Meditation Focus #87

Nurturing Peace on Earth


What follows is the 87th Meditation Focus suggested for the two consecutive weeks beginning Sunday, May 4, 2003.


1. Summary
2. Meditation times
3. More information on this Meditation Focus


Despite recent events in Iraq which saw the culmination of a military campaign that has eliminated a brutal dictatorship but left death and destruction in its wake, there are several other long-standing conflicts in at least 6 areas which are showing simultaneously great hopeful signs of progress towards peace and could all turn out to be outstanding opportunities for resolving seemingly intractable situations with a potential in most cases for tremendously dangerous armed conflicts.

1) In Cyprus, a sudden and unexpected thaw has led to the opening of the green line that has separated the north and south of this island for 30 years and has reinvigorated efforts to definitely end the stalemate between Turkey and Greece over the control of this Aegean island and open the way for a warming of relations between Greece and Turkey.

2) In Srinagar, Kashmir, the bold initiative last April 18 by Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who offered friendship with arch-rival Pakistan, has led India and Pakistan to announce on May 2 that they would soon hold their first talks for almost two years with the aim of ending 50 years of conflict.

3) In Israel, international mediators presented Israeli and Palestinian leaders last Wednesday with a new Middle East "road map," an ambitious blueprint for ending 31 months of violence and establishing a Palestinian state. The "road map" plan is supported by a unique consensus of world leaders and comes at a time when U.S. clout is at a high point in the wake of Saddam Hussein's ouster in Iraq. It also coincides with the advent of a new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who was inaugurated as prime minister on Wednesday.

4) In Ivory Coast armed forces and the country's rebel movements signed a total ceasefire accord to end their seven-and-a-half-month-old civil war. Under this agreement, the warring parties accept the redeployment in the troubled west of the country of peacekeeping troops from the Economic Community of West African States and some 900 troops from France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler.

5) China said Saturday it has agreed to have World Health Organization experts travel to Taiwan to assess a worsening SARS outbreak, ending a diplomatic stalemate that the island said threatened to hurt disease-fighting efforts. The announcement was an unprecedented reversal for China, which earlier rejected direct WHO help for Taiwan. Taiwan and the mainland split in 1949 amid civil war and the communist Beijing government claims the self-ruling island as its own territory. Beijing says the island has no right to conduct foreign affairs, such as joining the United Nations and other bodies.

6) Finally the US-Korea talks last week could be a prelude to a peace treaty, despite the claims North Korea has made about having nuclear weapons which heightened tensions with its neighbors and the United States. Although the shooting was halted by an armistice half a century ago, there still does not exist a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War. That is the main bone of contention among all the players, including Pyongyang. And it may have been at the crux of the nuclear admission and "bold proposals" made by the North to the US at last week's truncated talks in Beijing.

Please dedicate your prayers and meditations, as guided by Spirit, in the coming two weeks, and especially in synchronous attunement at the usual time this Sunday and the following one, to contribute in nurturing peace around the world and ensuring that efforts underway to bring an end to long-standing conflicts bear fruits in the near future. May all humans realize that peace is the only way to create a better future for all and to ensure security and justice wherever armed conflicts have destroyed human lives and the means allowing for a normal, fulfilling existence. May the Spirit of Oneness growing in every heart dissolve the barriers between all cultures and nations so that one day soon the national boundaries that divide our globe and the prejudices they represent are no more, and all humanity can live as One on a united world, for the Highest Good of All.

This whole Meditation Focus is also available at


i) Global Meditation Day: Sunday at 16:00 Universal Time (GMT) or at noon local time. Suggested duration: 30 minutes.

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3. More information on this Meditation Focus

This complement of information may help you to better understand the various aspects pertaining to the summary description of the subject of this Meditation Focus. It is recommended to view this information from a positive perspective, and not allow the details to tinge the positive vision we wish to hold in meditation. Since what we focus on grows, the more positive our mindset, the more successful we will be in manifesting a vision of peace and healing. This complementary information is provided so that a greater knowledge of what needs healing and peace-nurturing vibrations may assist us to have an in-depth understanding of what is at stake and thus achieve a greater collective effectiveness.



