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Figuring Out North Korea

Figuring Out North KoreaATufts expert on Asian politics says North Korean ruler Kim JongIl is a crafty dictator, and dealing with the Communist nationis a delicate matter. Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.10.05] Amid North Korea's admission in February that it possessesnuclear weapons, international observers have been casting a waryeye toward the Communist nation. That country's leader, Kim JongIl, has proven enigmatic to many scholars, but one Tufts experton international politics says that Kim should not be underestimated.

"We havethis image of Kim Jong Il as a drunken, sex-obsessed playboy.All that he may be, but he's also a very shrewd leader,"Sung-Yoon Lee, adjunct assistant professor of international politicsat The Fletcher School, told the Boston Herald.

"He'sfar more interesting than Michael Jackson. He rules over a nuclear-armednation of 22 million people,'' Lee told the Herald.

There is littleincentive for Kim to forego his nuclear weapons, even if it wouldmean more aid for his country, Lee said.

"If KimJong Il gave everything up, why would anyone else listen to him?How do you hold a grip on your people?'' the Tufts professor asked.

The cultureof fear and paranoia propagated in North Korea has helped cultivatea reverence around Kim, who is called "Dear Leader"and claims to have been born on a sacred mountain, the Heraldreported.

"It'sthe most perfected totalitarian control over a nation ever,"Lee told the newspaper.

After monthsof stalling, North Korea recently expressed willingness to re-enterthe six-nation talks with China, Japan, South Korea, Russia andthe United States to discuss ending its nuclear ambitions. Accordingto Lee, it's all part of the Communist state's gamesmanship.

"TheNorth Koreans don't want to be cornered in the next round of talks,"he said. "It's a tantrum. It's been successful over the last30 years and they've gained a lot."

Still, withNorth Korea admitting its possession of nuclear arms, sanctionsare being discussed as a more viable option against the country.But sentiments are mixed.

"Allparties, in one way or another, are wary to impose sanctions onNorth Korea," Lee told Asia Times Online. "Itwould ... raise the pressure on the DPRK [Democratic People'sRepublic of Korea, the official name for the North] by anothernotch, and also create expectations for immediate changes in NorthKorea's behavior."

If North Koreatests its nuclear armaments, Lee said to Asia Times Online,"sufficient international pressure would have built up forChina and Russia to abstain from casting a veto [against sanctions]in the United Nations Security Council. This would further legitimizeand internationalize the U.S. position." Still, Lee added,if sanctions failed, the U.S. would "run out of policy options."

Given itspolicy goals in the region, the South has been hesitant to enactsanctions.

"TheSouth also might fear the possibility of North Korean militaryprovocation," Lee explained to Asia Times Online."Japan today is the only country the U.S. can trust to takeaction in squeezing North Korea."

Sanctions,however, could have a strong effect on the North Korean leadership.

"Sanctions,even if they were to disrupt 10 percent of North Korea's trade,would certainly bear ill effect on the flow of amenities intothe hands of the leadership – food, drinks, clothing, TVsets, cars, etc. Facing disgruntled generals and middle-classofficers is not in Kim Jong-Il's best interest," Lee toldAsia Times Online.

"Althoughno one can say with certainty that sanctions would create conditionsfor the collapse of the Kim regime," Lee added, "theyjust might push the Dear Leader one step closer to that whichhe most fears."







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