N.Korea Continues Flip-Flop Strategy

      December 21, 2010 12:25

      North Korea has apparently decided to bang the peace drum for the time being, launching no attacks during a South Korean live-fire exercise on the flashpoint border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday despite earlier threatening dire retribution. Instead it told U.S. troubleshooter Bill Richardson it will allow the return of UN nuclear inspectors.

      And the official Rodong Sinmun daily, in further evidence that Pyongyang has abruptly changed tack, on Monday published an op-ed piece titled, "The Anti-War and Peace Banner Must be Hoisted Higher."

      "The North apparently feels it got all it wanted from the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island," said a South Korean security official. "Now it's going to try and get rewards for its provocation through a fake peace offensive and diplomatic maneuvering."

      ◆ Why No Attack?

      A military source pointed out that North Korea has favored surprise attacks. "It couldn't launch another provocation this time because we made thorough preparations and the U.S. Forces Korea and the UN Command observed the artillery exercise." It may also have decided that another strike would undermine any gains from Richardson's visit. Ryu Dong-ryeol of the Police Science Institute said, "If the situation doesn't go its way, the North can always rattle the U.S. with a third nuclear test or the launch of a long-range missile, and it can threaten the South by holding a large-scale artillery drill and firing short-range missiles."

      Alternating belligerence and charm offensives are a familiar pattern. When a push for an inter-Korean summit and demands for massive food aid in return from the South last year fell on deaf ears, the North first torpedoed the Navy corvette Cheonan in March and then shelled Yeonpyeong Island in November.

      K-9 self-propelled guns are fired during a massive drill in Yanggu, Gangwon Province in February this year. /Yonhap

      ◆ Gains from Yeonpyeong Attack

      The North Korean regime has already reaped considerable results from attacking the island. Internally, it has consolidated a political base for Kim Jung-il's son and heir Kim Jung-un, and diplomatically it confirmed the support of not only China but also Russia. And by rekindling fear of war in the South, it has stoked conflict between conservatives and progressives here. The hard left Democratic Labor Party on Monday claimed the U.S. "is pushing the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a war," and in the North the Rodong Sinmun accused Washington of being the source of heightening tension on the peninsula.     

      The attack last month was also another step in Pyongyang's campaign to turn the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border, into disputed waters. "The North got the UN Security Council to suddenly pay attention to drills we've been carrying out for 37 years," said a diplomatic source. North Korea is expected to use that perception to push its case for a peace treaty to replace the armistice, demanding that the U.S. guarantee regime safety and withdraw troops from the South.

      "The North is blatantly trying to drag the U.S. into the picture by presenting even South Korean military exercises as a confrontation not between the two Koreas but between Washington and Pyongyang," said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University.  

      ◆ Using American Peacemakers

      The North's invitation to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who was told Pyongyang will permit the return of UN nuclear inspectors, recalls former President Jimmy Carter's 1994 visit to North Korea. The first North Korean nuclear crisis was at its peak when Carter, after a meeting with leader Kim Il-sung, told CNN Kim promised not to expel the nuclear inspection team and expressed his willingness to disable atomic reactors. That bought Kim valuable time, averting an American attack and ensuring that negotiations continued.

      Richardson was also accompanied by a CNN reporter this time, ensuring maximum publicity for the peace offensive.

      But North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in a recent meeting with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo said the North has the right to the peaceful use of nuclear power, even as he grudgingly added he may "consider" admitting IAEA inspectors. The North maintains that its uranium enrichment facilities are for peaceful power generation, so government officials here believe the offer is a ploy to keep the North's uranium enrichment program off the table.

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