Neighbors Greece and Turkey: Let's Live in Peace (May 3)

KAS, Turkey (Reuters) - The Greek and Turkish foreign ministers held highly symbolic talks in Turkey's coastal town of Kas on Saturday, winning applause from residents and agreeing peace was vital on their common border and in Cyprus.

Greece's George Papandreou and Turkey's Abdullah Gul said they had decided both states should simultaneously present the United Nations with accords they had ratified banning land mines on the border between the two historic and often bitter rivals.

It was designed as both a gesture of friendship and to draw a line under hundreds of killings of illegal immigrants and other civilians by land mines on the border.

Several minefields were created along the border decades ago when Greece and Turkey regularly came close to war and have remained despite a thawing of relations in recent years.

"Our common borders must be respected, but they must be borders of peace and collaboration," Papandreou, whose country is the current European Union president, told reporters.

"We said we will send the agreements on land mines simultaneously to the United Nations which means they will then come into force immediately after that," Papandreou said.

Gul said: "It's a wonderful idea that we realized this. Our countries will soon be free of mines."


The ministers, whose countries have long been at loggerheads over several territorial disputes in the Aegean sea and the divided island of Cyprus, went for a walk together through the narrow cobbled streets of Kas.

Residents in the southern Turkish coastal town clapped them both.

Papandreou, widely credited with helping improve relations between the neighboring states in the past three years, was earlier greeted with cheers when he arrived in Kas.

Both countries ratified the land mine agreements in 2001 but they needed to be presented to the U.N. to be formalized. Papandreou visited Kas at the end of an EU foreign ministers meeting on the Greek island of Kastellorizo, only a few hundred yards away from the Turkish coastal town.

The ministers agreed it was in everyone's interests to back fresh U.N. negotiations on Cyprus, a week after the Mediterranean island's authorities opened up border crossings for Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots after almost 30 years.

"We hope that negotiations will start soon and that there will be a solution, but a satisfactory one for both sides," Gul said. The United Nations failed to get a peace deal in place before the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot part signed an EU accession treaty last month. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces invaded the northern third of the island in response to an Athens-backed coup designed to unite it with mainland Greece. Greece and Turkey are members of NATO and Ankara wants to join Athens in the EU.


See also:

Greek Cypriots end economic blockade of Turkish north (May 1),3604,947063,00.html
Gesture follows North's breach in island's divide - Greek Cypriot authorities yesterday effectively abolished the economic blockade of northern Cyprus, announcing an easing of trade restrictions across the UN-monitored "green line" which has divided the island since 1974. The dramatic gesture was a demonstration of goodwill in response to the surprise decision last week by the leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktash, to open checkpoints on the old ceasefire line. More than 150,000 people - well over a tenth of the island's population - have crossed the green line in the past eight days, some queuing for up to 18 hours to visit towns and villages they have been forbidden to enter for the past 30 years. Yesterday's announcement, contained in a package of measures introduced by the internationally recognised government, will allow locally produced Turkish Cypriot goods to be sold in southern Cyprus and European Union countries and be shipped abroad to third countries. Turkish Cypriot products are currently subject to a trade ban and cannot be freely exported to other countries.

Turkish Cypriots Relax Cyprus Border Crossings (Apr 29)
NICOSIA (Reuters) - Turkish Cypriot officials said on Tuesday they had further relaxed crossings across the border with the Greek Cypriot south in a bid to boost confidence after the collapse of Cyprus peace talks last month. Tens of thousands of Cypriots have crossed the U.N.-guarded green line between the two communities since Wednesday, when Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash allowed day trips over the north-south crossing for the first time since the island was divided nearly 30 years ago.

