Rice Presses S. Korea to Pursue Full Sanctions

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 20, 2006

SEOUL, Oct. 19 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed the South Korean government on Thursday to fully implement U.N.-authorized sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear test, but she encountered reluctance among officials in Seoul, who fear that tough action could lead to increased tensions and even war.

South Korean officials said they had deferred decisions on whether to suspend two cross-border business projects with North Korea -- the Mount Kumgang tourist resort and the Kaesong Industrial Park.

Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon said the government would evaluate its participation in light of the new U.N. Security Council resolution that punishes North Korea by halting trade in weapons, luxury goods and other items. He noted that the Kumgang resort, which provides about $13 million a year in hard currency for North Korea, is a "very symbolic project" for the two countries, separated since World War II.

Before Rice landed in Seoul, one of the government's top officials was quoted in local newspapers as saying South Korea could not be left at the whims of the United States, given that the United States "has fought more wars than any other nation." Song Min Soon, chief presidential secretary for security, later softened his remarks in a telephone interview, explaining that while the "United States has global interests," it was also important for the U.S. government "to accept our interests" and "harmonize our needs in the U.S. global policy." He said the U.N. resolution would be implemented through "our view and our interpretation."

Rice arrived here as the Chinese government announced that State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan had led a high-level delegation to Pyongyang and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. A Chinese government spokesman said it was a "very significant" meeting but declined to provide details.

A senior State Department official traveling with Rice said China has taken a "rather dramatic shift" in its policy toward North Korea since the Stalinist country announced it had conducted a nuclear test on Oct. 9.

[At least four Chinese banks in recent days have halted transactions with North Korea, cutting off a major conduit for the isolated country to move its money to and from the outside world, the Wall Street Journal reported in Friday's editions.]

"I'm pretty convinced that the Chinese will have a very strong message about future tests," the official said, referring to intelligence reports that suggest preparation for a second test is underway. He spoke to reporters on Rice's plane under condition of anonymity, citing rules set by the State Department.

Tang, who as state councilor outranks the foreign minister in the Chinese system, visited Washington last week and then flew to Moscow before arriving in Pyongyang. He is scheduled to meet with Rice when she visits Beijing on Friday, but the official cautioned against any breakthrough. "Our understanding is that the North Koreans have not been in the mood to return" to negotiations, the U.S. official said. "If anything, they are looking to escalate the crisis further."

Throughout her tour of Asia, Rice has battled the perception that the United States is eager for an escalation. News media reports here have suggested that the United States wants to use the U.N. resolution to spur a dramatic confrontation with North Korea, such as a blockage or quarantine.

Asian officials have repeatedly cautioned against relying only on sanctions. Ban said that "sanctions are not made for the sake of sanctions," but as a way to draw North Korea back to negotiations. In Beijing, Rice's next stop, a Chinese government spokesman told reporters that "sanctions are a signal, not the goal."

At the news conference with Ban, Rice emphasized: "We want to leave open the path of negotiation. We don't want the crisis to escalate."

She added: "I did not come to South Korea, nor will I go anyplace else, to try and dictate to governments what they ought to do." But she urged other nations to "take stock of the leverage we have to get North Korea to return to the six-party talks" involving Russia and Japan in addition to the United States, China and the two Koreas.

Rice held lengthy talks with Ban, who was recently selected as the next U.N. secretary general, and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun. She then held a dinner with Ban and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, which was intended to show trilateral solidarity after several years of bickering between South Korea and Japan -- and a worsening U.S.-South Korean relationship.

U.S. officials want South Korea to join the administration's Proliferation Security Initiative, a maritime exercise designed to thwart trade in weapons of mass destruction. South Korea was deliberately not invited when the program was started during President Bush's first term. The official traveling with Rice acknowledged that South Korea previously felt that joining it would be seen as a "provocative act" that would undermine its ability to influence North Korea.

Rice said that "there is a lot of misunderstanding" about the initiative, stressing that it is based on current legal authority and relies on intelligence, not "constant random inspection of ships." Rice said that while the United States wants to pay close attention to North Korean cargo, "there are many different ways in which this can be achieved," such as "container security initiatives" to detect potentially radioactive materials.

The senior U.S. official suggested there is concern about the stability of North Korea, a tightly controlled dictatorship. "A lot of us are wondering what is going on," the official said, adding it did not make sense for North Korea to test a weapon in defiance of China, its main benefactor.

"There should never be a second nuclear test, as it would further aggravate the current situation," Ban said. The United States and South Korea "shared an understanding that if it happened, there would be more grave consequences."

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