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US seeks low-key pressure on N.Korea
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 12, 2012

S. Koreans brush off 'attention-seeking' rocket launch
Seoul (AFP) April 13, 2012 - North Korea's rocket launch on Friday triggered international alarm but ordinary South Koreans who have long lived under such threats from their neighbour gave a restrained and cynical response.

The rocket disintegrated soon after blastoff, and the North's official media admitted it had failed to put a satellite into orbit.

The North claimed the launch was for peaceful research purposes, but Western critics said it was a disguised ballistic missile test in breach of United Nations resolutions.

"They are just so stubborn, trying to gain attention from the outside world," Induk University professor Kim Jong-Boo, 50, told AFP in a rush-hour street interview.

"It's not the first time they've breached the UN resolution, and this time, they will have to take full responsibility for what they've done", he said.

Jun So-Min, a 23-year-old college student in Seoul, described the regime as "attention desperadoes" and agreed Pyongyang would have gained nothing from Friday's launch which followed two previous failed attempts in 1998 and 2009.

"I think they crave for global attention, but the influence is minimal and I absolutely don't think they'll achieve what they aimed for," she said.

College student Jung Sang-Jun, 26, agreed with the Seoul government which condemned the launch as a "provocative act" hurting regional peace and security.

"North Korea launching rockets poses a grave threat to the security of South Korea and neighbouring countries," he said.

"They've always done things their own way, and today they've launched the rocket regardless of how much we tried to hold peaceful dialogues," Jung said.

Internet reaction was less restrained.

"North Korea just threw away money that could feed all their people for a year along with life-time food aid into the sea," a Twitter user writing under the name Torresrobbins said.

"Debris falling into our sea... Are they crazy?" said another user, BBokida.

Some reacted angrily to the launch on portal site Nate.

"North Korea is our main enemy. Once they put nuclear weapons into the 'rocket' we are all as good as dead," Lee Jae-Sung said.

"They just fired one trillion won ($880 million) worth of fireworks," said another user, Oh Chang-Hoon.

South Korean markets also remained calm and financial officials said the market was strong enough to withstand any shock from the North's third rocket launch.

"The government will try its best to avoid any anxieties in the financial market," the finance ministry said in a statement, adding the government was responding "calmly but firmly" to the launch.

South Korean stocks rose 1.03 percent to 2,007.17 shortly after noon.

Bank of Korea governor Kim Choong-Soo said the launch would have a limited negative impact on South Korea's economy. "We never overlooked geopolitical risks... but our market was not affected."

North Korea's defiant and apparently hapless rocket launch poses a challenge for world powers -- how to condemn the communist state without setting off a chain reaction of new tensions.

The United States and its allies had threatened action at the UN Security Council if North Korea went ahead. Yet policymakers quietly said they would seek a united but understated approach to avoid any fanning of the flames.

The White House issued a measured initial statement, criticizing the "provocative" launch but saying President Barack Obama had been "prepared to engage constructively" and not explicitly announcing a suspension of food aid.

Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight major economies, who just hours earlier had demanded that Pyongyang call off its launch, called for "appropriate" action at the Security Council without more specifics.

The cautious course comes from a reading of the psychology of North Korea, one of the world's most isolated states which had vowed "unprecedented" celebrations for the centennial of the birth of its founder Kim Il-Sung.

North Korea went ahead with the launch, which it conceded failed to put a satellite in orbit, despite rare criticism from top ally China and an accord weeks earlier with Washington to freeze its nuclear and missile programs.

The regime -- now led by young Kim Jong-Un -- has already hinted that it would conduct a third nuclear test in response to any US countermeasures, in what could be a replay of showdowns in 2006 and 2009.

Few expect that the Obama administration, which pursued the February 29 agreement with North Korea after years of hesitation, to race back to diplomacy with the regime. Instead, it could return to its former approach of "strategic patience," or waiting for North Korea to make the next move.

Ralph Cossa, president of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, expected the UN action to be "fairly muted," perhaps the form of a statement that declares North Korea -- one of the world's most sanctioned countries -- in violation of past resolutions.

"There really isn't an awful lot additional we can do," Cossa said.

"The North Koreans will use whatever response comes out of the Security Council as an excuse to do whatever else they were already planning on doing, which I would guess includes a nuclear test," he said.

"It's part of the North Koreans' game to play people against one another and it's been a very successful game," he said.

John Delury, an assistant professor of international studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, said that the United States should be mindful of internal dynamics in the dynastic North which is going through only its second-ever transition following leader Kim Jong-Il's death in December.

"I just don't see how it helps to craft the strongest possible response to this launch because you really can't add to sanctions," he said.

"The issue is how, at a very transitional moment in their history, to try to keep pushing North Korea back on the moderate track. That's going to mean sucking up moments like this," he said.

Any effort to punish North Korea in concrete ways could hit a roadblock with China, which holds veto power on the Security Council.

While China supported key resolutions after North Korea's last two nuclear tests, US-based experts widely see it as balking at any action that threatens the stability of the state separating it from US allies South Korea and Japan.

But Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, said the United States could seek further UN sanctions by targeting nations found to cooperate with North Korea -- including customers for its weapons.

"If you don't seek punishment for a violation, then in essence you might as well rip up the agreement," Klingner said.

Obama's rivals criticized him over North Korea's launch. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said that Obama tried to "appease the regime with a food aid deal that proved to be as naive as it was short-lived."

Republicans lash Obama over N. Korea launch
Washington (AFP) April 12, 2012 - US Republicans condemned North Korea's botched rocket launch on Thursday and blamed Democratic President Barack Obama for having sought to "appease" Pyongyang with a food aid deal.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney portrayed the launch of the long-range rocket as a failure of foreign policy, widely seen as the area where Obama is strongest going into November's presidential election.

"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the attempted North Korean missile launch," Romney said in a statement after news of the launch, which Washington, Seoul and Tokyo said appeared to have failed.

"Although the missile test failed, Pyongyang's action is another blatant violation of unanimous UN Security Council resolutions and demonstrates once again that Pyongyang is committed to developing long-range missiles with the potential of carrying nuclear weapons."

Romney said the weapons program "poses a clear and growing threat to the United States, one for which President Obama has no effective response."

"Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food-aid deal that proved to be as naive as it was short-lived."

Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, head of the powerful House Foreign Affairs committee, also condemned the launch as betraying North Korea's "hostile intentions" and took aim at the food aid program.

"This launch, taking place weeks after the (Obama) administration secured a promise' from Pyongyang to suspend missile tests in exchange for food aid, illustrates once again that trying to negotiate with the regime is a fool's errand," she said in a statement.

"Rather than working towards the next doomed agreement with North Korea, or other rogue regimes, the United States must impose stronger penalties and pressure on those who threaten global security."

The US scheme to send food aid to the nuclear-armed North's impoverished population was suspended after the North's announcement that it would launch the rocket, which Washington said proved Pyongyang could not be trusted.

North Korea has said the rocket would place a satellite in orbit for peaceful research purposes, but Western critics see the launch as a thinly veiled ballistic missile test, banned by United Nations resolutions.


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