Jubilant Cypriots revisit past as north throws open border (April 24)

Greek Cypriots storm UN buffer zone as crossing movement swells (April 29)

Greek Cypriot ministers set to approve "bold" measures for Turkish Cypriots April 30)

To peace on Cyprus (Apr 22)
International concern was focused on Iraq at the time, so it may not be surprising that the disintegration of international efforts to resolve one of the world's long-running disputes -- the 29-year-old division of Cyprus between Greek and Turkish communities -- didn't get more attention. (...) This is an intractable dispute, a less bloody but hardly less bitter version of the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians or between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. It's a cold war now, rather than a hot one, but one that still begs for a political solution. The island has been split since 1974, when Turkey invaded in response to an Athens-inspired coup by Greek Cypriots. Turkey took the northern third of the island, now home to about 200,000 local citizens and more than 30,000 Turkish troops. Greek Cypriots, numbering about 700,000, occupy the majority of the island to the more prosperous south. The fortified green line separates them; even the Berlin Wall was more permeable, says Tozun Bahcheli of King's College, University of Western Ontario. CLIP

UN plan for Cyprus,5812,911287,00.html

Special reports: Cyprus,11551,639479,00.html





India and Pakistan to hold talks

May 3, 2003

India and Pakistan said yesterday they would hold their first talks for almost two years shortly with the aim of ending 50 years of conflict.

India's prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 78, claimed that the talks would be decisive. And Pakistan's foreign ministry said India's decision was "a step in the right direction".

Pakistan's information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, said the talks would be held with his country's prime minister, Zafarullah Khan Jamali.

War looked imminent last year after India blamed Pakistan for an attack by Islamic militants on the Indian parliament during December 2001. Pakistan denied involvement.

Last week Mr Vajpayee conditionally offered talks with Pakistan on the disputed Kashmir region. The announcement yesterday came after Mr Jamali phoned the Indian leader, in the first such contact in almost two years, one week before a visit to the region by the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage.

Mr Vajpayee said he was restoring civil aviation links broken last year, and would appoint a new ambassador to Pakistan.

Pakistan said it was likely to restore diplomatic ties.

Friction between the neighbours has roots in the dispute over Kashmir, which both countries claim in its entirety.

Mr Vajpayee failed to directly answer parliamentary questions about whether he would change India's policy of not holding talks with Pakistan until Islamic militants stopped attacking the Indian controlled part of Kashmir.


See also:

Special reports: Kashmir,2759,184266,00.html

Special reports: Pakistan,2759,180809,00.html

Interactive guide - Kashmir: a history,5860,627234,00.html

Analysis 22.01.2002: A guide to Kashmir peace plans,2763,637624,00.html

Time to go that extra mile on Kashmir
MUMBAI - Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has, undoubtedly, made history. He has the distinction of being the first Indian premier in the past 17 years to address a "well-attended" public gathering in the heart of Srinagar in Kashmir. Let us, please, forget how successful, well-attended political rallies are managed. The mechanism is the same - whether organized in Srinagar or Patna, or for that matter, Lahore or Karachi. Symbolism apart, Vajpayee has indeed earned, if not anything, a few brownie points. A blend of poet-politician at his very best. On the first leg - Day 1 of his much publicized visit, when he interfaced with the people of Kashmir, he chose, conveniently, to put aside all the contentious issues, displaying his charisma, and poetic acumen.

More than 20 dead in renewed Kashmir violence (April 22),3604,941176,00.html
At least 23 people were killed in a bomb attack and in gunfights in Indian Kashmir today, where separatist politicians last weekend rejected talks with the Indian government over the fate of the disputed Himalayan region.

Indian PM offers friendship to Pakistan from behind bulletproof glass (April 19),3604,939573,00.html
The Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, offered friendship with arch-rival Pakistan yesterday in the first public address in Kashmir by an Indian head of government for 16 years.

Analysis: Kashmir key to breakthrough (April 29)

Lights, cameras ... Kashmir (May 2)




Israel, Palestinians Get Peace 'Road Map' (May 1)

JERUSALEM - International mediators presented Israeli and Palestinian leaders Wednesday with a new Middle East "road map," an ambitious blueprint for ending 31 months of violence and establishing a Palestinian state.

