The US has announced new sanctions against North Korea. The measures are to target Pyongyang's weapons' proliferation and the import of luxury goods.
The foreign and defense ministers of the US and South Korea at their meeting in Seoul
In quite an unprecedented meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his South Korean counterpart Kim Tae-Young discussed the security situation on the Korean Peninsula. The so-called two-plus-two talks came nearly four months after the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean warship. 46 sailors died.
Both sides used the opportunity to reaffirm their alliance and Clinton announced some new sanctions against North Korea. "These new measures will strengthen our enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874, and they also provide new authorities to target illicit North Korean activities," Clinton told reporters.
Clinton looks towards North Korea, as she paid a symbolic visit to the demilitarized zone
She said the new sanctions seek to prevent North Korea from selling and purchasing arms, importing luxury goods and pursuing nuclear proliferation. She insisted the measures were not aimed at ordinary North Koreans, but against the communist regime's what she called "misguided and malign priorities."
Daniel Pinkston, an expert on Korean affairs at the International Crisis Group in Seoul doubts that the new sanctions will be effective. "It may slow some of the proliferation and arms sales. But generally speaking there are already so many sanctions against North Korea in place it is difficult to see how they will make some significant impact."
A giant offshore crane salvages a portion of the sunken Cheonan
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been simmering ever since the South Korea warship Cheonan sank in March. Both the US and South Korea, citing a multinational probe, have accused North Korea of ordering a torpedo attack on the warship. The North has rejected the claims, saying they are fabricated. But both Washington and Seoul don't buy this. They want Pyongyang to admit responsibility.
Joint military drills
In a show of strength designed to deter the North, the two countries are planning to hold four days of military exercises from Sunday in the Sea of Japan. "This will include the USS George Washington nuclear aircraft carrier, a number of aircrafts and there will be a large deployment of military force," says Pinkston. "It is to signal the type of military force that the two allies can use to deter North Koreans."
North Korea has criticized the exercise. Its ally China has also expressed concerns over the planned maneuvers saying it could escalate tensions in the region. "If the exercises were held in the Yellow Sea, it would be very close to China," says Pinkston. "However the aircraft carrier will be deployed to the Sea of Japan. That's the other side of Korea, so there is less concern about that. Nevertheless some Chinese are also concerned about the possibility of antagonizing the North Koreans and triggering some conflict."
The aircraft carrier George Washington is escorted into the Busan port for joint military exercises
Talks on nuclear program
But a full-fledged war is unlikely, he adds. Earlier this month, a United Nations Security Council statement condemned the Cheonan incident, but it also took note of the North's denial and fell short of blaming anyone directly. After that the North indicated that it is willing to return to the multilateral talks on its nuclear program. But few people view this move optimistically, says Pinkston.
"Even though North Koreans have expressed a willingness to return to the talks on an 'equal basis', some people have interpreted this to mean recognition as a nuclear power along with China, Russia and the US. So if it means equal status with those nuclear powers, it just a non starter. Legally, politically and diplomatically speaking, these countries will not and cannot recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapon state."
Expressing doubts over the North's intentions, the South's foreign minister has recently said that Seoul is not yet prepared to return to talks, while Washington says it will go back to the table provided Pyongyang ends its belligerence and its attempts to build nuclear weapons.
Author: Disha Uppal
Editor: Grahame Lucas