U.S. Looks to Balance Response to N. Korea

By Colum Lynch and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 16, 2009

UNITED NATIONS, April 15 -- North Korea's rapid moves to eject international inspectors and restart its nuclear facility have left the Obama administration scrambling to demonstrate resolve while leaving the door open to talks that will defuse the latest crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

The administration yesterday proposed imposing United Nations financial sanctions on 11 North Korean companies it says are involved in the country's lucrative trade in ballistic missile technology. But U.S. officials have balanced punitive actions with frequent official statements that North Korea should return to six-nation talks on eliminating its nuclear stockpile.

In Washington, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday that the administration is "anxious for the North Koreans to come back to the table, the same place where in September 2005 they made an agreement to dismantle their nuclear program."

Indeed, shortly before North Korea drew international condemnation by launching a rocket over Japan early this month, Stephen W. Bosworth, the administration's special envoy for North Korea, told reporters that "pressure is not the most productive line of approach" in dealing with North Korea and that talks probably would likely resume after "a cooling-off period."

After the launch, President Obama and other senior officials promised that North Korea would face "consequences" for its actions. But China, a principal ally of North Korea, balked at the tougher language originally proposed by the administration for a U.N. Security Council statement, and that effort fell short in the view of many analysts. Nevertheless, on Tuesday, the North Korean government ordered the expulsion of U.N. inspectors and threatened to end participation in disarmament talks.

The United States yesterday presented a U.N. sanctions committee with a list of companies, including Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. (Komid) and Tanchon Commercial Bank, saying they have helped the country buy and sell ballistic missile equipment in violation of U.N. resolutions. The United States imposed its own bilateral sanctions on the two companies in 2005.

The Security Council has instructed the U.N. sanctions committee to reach agreement on a list of targeted firms by April 24. If it cannot, the council will seek to approve a list by April 30. Under U.N. rules, the council's big powers, including Russia and China, will have to agree to the sanctions.

The companies named Wednesday by the United States have proved adept at evading sanctions. Komid, which was previously known as Changgwang Sinyong Corp., has operated under at least three names. The United States sanctioned Changgwang Sinyong in April 2000 after it uncovered evidence of its export of missile systems to Iran.

The U.S. government also imposed sanctions on the company in August 2002 for transferring missile technology to Yemen, and again in March 2003 for selling missile technology to the Khan Research Laboratories in Pakistan. The laboratories' founder, Abdul Qadeer Khan, is considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

Critics say that the United States' enforcement of financial sanctions has been spotty and that Washington has repeatedly allowed North Korea off the hook in efforts to promote talks on its nuclear arms program.

In 2005, the United States imposed restrictions on U.S. financial institutions dealing with Banco Delta Asia, accusing the Macau-based bank of laundering U.S. currency on behalf of North Korea. In 2007, the U.S. Treasury Department released more than $25 million in North Korean assets frozen at the bank in exchange for a commitment to shutter an aging nuclear reactor.

The United States rallied international support for financial sanctions against North Korea in 2006, weeks after it tested a nuclear bomb. Within three months, the United States dropped plans to target North Korean companies to pursue political talks with North Korea. The U.N. sanctions commission stopped meeting in summer of 2007.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company