/ 2 February 2006

US considers Security Council referral for N Korea

North Korea’s reluctance to return to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons programme has fuelled speculation the United States may seek to refer the Stalinist state, like Iran, to the United Nations Security Council.

Christopher Hill, the chief US negotiator to the six-party nuclear talks, indicated on Wednesday that Washington might consider other options if North Korea stayed away from the stalled negotiations.

”We want a diplomatic solution to this problem … we believe it’s the best solution, absolutely the best solution [but] it’s probably not the only solution,” Hill emphasised at a forum in Washington.

He did not discuss other initiatives, and insisted on North Korea’s unconditional return to the talks.

Pyongyang has said it will not return to the talks — which include host China, South Korea, Japan and Russia — unless Washington withdraws financial sanctions it has imposed for alleged counterfeiting and money laundering activities.

Some interpret Hill’s remarks as a signal to North Korea that it could face the same international pressure as Iran does if it refused to make good its pledge to dismantle its nuclear weapons network.

World powers including Russia agreed on Wednesday on a draft resolution asking the United Nations atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to report Iran to the Security Council over nuclear work that could be weapons-related.

The 35-nation IAEA board of governors is expected to send the Iranian issue to the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, at a meeting in Vienna on Thursday.

”Well, it has been the US desire all along to say if the North Koreans aren’t serious, we need to take this [dispute] to the UN Security Council but it is the others who have blocked it,” said Asian expert Ralph Cossa of the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Washington’s ”Plan B” to resolve the three-year-old Korean nuclear crisis has Security Council action, a move South Korea and China have argued is premature, he said.

”If there is a productive result coming out of the Security Council with Iran, I think that will increase the attractiveness of looking to the Security Council as a potential solution for North Korea and, at least, it will hopefully remove some of the Korean and Chinese objections to it,” Cossa said.

Charles Pritchard, a key US negotiator with North Koreans during the Clinton administration, said any ”Plan B” conceived and implemented by Washington would ”not work on the Korean peninsula” unless it was endorsed by the other parties to the negotiations, especially South Korea.

”We have to urge the South Koreans to take the lead to create their version of ”Plan B.” What is it that they would suggest that we can do collectively to move beyond a failed negotiations, what are the timelines involved and, if we the US commits to that, it may not be the timelines we like but I guarantee you that the substance and timing would be far better and sooner than if we were to attempt to do it by ourselves,” Pritchard said.

Seoul is currently at loggerheads with Washington over the financial sanctions imposed on its northern neighbour, with which it is rapidly building ties.

In September the US Treasury Department labelled a Macau-based bank Banco Delta Asia a ”primary money laundering concern”, then blacklisted eight North Korean companies in connection with the bank that it said were involved in spreading weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea says the sanctions breached the spirit of the six-party talks. Washington however argues that printing fake US dollars strikes at the heart of national sovereignty and cannot be compromised.

The last round of the six-party talks was held in November.

The nuclear stand-off between Pyongyang and Washington erupted in 2002 when the United States accused North Korea of running a secret uranium-enrichment programme.

North Korea responded by throwing out UN International Atomic Energy Agency weapons inspectors and abandoning the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. – AFP