U.N. Security Council Condemns North Korea's Test Claims

Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 10, 2006; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Colum Lynch was online Tuesday, Oct. 10, at noon ET to discuss the U.N.'s response to North Korea's claim that it has tested a nuclear weapon. The announcement has alarmed neighboring Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan. The U.S. is proposing an arms embargo and economic sanctions on the regime. China and Russia, while speaking against the alleged test, have not yet backed a specific response.

Lynch covers the United Nations for The Post.

U.S. Urges Sanctions on North Korea , ( Post, Oct. 10, 2006 )

The transcript follows.


Washington, D.C.: Colum,

Do you think China's condemnatory statements will reflect their behavior in the security council? My impression was that China objected to putting July's Resolution 1695 under a chapter 7 mandate...Do you get the sense today that China is open to a chapter 7 resolution?

Colum Lynch: Thank You, the reader is referring to a Chapter Seven Resolution, a provision in the UN Charter that can empower the council to impose sanctions or use force to compel a state to respond to its demands.

China has been reluctant in previous North Korean crises over the past 13 years to impose sanctions on Pyonyang to get its way. There has been reporting from the region suggesting that North Korea may have crossed a red line that will make China more willing to pursue tough action. We saw a sign of that here about an hour ago when China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, said for the first time that China would entertain some sort of "punitive actions" against North Korea as long as they are "appropriate." Impossible to gauge what it appropriate at this stage but it seem unlikely China will be willing to go as far as the United States or Japan.


Richmond, Va.: I'm sorry, but I cannot take very seriously China's "anger" at North Korea's testing of a nuclear device. Are we to believe that China, who controls, in one way or another, almost every vital facet of life in North Korea , had no idea that they were going to conduct a test? What I want to know is what pluses did China get out of this testing?

Colum Lynch: I'm not sure that I believe that China has gained much from the North Korean test. It has been a blow to China's prestige as the driver of multiparty talks aimed at persuading North Korea to end its nuclear weapons activities. I don't believe China has as much control of North Korea as some presume. It is true that China has enormous leverage over the North Koreans, and could cause them extreme pain by cutting off fuel supplies that keep the country functioning. But China has been reluctant to do this, in part because it could drive lots of desperate North Koreans across the border into China. China may also be calculating that a collapse of the regime might ultimately bring a pro-western government to its border.


Valley Forge, Pa.: Does anyone honestly think the North Koreans will be punished? The U.N. is uselesss, China has little to no influence and the Russians probably think this is hilarious.

The Iranians will be emboldened by the North Koreans if they aren't collaborating.

Not one country or organization will be able to do anything - it's a time of appeasement and lack of courage.

A nuclear attack somewhere in the world will become a reality and the world let it happen. This isn't just Bush's fault, it's also Clintons and the rest of the world.

Colum Lynch: I can't answer that. It really depends primarily on the Chinese, but also the Russian. The council certainly has the authority to impose painful sanctions on Korea. The US and Japan have proposed a list of measures, including bans on financial transactions, and halt trade on military and luxury goods as a first step. I suspect China and Russia will agree to some of these measures, but I think it is not likely that they will be prepared to go as far Washington and Tokyo.


Arlington, Va.: In your opinion, was Clinton's policy of bi-lateral talks and incentives on peaceful nuclear power programs successful? On one hand, NK did not make the strides toward nuclear weaponry that they seem to have made in the last six years, however, on the other hand, they were by their own admission secretly working on it. I wonder if this was either inevitable no matter what, was it accelerated by our recent foreign policy, or if it could have been avoided with more dialogue and bi-lateral talks as opposed to demands for group diplomacy with China and Russia involved.

Colum Lynch: I think the different approaches pursued by Clinton and Bush underscores how tough an issue this is too resolve. As you noted, President Clinton struck a deal with North Korea that involved the provision of U.S., European, Japanese and South Korean technical support for a light water reactor program that was aimed at meeting North Korea's power needs while providing greater certainty that it couldn't divert fuel to a nuclear weapons program. It turns out that North Korea was in fact violating the terms of that agreement by secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Now, we find that a tougher approach from the Bush administration has also failed to restrain the North. It's worth taking a look at an opinion piece in the Post today by Selig Harrison, who argues that it is time to consider bilateral talks again. Harrison faults the Bush administration for undercutting a deal last year aimed at resolving the nuclear crisis by imposing a series of financial sanctions on North Korea almost immediately after signing a deal that called for ultimately normalizing relations between the North and the US.


Rockville, Md.: If South Korea could invade and take over the North, would it be worthwhile? Or just another mistake? I think if a few regional commanders could agree to stand down, they might be able to do it in a few days. But it is not the best terrain in the world for a war. Certainly anyone who arrived in force who had food and spoke the same language would be welcomed. Or would they?

