April 15, 2009 / 3:04 AM / 10 years ago

Q+A-What comes next from North Korea?

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By Jon Herskovitz

SEOUL, April 15 (Reuters) - North Korea ordered U.N. inspectors to leave on Tuesday after saying it would quit international nuclear disarmament talks and restart a plant that makes bomb-grade plutonium, the United Nations said.

Following are questions and answers about the latest crisis and the nuclear disarmament talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States:

HOW MUCH OF A THREAT IS THIS TO SECURITY AND MARKETS?

North Korea cannot resume operations at its ageing Soviet-era Yongbyon nuclear plant quickly and its moves this week have caused little immediate impact on security and the investment environment. It has boycotted the six-country talks aimed at ending its nuclear programmes before and made similar moves to restart Yongbyon, which was being taken apart under a six-way disablement-for-aid deal. Market players in North Asia, which accounts for one-sixth of the global economy, have been unfazed by the latest action seen as typical sabre rattling.

However, if North Korea actually followed through on its threat and restarted Yongbyon, it could eventually extract enough material from spent fuel rods cooling at the plant to make one more nuclear bomb, adding to its meagre stockpile of fissile material and making another nuclear test more likely.

WHAT DOES NORTH KOREA WANT?

North Korea has used its military threat for years to gain global attention and squeeze concessions out of regional powers. By making these moves early in the administration of new U.S. President Barack Obama, it has more cards to play during his presidency and forces him to make crucial decisions about how it will manage its relations with Pyongyang.

HOW FAR WILL NORTH KOREA GO?

One of the most provocative moves for North Korea, which experts said has extracted enough plutonium for six to eight nuclear weapons, would be a second nuclear test. The chances of it coming in the next few months are slim because the North’s propaganda apparatus has used a long-range rocket launch this month to herald the country’s technical achievements and rally national pride. This may mean there is little need at present for a nuclear test in order to rally the masses behind leader Kim Jong-il’s "military first" doctrine.

But experts said since the North’s only nuclear test in October 2006 was just a partial success, another is inevitable because it needs one to see if it has built a better bomb design.

HOW DOES KIM JONG-IL’S POOR HEALTH FIT INTO THIS?

Kim, 67, with thinning and greying hair, last week made his first public appearance at a major state event since his suspected stroke in August. He walked with a limp as he took the stage at the annual meeting of the North’s parliament. Analysts said Kim renewed his mandate to lead at the session and reshuffled the leadership underneath him, which could help him pave the way for possible succession in Asia’s only communist dynasty.

The defiant acts are the lifeblood for Kim’s government and the more he thumbs his nose at the world, the more his power increases in his paranoid state, making it easier for him to make changes that will cement his legacy.

WHAT OTHER PROVOCATION MIGHT HE HAVE IN MIND?

Kim may try to stir things up with the South, whose president came into office a year ago and cut off a steady flow of unconditional aid equal to about 5 percent of the North’s GDP.

The North could look to test fire short-range missiles or raise tension near a disputed naval border in order to put pressure on the South to drop its hardline policies.

The North may also test its mid-range ballistic missiles, which can hit all of South Korea and most of Japan, in order to rattle policy makers in Tokyo.

WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN AT THE NUCLEAR PLANT?

The main concern for the North is separating plutonium from spent fuel rods cooling at the plant. Even though disablement steps were designed in total to put the plant out of operations for a year, the separation facility could resume operation in as little as three months, experts said.

Experts said part of the plant, which also contains a nuclear fuel fabrication facility and a reactor, may be beyond repair. The North, burdened by import controls on sensitive nuclear equipment, may find it exceedingly difficult to restore operations at the entire plant, limiting the impact of resuming Yongbyon.

WHAT ABOUT THE NUCLEAR TALKS?

Expect more delays for the much-delayed talks. North Korea, which has threatened to quit the talks entirely before, could actually mean it this time, which would lead regional powers to re-evaluate their diplomatic approaches toward Pyongyang.

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)






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