Japanese police sources say the organization is responsible for sending some $100 million a year to North Korea, and that it has also acquired advanced technology for export to the secretive Stalinist state.

Tokyo has generally tolerated the group's suspect activities since its inception in 1955. But the current crisis is causing a radical rethink of the Japanese-North Korean relationship.

Defiant Kim Preparing New Nuke, Missile Tests

Analysts in South Korea and Japan believe a second North Korean nuclear test is imminent. In fact, Pyongyang could detonate another weapon as early as this Thursday in a dramatic display of defiance aimed at upstaging the scheduled visit to South Korea by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

China Confidential--which, as far as we can tell, was the first media outlet of any kind to predict the October 9 nuclear test--has predicted new North Korean provocations since the day of the historic explosion. In this regard, we also expect the secretive Stalinist state to test-fire another missile--toward Japan. Pyongyang has already proven that it can launch a missile over the US ally; and the regime's long-range rockets may also be capable of reaching the US.

In our view, the US and Japan are playing with fire--nuclear fire--in their handling of the Korean crisis. Washington and Tokyo are making the mistake of treating North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-il like a cunning crime boss instead of what he really is--a crazed cult leader, who has constructed his own world within the confines of the Hermit Kingdom. For Dear Leader Kim, there is no reality except for the one he has fashioned over time. Exile and retirement--and reform--are out of the question. He is more likely to fight and die--and take hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives with him--than submit and surrender. Suffocating sanctions, as we have said, are a prescription for catastrophe. Barring a sudden Chinese-backed coup or arranged assassination, Kim will more likely lash out with ferocity--using the element of surprise to his great advantage--than return to stalled, multilateral nuclear disarmament talks.

For the US and Japan, the choices, as we see them, are (a) appeasement, assuming Kim can be satisfied with direct talks, recognition and security guarantees, economic assistance and a withdrawal of US troops, which are essentially nuclear hostages, anyhow, from South Korea, or (b) war, assuming the US is capable of using stealth bombers and missiles to accurately and utterly destroy every possible North Korean military, nuclear, chemical, and biological base and installation in a wave of sudden surprise attacks.

We do not believe that Kim is afraid of war; he has been preparing for it for years. The current Korean crisis is the unfinished business of the Korean War, which cost the lives of more than 52,000 Americans. If the Pentagon is incapable of defeating and destroying Kim without risking the lives of around 30,000 US troops and endangering our democratic ally, Japan, the world's second largest economy, Washington would be wise to cut a deal with him as soon as possible, even if it means abandoning South Korea and refocusing on dealing with Iran, a nuclear arming power with truly global aspirations. Pyongyang's territorial ambitions are limited to reunifying the Korean peninsula; in contrast, Tehran aims to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, dominate the Middle East and drive the US out of the strategically vital oil-producing region, and spread the mullahocracy's vision of radical Islam in order to change the power relations among nations for centuries to come.

Appeasing North Korea is a loathsome option worth considering; appeasing Iran is a non-starter, unless, as we have said, one is prepared to convert to fundamentalist Shiite Islam.

EDITORIAL POSTSCRIPT: It would be scandalous if the US military option is not feasible, given the staggering size of the US defense budget. Where did the money go--to an empire of obsolete, bloated bases? How did successive Republican and Democratic administrations allow the North Korean menace to develop into a threat of such magnitude? The American people deserve direct answers to direct questions.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Pyongyang Launches Disinformation Program

North Korea has launched an intriguing disinformation campaign--with Chinese and South Korean help.

Pyongyang's neighbors oppose restricting the flow of non-military goods to North Korea. Notwithstanding China's phony photo-op truck inspections at the North Korean border, China and South Korea are also against inspecting cargo shipments at sea for materials banned by the United Nations Security Council sanctions. The latter inspections are vitally important; without them, North Korea can continue to proliferate and perhaps even peddle an atomic bomb to Al Qaeda.

The North Korean disinformation campaign--consisting of deliberately false reports of a power struggle between regime hardliners and moderates--is therefore in the immediate interests of both Beijing and Seoul, who remain committed to policies of appeasement toward the secretive Stalinist state, despite clear concerns about the intentions of North Korean Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. The campaign's underlying message is that too much pressure on Pyongyang will only strengthen the hands of the hardliners; given time and just the right amount of pressure, the regime will change, perhaps through a bloodless coup.

The real coup: luring Diane Sawyer to North Korea. Fresh from her exclusive interview with the notoriously anti-Semitic, alcoholic actor Mel Gibson, the glamorous ABC correspondent will begin broadcasting from the Hermit Kingdom Tuesday morning. Her reports are expected to "humanize"--and thus help to legitimize--the monstrous North Korean regime.