Colum Lynch: I think if it was that easy it would have happened a long time ago. I'm not a military expert or an expert on east Asia, but I would imagine that the US military, which would likely participate in any South Korean action, is already stretched fighting very tough wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Silver Spring, Md.: Disclaimer, I'm not blaming President Bush, but--- when he said Iraq, Iran and North Korea were in the "axis of evil" in 2002 I cringed. Then we invaded Iraq. If you were one of the other two countries in the same category, wouldn't you be nervous and defensive? If you saw us invade the country with the least amount of nuclear and deadly arsenal, wouldn't you want to build up yours? Do you see the aggressive rhetoric instead of open diplomacy as a catalyst for some current conflicts? I know North Korea has been pursuing this for a long time but do you think that NK and Iran have become more aggressive because of U.S. policy and rhetoric?

Colum Lynch: I can't get into the heads of Iran and North Korea leaders to discern their intentions. But it is true that North Korea has indicated the importance of obtaining security assurances from the US as part of any final agreement leading to its abandonment of nuclear weapons. Key European governments have also urged the United States to consider offering security assurance to Iran as part of a final agreement on their own nuclear program. I think there are a lot of people out their who feel that those countries do have legitimate security concerns. It is also possible that both countries have calculated that a nuclear deterrent is vital to their survival, and that they will pursue that goal despite any security assurances they receive.


Washington, D.C.: I seem to be hearing a lot of mixed messages. Some news clips say it was a nuclear test others that it was not. If it was a test, this is most important for Japan, now they may have just cause to arm, instead of just defensive weapons?

Colum Lynch: Again, I'm not an expert on nuclear tests.

The latest reporting suggests that North Korea, which reportedly provided China with prior notice that it intended to test, conducted a relatively small test, and that it may not have been entirely successful. It is clear, nevertheless, that this has triggered a lively debate in Japan about whether to pursue nuclear weapons. Japan, a technologically advanced country, has the nuclear fuel and the technological know-how to produce a bomb in pretty short order. But the decision to do it remains controversial, particularly in a country that has been the victim of a US nuclear attack.


Washington, D.C.: We're worse off than 6 years ago regarding security and engagement issues with North Korea. The nuclear test illustrates that the multilateral approach taken by the current administration has not worked out.

Bilateral negotiation may be a way to have DPRK back to the table. Neocons are opposed to this approach. How realistic would you see the bilateral relationship be taken by the key players in the White House in order to handle the nuclear crisis with DPRK?

Colum Lynch: It's an interesting question. Here at the UN and in the Treasury department, the US is pursuing a strategy designed to place an economic and technological stranglehold on North Korea. But some influential voices, including the former Sec of State James Baker, have been urging the president to reconsider his refusal to engage US enemies in direct talks. If he's being heard, that could have an impact on a host of trouble spots, including Iran and Syria. It's worth noting that Pres Bush has already agreed to directly engage the North Koreans and the Iranians, but only on the margins of multiparty talks that are stalled in North Korea's case and which have not been fully realized with the Iranians.

beguna with the Iranians.


Alexandria, Va.: Bolton is still not confirmed as U.N. ambassador, Bush is nearing lame-duck status. Do you think this will undercut U.S. efforts to get China and South Korea to play ball?

Colum Lynch: North Korea may believe that it can ultimately get a better deal from the US after Bush steps down. That could have an influence on its behavior. I don't think Bolton's non-confirmation has much influence on Washington's ability to influence China and South Korea-I think its more important that they know he is close to, and can speak for the president. Though its not clear how long Bolton will survive here as ambassador since his recess appointment will come to an end in January.


Bryn Mawr, Pa.: How come only the U.S. and friends of the U.S. are allowed to have nuclear weapons? Given that we have a recent history of unprovoked attacks against sovereign nations (which both Democrats and Republicans supported), I would think that we should reasonably expect others to develop nuclear capabilities. Why the surprise?

Colum Lynch: Its true that Washington's disinclination to punish close friends, including Israel, Pakistan and India, for going nuclear makes the US look inconsistent. The U.S. argument, which is accepted by many of its allies, is that certain countries, like Iran and North Korea, are too unpredictable and irresponsible to have nukes. I asked Pakistan's UN ambassador Munir Akram Monday how he felt about NK joining the exclusive club of nuclear powers. He said its not a country he'd like to see in the club.


Newark, N.J.: Do you agree that more sanctions on North Korea is the solution? Or will this be seen as an insignificant move, and cause even more defiance from the North and Iran, who is waiting in the wings for a formal reaction.

Colum Lynch: I don't have a crystal ball. The Sec Council has recently adopted a resolution calling on states to ban trade in ballistic missiles and WMD technology. But they require countries to do and they didn't design a program to enforce the ban--and it hasn't had much impact. And I'm sure NK and Iran have taken note/ If the US and Japan are successful in passing a resolution that would empower states to block a significant portion of North Korean trade and to board and inspect any vessel, truck or aircraft entering or leaving North Korea it would most definitely have an impact on the country. And it would be taken quite seriously by North Korean and Iran.


Colum Lynch: Thank you all for taking the time out to post your questions. I'm afraid I haven't had nearly enough time to answer them all, and I've got to get back to reporting on the latest stage of council negotiations.


Colum Lynch


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