Totalitarian North Korea not immune to internal debates on nuclear question

Saturday, February 10th 2007, 3:02 pm
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) _ North Korea is a totalitarian state where simply mishandling a portrait of leader Kim Jong Il is considered a crime. That doesn't mean there is no internal debate as the regime weighs whether to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

At the North Korean nuclear negotiations in Beijing, the U.S. envoy alluded to disputes in the communist nation over whether the regime can give up its most potent weapons without sacrificing its security.

Some in the North ``understand that these weapons have done more to isolate and endanger and impoverish the DPRK than they will ever do to protect'' it, Christopher Hill said Friday, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name. ``Alas, I don't think this is a universal view in the DPRK.''

Hill said there was one group with a ``very antiquated, and I would say isolated view that somehow nuclear weapons of this kind can create prestige.''

He did not give names. But analysts widely believe there are divisions between North Korean military and diplomats, a tug-of-war that sends mixed signals to an outside world with little information about the country's internal policy struggles.

The United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea are trying to win a commitment from the North to make its first tangible steps toward abandoning its nuclear programs since the negotiations began in 2003. That goal has become more pressing since the North tested its first nuclear bomb in October, during one of the many deadlocks in the talks.

For Kim, going nuclear has been one way to solidify his authoritarian rule among the military. He has generally favored the armed forces under his proclaimed ``Songun,'' or ``military-first'' policy, in which the military has the primary role in society.

The military has quashed past diplomatic initiatives, including efforts at detente between North and South Korea. Last year, they refused to allow a test run of trains across the peninsula's heavily fortified border because security arrangements had not been made.

At this round of nuclear negotiations, however, North Korea has committed in principle to taking the first steps toward disarmament. A Chinese draft agreement would grant the communist nation unspecified energy aid for shutting down its main nuclear facilities within two months, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

Talks ended Saturday without consensus, and Hill said disagreements had come down to a single issue that may take another day or two to resolve. He declined to say what the issue was.

South Korean envoy Chun Yung-woo hinted that the dispute was related to North Korea's long-standing demand that Washington drop its ``hostile'' policy toward Pyongyang.

``There is something that North Korea has said every time since long ago as to what should be the basis (for the agreement),'' Chun said.

Japanese envoy Kenichiro Sasae said the North was still ``very much apart from that of the other'' five countries involved. ``We are boiling down our problems but there is no conclusion in sight for several issues,'' he said.

On Sunday, Sasae said one of the issues frustrating negotiations was the North's demands for large amounts of energy aid.

North Korea is demanding it be given energy aid equivalent to 2 million kilowatts of electricity during the initial disarmament period, Yonhap said. Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted unidentified diplomats as saying that North Korea was also seeking 2 million tons of fuel oil as part of the deal.

Russian envoy Alexander Losyukov said Saturday the size of the aid package was being discussed, the Interfax news agency reported. ``The most important task today is to define the amount of planned aid,'' he was quoted as saying.

Two other key issues that have previously stalled the negotiations have not been problematic this time, Hill said. They include U.S. restrictions on a bank where the North held accounts for its complicity in alleged financial crimes, and demands that North Korea be given a nuclear reactor for generating electricity.