Which, as of this writing, is preparing another nuclear test. With any luck, Sawyer will have a front-row seat for the explosive story.

NOTE: North Korean disinformation techniques are based on KGB "active measures," which used agents of influence, controlled media, covert media placements, and outright forgeries to shape and influence public opinion in targeted countries. Pyongyang's primary propaganda target is South Korea, followed by Japan and the US.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Back to the Future, US Facing Foreign Crises Galore

Everything old is sort of new again.

The international situation is suddenly reminiscent of the 1950s, minus the strategic political, economic, and military advantages that the United States enjoyed as the world's dominant superpower.

Everywhere, it seems, the US is dealing with unfinished business--crises and issues rooted in long festering problems and unresolved conflicts--while Washington's revamped Cold War adversaries, Russia and China, are being less than helpful or downright disruptive. The former Communist rivals are closer than they have been since the Korean War; China's Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in which Russia is an active partner, serves as a counterweight to US power and influence in Central Asia.

On the Korean peninsula, a nuclear-armed Stalinist regime is threatening the US, as well as South Korea and Japan.

In the Middle East, Israel is threatened by Gaza-based, rocket-wielding Palestinian terrorists and a newly assertive Syria, as well as a nuclear arming, Islamist Iran and its Lebanese Shiite proxy, Hezbollah. Arab nationalism is dead; but its replacement, Radical Islam, is much more menacing. The "Arab-Israeli conflict" has been Islamized; secular Palestinian nationalists and self-proclaimed Palestinian Marxists have been oveshadowed and marginalized by religious fanatics with whom no negotiations seem possible. The West's old nemesis, Nasser, has morphed into Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (with a push from Osama Binladen). Observing Iran's maniac-in-chief, and the all-powerful ayatollah to whom he answers, one could easily become nostalgic for Nasser.

In Latin America, a leftwing populist demagogue--the Castro-worshiping Crackpot of Caracas--is stoking hatred of "US imperialism." At least, he does not have nuclear-tipped missiles--yet.

But India and Pakistan are armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons; should they ever use them, millions of people would die and the rest of the planet could be poisoned. At the same time, more countries are poised to go nuclear. Experts say as many as 30 nations could develop atomic weapons in a short time span. Unless the world comes to its senses and figures out how to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle, the children and grandchildren of those who complained about the managed madness of Cold War-era nuclear deterrence are going to inherit a world of nuclear chaos.

So it seems that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, history did not end. It reinvented itself.

Personally speaking, this reporter prefers the original version. It had cleaner lines.

Question: Is a US Attack on North Korea Feasible?

A time for brutal realism.

We asked Saturday (scroll down for the story) if North Korea's key military bases and nuclear, chemical and biological installations are known to Pentagon planners and if the United States is capable of swiftly destroying all the important sites.

In fact, a great deal of information is in the public domain. The secretive Stalinist state--which, while starving its population, has repeatedly threatened to attack the US with nuclear weapons--is believed to have 14 missile bases, dozens of airports and airfields, including many hardened underground sites, 22 nuclear research facilities, and at least seven or eight--and maybe as many as 15 or 16--chemical and biological warfare facilities, which have produced the world's largest bio-chem arsenal. North Korea also boasts numerous, hardened command-and-control and communication centers.

In addition, most of the regime's "human bullets and bombs"--more than a million soldiers--are deployed near the border with South Korea.

North Korea is clearly a frightening, formidable foe.

US troops in South Korea, estimated at around 30,000, are essentially nuclear hostages. Even without weapons of mass destruction, Pyongyang apparently has sufficient force and firepower to destroy them and Seoul. In the event of a shooting war, the casualties are expected to exceed the numbers of dead and wounded in the Korean War of the early 1950s, which cost over 52,000 American lives.

In short, the situation on the Korean peninsula, decades in the making, is simply sickening. The unfinished business of the Korean conflict--America's first undeclared, no-win war--is a potential catastrophe in the making.

So the question remains: is America capable of launching waves of surprise attacks to swiftly destroy the North Korean military? It would be comforting to know that's an option. Otherwise, one wonders how Washington has been spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year all these years on defense and intelligence. Many of us naively assumed our government had the resources and contingency plans to defend us--including the ability to launch preemptive strikes, if necessary, to eliminate nuclear terrorists before they eliminate us.

