Chinese President Hu Jintao and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on Thursday expressed "concern" about North Korea's uranium enrichment program, stoking some speculation about how they mean to deal with the issue. The U.S. would like to refer the matter to the UN Security Council, but it remains to be seen whether China will go along.
Prior to the summit, China had been noncommittal about the program, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying North Korea has the right to use nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes and vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai stating, "For now nothing is clear." But the U.S. wants the international community to act because uranium enrichment is easier than plutonium extraction and can be done more or less in secret.
"China's changed attitude on the uranium enrichment program is a success for the summit," said a senior government official. "The international community including the UN Security Council is expected to take firm steps." President Lee Myung-bak also wants the matter referred to the UNSC. "Now that China has expressed concern, there are few barriers left for the UN Security Council to take the issue up," said another government official. "Countries involved need to discuss when to refer the issue and the extent of sanctions on North Korea."
But the statement pointedly refers to the North's "claimed" uranium enrichment program. Pyongyang says the purpose is power generation. If the UNSC is to sanction the North over the matter, it needs China's support, and it is unclear how much further Beijing will accommodate the U.S. "If the UN Security Council is to adopt a binding resolution, the U.S. and China have to agree on additional details, and that may take some time," a government source said.