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North Korea seeks upper hand with nuclear threat
May 1, 2009 / 2:02 PM / 8 years ago

North Korea seeks upper hand with nuclear threat

By Jon Herskovitz - Analysis

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea’s threats on Wednesday to conduct a nuclear test and fire an intercontinental ballistic missile are likely aimed at increasing its bargaining leverage with global powers.

The North said it would go ahead with the tests unless the U.N. Security Council apologized for tightening sanctions against Pyongyang in response to the reclusive state’s rocket launch this month.

* Experts say that since the North’s only nuclear test in October 2006 was just a partial success, another is inevitable because Pyongyang needs to see if it has built a better bomb design. A nuclear test is one of the biggest cards North Korea can play in its strategy of brinkmanship with the international community, and doing so would push Pyongyang right to the top of U.S. President Barack Obama’s agenda.

* The North for years has used its military threat to squeeze concessions from regional powers. A nuclear test, coming so soon after the North defied global warnings and launched a long-range rocket in early April, would give it more options to play in its dealings with Washington.

* It will be difficult for the North to back down from its threat unless a face-saving solution can be found. But a test, if it does occur, would not likely happen for several months due to the preparation needed.

* A test would likely rattle financial markets in North Asia, which shrugged off the North’s launch of the long-range missile this month.

* North Korea will alienate China, its last major ally and biggest benefactor, with a nuclear test. It will likely be hit with further U.N. sanctions as a result because Beijing may not use its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Pyongyang, which will also take a hit financially for the large costs it takes to conduct a test.

* But since the isolated North may already feel the pinch from a tightening of existing sanctions called for in response to the rocket launch, it may believe the economic damage that would come after a test would not deal too heavy a blow to its already wobbly economy.

* A second nuclear test would also deplete the North’s meager supply of fissile material, which experts say is estimated to be enough for six to eight nuclear weapons.

* North Korea will likely try to resume all of its nuclear activities, after it started to take apart its Yongbyon nuclear plant in a disarmament-for-aid deal it reached with the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

* The North said this month it had restarted its facility at Yongbyon that separates plutonium from spent fuel rods cooling at the plant, which could eventually give it enough fissile material for one more nuclear bomb.

* A second nuclear test would be heralded by the North’s propaganda machinery as a triumph for leader Kim Jong-il and his “military-first” policy. This would help Kim further solidify his leadership after questions were raised about his grip on power after he was suspected of suffering a stroke in August.

Editing by Dean Yates

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