If it turns out that the military option (assuming no first use of nuclear weapons on the part of the US) is a fantasy, a policy of appeasing North Korea might actually make more sense than punishing and pressuring it with sanctions. China and Russia are going to disappoint the US--have already disappointed the US--regarding enforcement of the watered-down United Nations resolution and use of force to interdict suspect shipments and supplies entering and leaving the impoverished outlaw nation. The prospects of a so-called Chinese solution, such as a Chinese-backed coup or arranged assassination of North Korean Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, seem slim at best. Pyongyang is a proven proliferator of nuclear and missile technologies and likely to peddle any and all weapons of mass destruction--including germs--in order to survive.

Rather than submit to slow but steady strangulation or suffocation at the hands of his avowed enemy, the US, and its ally, Japan, mass murdering Kim is likely to strike out with terrible ferocity, unleashing the full force of his mighty military in a final, desperate showdown. Imagine Hitler in the bunker, but with a nuclear-tipped V2 rocket capable of wiping out London.

With the above in mind, one could nevertheless argue that Islamist Iran is a more serious threat to the US--and the world--than Stalinist (or Kimist) North Korea. In contrast with Pyongyang, which seems to dream only of Korean reunification, Tehran has global aspirations. Seeing itself as the spearhead of Radical Islam, the mullahocracy is actively seeking to destroy Israel and dominate the strategically vital, oil-producing Middle East in the near term--and threaten the US and Europe in the long term. Iran's intentions are imperialist through and through; it is determined to change the status quo--meaning the power relations among nations--by any and all necessary means.

Appeasing--diplomats prefer the term accommodating--North Korea may be an option worth considering, odious as this may seem. Appeasing Iran, however, is out of the question, unless one is prepared to convert to fundamentalist, Shiite Islam. Regarding Iran, there is no acceptable alternative for the West but victory. There are no moderate mullahs and ayatollahs presently in power; the clerical fascist regime must go, regardless of its alliance with rising China and resurgent Russia.

Heaven help us if the US can't figure out how to win this one.

It's Official! The New York Times At Last Accepts Our Notion of a North Korea-Iran Nuclear Tag Team

Apparently, The New York Times is paying attention and at last connecting the dots.

China Confidential has repeatedly used the exhibition wrestling term "tag team" to describe the suspiciously close cooperation between Stalinist North Korea and Islamist Iran, which, with Chinese and Russian support, is keeping the battered Bush administration dangerously off balance. (See our August 22 and September 28 articles and our October 3 story, "That Terrible Nuclear Tag Team.")

But the Times, which has historically been sympathetic to totalitarianism in general--and Stalinism and Islamism in particular--has resisted the tag team notion.

Until today. The paper's Sunday Week in Review section features a front-page essay, "The Lone Superpower That Couldn't" with the subhead, "Nuclear Tag Team."

The article highlights Chinese and Russian connections to the two nuclear standoffs, while also confirming our analysis that America's so-called red lines have again shifted. In contrast with past pronouncements and warnings, Washington is resigned to living with a nuclear North Korea, for the time being, at least, as long as it does not sell its bombs and technologies to other states and terrorist groups and demonstrate an ability to put nuclear warheads on missiles.

One imagines Iranian mullahs shaking--with laughter.

US Appeals to China Likely to Fall on Deaf Ears

Poor John Bolton.

America's United Nations envoy is being pushed to make stupid statements that only serve to reinforce suspicions that Washington is increasingly adrift internationally and at a loss for effective strategies and tactics for dealing with the most pressing problems.

Bolton told CNN on Sunday that tough UN sanctions on North Korea should help persuade Iran to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons program.

"I hope the lesson they learn is that if they continue to do nuclear weapons they will face the same kind of isolation and friction that North Korea now faces," Bolton said.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to impose financial and weapons sanctions on North Korea for its claimed nuclear test in a resolution, which, in deference to China and Russia, omitted authorizing use of force against the secretive Stalinist state.

Pyongyang immediately rejected the resolution; and we expect it to increase tensions with new provocations, probably directed at Japan.

Also on Sunday, Bolton said that China had a "heavy responsibility" to influence North Korea's behavior and urged Beijing to observe the UN resolution.

Bolton also expressed hope that China would reduce aid to North Korea, which depends on China for most of its food and fuel supplies.

Bolton is in for a big disappointment. China will find ways to disregard the UN resolution and continue to protect and preserve the present North Korean regime, fearing the chaos that could ensue from the collapse of a useful buffer state.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Early Warning: New North Korean Threats Likely

The watered down United Nations Security Council resolution is not likely to force North Korea to return to stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks. More likely, Pyongyang will respond with a new provocation--perhaps another nuclear test or another missile launching.

At the very least, we expect to see new North Korean threats to attack the United States and Japan.