Hours after the unveiling of the U.S.-backed plan, more violence broke out. Israeli troops killed six Palestinians, one of them a young child, during a raid Thursday on an eastern suburb of Gaza city, local doctors said.

The "road map" plan is supported by a unique consensus of world leaders and comes at a time when U.S. clout is at a high point in the wake of Saddam Hussein's ouster in Iraq.

It also coincides with the advent of a new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who was inaugurated as prime minister on Wednesday. He has denounced terrorism and vowed to end attacks on Israelis, but the dimensions of the problem were illustrated by the fact that a suicide attacker who killed three bystanders early Wednesday was linked to a group within Abbas' own Fatah party.

President Bush called Abbas "a man I can work with" and said there was a good opportunity to advance the peace process, but all parties "must assume their responsibilities" to achieve peace.

The Arab nations which surround Israel and the potential Palestinian state "must cut off funding for terrorists," he told reporters. "Israel is going to have to make some sacrifices to move the peace process forward."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Abbas will be invited to the White House to meet with Bush. No date was given. Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to the region in May and will meet Sharon and Abbas.

The plan, whose details have been known for months, was presented to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer in Jerusalem. Shortly thereafter, Abbas received it in the West Bank town of Ramallah from representatives of the four parties that drew up the plan: the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

"For the first time in a very long time, Israel and the international community have a partner to go back to the table with," U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told The Associated Press. "We have, hopefully, a peace process going."

The three-year outline calls, in the first crucial phase, for a Palestinian crackdown on terror groups and an Israeli freeze on Jewish settlements, combined with a "progressive" Israeli pullout from the autonomous Palestinian zones its troops reoccupied during the current round of fighting.

A second phase, which could begin as early as the end of the year, would see the creation of a Palestinian state with provisional borders. Tough issues are left for the last phase, such as final borders, the conflicting claims to Jerusalem and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants who claim the right to return to what is now Israel.

"The road map represents a starting point toward achieving the vision of two states — a secure state of Israel and a viable, peaceful, democratic Palestine," Bush said in a statement earlier.

Both sides say they want to end violence that since September 2000 has killed 2,287 people on the Palestinian side and 763 people on the Israeli side. But past plans — whether grand end-of-conflict designs or nuts-and-bolts cease-fire efforts — have failed, and wrangling over this one has already begun.

Sharon issued a terse statement saying he had received the document "for the purpose of formulating comments on the wording." Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, in contrast, called for "implementing the road map immediately."

Acting U.S. Consul-General Jeff Feldman said: "The road map is a guideline; it's not a sacred text or treaty." Larsen also said implementation would be negotiated, and a diplomatic source said the United States might dispatch an envoy for the task.

Israel's most important objection is to the implication that it must carry out its part — including a politically difficult freeze on Jewish settlements — at the same time as the expected Palestinian crackdown on militants.

"First and foremost, the terrorism and the incitement to terrorism has to cease," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Sofer said. "It is crucial that we do not ... talk peace by day and have Israelis blown up by night."

Abbas suggested in a speech to lawmakers on Tuesday he would move against extremists, saying there could only be "one authority" in the Palestinian areas, pledging to collect illegal weapons and condemning terrorism "in all its forms."

But it's a monumental task for his battered Palestinian Authority, which has lost police stations and equipment to Israeli raids. The militants' determination to fight was underscored by a suicide bombing that killed three bystanders in Tel Aviv hours before Abbas was sworn in.

Israel and the United States have welcomed Abbas — the most senior Palestinian figure to have criticized the armed uprising against Israel — and they plainly view him as a means to sideline longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom they accuse of encouraging and aiding terrorism.

But Abbas' political support is brittle, and Arafat retains considerable influence as well as direct control of some security organizations — a violation of the road map's calls for bringing all security bodies under the control of Abbas' interior ministry.

