Few options for US as North Korea readies missile launch

Obama administration is trying to play down the propaganda value for North Korea’s leaders

Written by New York Times | Washngton | Published: April 13, 2012 1:12:08 am


With North Korea poised to launch a long-range missile despite widespread international protests,the Obama administration is trying to play down the propaganda value for North Korea’s leaders and head off criticism of its abortive diplomatic opening to Pyongyang.

The White House is readying a blunt response to a launching by North Korea,which will include,as it has warned,the suspension of a food aid agreement announced just six weeks ago,a senior official said Wednesday. The United States also plans to rally worldwide condemnation of the launching,which Pyongyang insists is intended to put a satellite into orbit,but which Washington says would be a breach of international obligations.

Beyond that,however,the administration’s options are limited. The United States will not seek further sanctions in the United Nations Security Council,this official said,because North Korea is already heavily sanctioned,and Washington needs to preserve its political capital with China and Russia to win their backing for future measures against Syria and Iran. The more likely scenario at the UN is a weaker statement from the Council president.

With North Korea saying that it had begun fuelling the rocket,the launching appeared imminent,confronting the Obama administration with a new diplomatic crisis after an agreement that officials had hoped would open a new chapter with a traditionally hostile nation.

White House officials moved aggressively to deflect criticism of that deal,which offered North Korea food aid in return for a pledge to suspend work on its uranium enrichment program,and to allow international inspectors into the country.

Unlike the administration of President George W Bush,this official said,the Obama administration did not give the North Koreans anything before they violated the agreement by announcing plans to go ahead with the satellite launching. And,the administration expects the North Koreans to abide by the other terms of the deal if it hopes,as it has said,for a fuller diplomatic dialogue.

Still,for President Obama,who prided himself on not falling into the trap of previous presidents in dealing with the nation,the diplomatic dead end has been a frustrating episode: proof that a change in leadership in Pyongyang has done nothing to change its penchant for flouting UN resolutions,paying no heed to its biggest patron,China,and reneging on deals with the US.

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