Emboldened by Chinese and Russian support for Stalinist North Korea, Islamist Iran is digging in its heels with respect to its nuclear standoff with the West. Iran is also intensifying efforts to rearm its Lebanese Shiite proxy, Hezbollah, and push Tehran's secular ally, Syria, into a war with Israel.

Security Council Sanctions Exclude Force

The United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea for conducting an apparent nuclear test.

The vote came less than a week after North Korea announced it had set off a nuclear device underground.

The resolution includes economic and weapons sanctions against North Korea, including a travel ban and financial restrictions.

But the resolution specifically rules out the use of force in a concession to China and Russia.

Earlier Saturday, US Ambassador John Bolton said some technical changes to the draft resolution had been made. Diplomats said the issue of cargo inspections had been a sticking point.

North Korea is threatening to carry out more nuclear tests. Pyongyang has said it would regard any tough new sanctions as a declaration of war.

Russian news agencies quoted Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying that any UN sanctions should be withdrawn if North Korea agrees to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program.

In Washington, President Bush signed a law allowing the United States to impose sanctions on any foreigner who provides weapons technology to North Korea.

Mysterious N. Korea: Many Questions, Few Answers

North Korea is an incredibly impenetrable and mysterious country, where there are clearly more questions than answers. A few questions come to mind:

1. What are North Korea's true, long-term intentions and aims? Would the regime of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il be satisfied with security guarantees, economic assistance, and recognition, as doves suggest, or continue to proliferate its nuclear and missile technologies, while threatening South Korea and Japan? Is North Korea serious about reunifying with--i.e. conquering--South Korea? Is the secretive Stalinist state capable of coexisting peacefully with Japan?

2. What are North Korea's nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities? Can North Korea accurately fire missiles at Japan? Can North Korean missiles reach the United States? If not now, when? If not nuclear-tipped, as the regime claims, does North Korea have the ability to arm its missiles with chemical and/or biological warheads? Are there other possible or likely threats that should be considered? For example, is it possible that North Korea has smuggled an atomic bomb into South Korea, or stationed suicidal, human bio-bombers in Seoul or Tokyo?

3. How solid is Kim's grip--on reality and on the regime? Is he fully in control of the state and the armed forces? Are there meaningful internal differences and factions? Is it stupid or smart to speak of North Korean hardliners and moderates? Is a coup possible or likely as a result of foreign pressure, including an embargo on the scarce luxury goods that are apparently so important to the elite?

4. Are the locations of all North Korean military bases and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and research facilities known to US defense planners? Are the targets vulnerable to swift destruction? (If not, why not? Given the awesome size and scope of the US defense budget, shouldn't the Pentagon be able to wipe out every possible North Korean base in a matter of hours?)

5. Are China and North Korea still as close as "lips and teeth?" Could China overthrow or kill Kim? Would his departure from the world stage significantly alter North Korean policy? Who is the heir apparent? What, if anything, is known about him?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Pyongyang's Biowarfare Program Key Concern

The United States Friday night faced last-minute Chinese and Russian opposition to a United Nations Security Council provision authorizing nations to search cargo entering and leaving North Korea.

US envoy John Bolton told reporters that Russia raised "technical problems" on definitions of banned weapons, including nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons-related materials and ballistic missiles.

True to form, China is against mandatory inspections.

Biological weapons are a key concern. As Bolton told the US Congress in May 2002 when he was Under Secretary of State of Arms Control and International Security, "North Korea has a dedicated, national-level effort to achieve a BW (biological warfare) capability and has developed and produced, and may have weaponized, BW agents in violation of the (Biological and Toxin Weapons) Convention."

Said Bolton: "Despite the fact that its citizens are starving, the leadership in Pyongyang has spent large sums of money to acquire the resources, including a biotechnology infrastructure, capable of producing infectious agents, toxins, and other crude biological weapons. It likely has the capability to produce sufficient quantities of biological agents for military purposes within weeks of deciding to do so, and has a variety of means at its disposal for delivering these deadly weapons."

North Korea's biological warfare capabilities have not received the same attention as its nuclear and chemical warfare programs; but Pyongyang's biological weapons research and development program dates to the 1960s. North Korean medical institutes and universities have been used to develop anthrax, cholera, and plague; however, experts disagree about the regime's expertise in weaponizing the germs.

North Korea Poised to Exploit or Escalate Crisis

North Korea could be poised to exploit the current crisis to tremendous advantage.

Confident of continued Chinese protection and Russian diplomatic support, the secretive Stalinist state is supposedly signaling a readiness to return to stalled six-party disarmament talks.

The North Korean signals follow hints from the United States that it could live with a nuclear North Korea for an interim period provided Pyongyang (a) does not put nuclear warheads on its missiles, and (b) abandons all arms proliferating activities.

(Note: Biological weapons are a major concern. North Korea reportedly has well developed biological and chemical weapons programs. It is difficult to understand how the proposed sanctions package could prevent a desperately poor, cornered regime from trafficking or engaging in impossible-to-trace germ weapons and warfare.)

North Korean weakness is in some sense an asset; with little to lose and nowhere to run or hide, the regime would probably unleash its military might on South Korea--where thousands of US troops are sitting ducks--and Japan before suffering defeat and collapse. Like a grenade-wielding terrorist willing to die and take an airplane of hostages down with him, Dear Leader Kim Jong-il will never surrender. His threats of war must therefore be taken with the utmost seriousness.

South Korea is in no mood for a confrontation. The country is divided and weak, with no will to resist should push come to shove.

Japan is anxious and apprehensive--and angry--but not in any position to needlessly antagonize or provoke Pyongyang.

Beijing is apparently resigned to putting up with its belligerent vassal--which, in spite of the risks and aggravation, provides the People's Liberation Army with a potentially useful deterrent to possible US intervention in the event of a Chinese assault on breakaway, self-ruled Taiwan. China may be trying to engineer an eventual change or gradual collapse of the Kimist regime. There could even be a coup--with at least tacit Chinese backing--one day, but not now.

So for the time being, Dear Leader could make out like a bandit. Economic assistance, security assurances, international recognition and respect, even prestige-enhancing, protracted reunification talks with the South--the whole nine yards--are all his for the taking.

The above analysis assumes a reasonably rational actor, of course, which, in Kim's case, may be a hopelessly unrealistic assumption. Sensing weakness on the part of his real and imagined enemies, and feeling ever more encircled, he could just as easily escalate the crisis--with new nuclear and/or missile tests--as move to intelligently exploit and end it.

US Relents on North Korea UN Resolution

With the great powers in apparent agreement on sanctions against North Korea over its provocative nuclear test--the United Nations Security Council will probably vote on a new resolution today or tomorrow--it is clear that China and Russia are running the show.

The United States has indeed softened its stance--specifically, dropping its demand for a resolution that would authorize use of force against Pyongyang under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. But China and Russia, according to their envoys, made "good progress: in "improving the text" in order to limit punitive measures to Article 41 of Chapter 7. Article 41 only authorizes non-military sanctions, such as economic penalties, cutting off diplomatic ties and ending air travel.

Bottom line: there will be no blanket blockade or blanket arms embargo with forced inspections--in other words, nothing that could trigger military action against the rogue regime. Cargo will be inspected through "cooperative action" only in order to prevent illicit trade in nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Nations, however, will be barred from selling or supplying North Korea with specific weapons, including missiles, tanks, warships and combat aircraft; and North Korea will be barred from exporting such weapons to UN members.

What's up with that? Plenty. The US is going along with China and Russia on the sanctions issue because the politically battered, overextended Bush administration basically believes it has no alternative but to acquiesce in the matter. The administration's new hope is that the sanctions will push Pyongyang to return to stalled multilateral disarmament talks and that the measures will prove sufficiently strong to prevent or deter the impoverished secretive Stalinist state (a Chinese vassal) (a) from proliferating--i.e. peddling nuclear technology or actual bombs, and (b) from putting nuclear warheads on its missiles. North Korean capabilities in this critical area are still subject to debate among arms experts and intelligence analysts.

In short, the proverbial red lines have again moved.

Surely, Iran is paying attention....

Thursday, October 12, 2006

VOA: US Likely to Accept Nuclear North Korea

Words matter.

Voice of America published an article Thursday that supports speculation by China Confidential and other observers that the United States is softening its stance toward North Korea.

According to VOA, US policy and pronouncements are likely to change in the wake of Pyongyang's nuclear weapon test. Whereas the official US government line, articulated by Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill before the explosion, was that Washington would never accept a nuclear North Korea, the revised rhetoric will reflect a new reality--de-facto acceptance of a nuclear North Korea.

"This shift was apparent in comments President Bush made on North Korea, at the White House Wednesday," VOA reports. "Mr. Bush indicated that one of his main concerns now is not whether North Korea will go nuclear, but that Pyongyang could transfer nuclear technology to others, including terrorists and rogue states."

The VOA article quotes a former State Department official as praising Washington's decision to draw a "red line" at proliferation activities.

VOA, which began broadcasting on radio in 1942, is a multimedia news and information service funded by the US government.