In Gaza, militants made clear that they would resist any effort to disarm them and would not end attacks.

"We will strike the Zionist enemy in each and every corner of Palestine until the end of the occupation," said Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi. He said Abbas' call for an end to violence was "strange and unrealistic."

Reflecting Abbas' troubles, the Tel Aviv attack was claimed jointly by Hamas and the Al Aqsa Brigades, which are linked to his own Fatah movement. A group spokesman said the bombing was a message that "nobody can disarm the resistance movements without a political solution."

The bomber, Asif Mohammed Hanif, slipped in from Gaza and was holding a British passport, police said. It was the first time since the latest Palestinian wave of violence started 2 1/2 years ago that a suicide attack had been launched from the area. Unlike the West Bank, Gaza is fenced in. Investigators said an accomplice, Omar Khan Sharif, also had a British passport. His bomb didn't explode and he escaped, police said. The British foreign office declined to comment about the passports.

Abbas condemned the bombing, which wrecked Mike's Place, a popular nightspot on Tel Aviv's teeming seaside promenade. He also said he accepted the road map.

"The road map is an agreement that has been agreed by key members of the international community," said British Foreign Minister Jack Straw. "That in itself is quite remarkable, that there is unanimity."

But Palestinian historian Albert Aghazarian was skeptical. "I don't see a road," he said. "I don't see a vehicle. This is all nonsense. I hope I'm wrong."


See also:

Road map text

Israeli envoy heads for US to lobby against 'road map' (May 3)
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A high-level Israeli government envoy begins a visit to the United States in hopes of persuading the US government to drop its support for a Palestinian state and the latest plan to achieve it known as the "road map" to peace.



Ivory Coast peace deal signed as fresh fighting breaks out (May 3)

ABIDJAN (AFP) - Ivory Coast armed forces and the country's rebel movements signed a total ceasefire accord to end their seven-and-a-half-month-old civil war as fresh skirmishes broke out in the west of the country.

The agreement was signed by Ivory Coast armed forces chief General Mathias Doue and Colonel Michel Gueu, military leader of the largest rebel group, the Popular Movement for Ivory Coast (MPCI). Gueu is also the new reconciliation government's sports minister.

However, within hours of the signing, Guillaume Gbatto, a spokesman for the rebel Popular Movement of Ivory Coast's Far West (MPIGO), which has operated near the border with Liberia, told AFP that pro-government forces had launched an attack during the morning in the western region of Danane.

He charged that the attacking forces were seeking to retake positions from the rebels in the final hours before the ceasefire was to come into force at midnight under the peace agreement.

A spokesman for the Ivory Coast armed forces, Lieutenant-Colonel N'Goran Aka, confirmed that fighting was under way in the region of Zouan-Houmien, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Danane.

He blamed the rebels for initiating the fighting however, saying that they "do not seem to feel concerned by the ceasefire."

No casualty figures were available on Saturday afternoon.

According to a high-ranking Ivorian army officer, Saturday's violence could be a repeat of attacks carried out by loyalists in January.

The officer said that loyalist troops, consisting mainly of Liberian auxiliaries, took advantage of two days between the announcement on January 11 and the signing on January 13 of a ceasefire agreement to retake the rebel-held village of Toulepleu, 100 kilometres (65 miles) south of Danane.

"It's not impossible that they are once more racing against the clock," a military source told the AFP.

Ivory Coast's new government of national unity, which includes ministers from the rebel groups, issued a statement on Friday saying the armed forces and the rebels had "agreed to a total cessation of hostilities and an integral ceasefire".

The ceasefire pact covers the whole of the once rich country, including the west, where neighbouring Liberia has been accused of backing the rebels against the former government of President Laurent Gbagbo, a source close to the Ivorian presidency said on Friday.

It also contains a clause that provides for the disarmament of mercenaries and armed groups operating on both sides, the source said.

Under the agreement, the warring parties accept the redeployment in the troubled west of the country of peacekeeping troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and some 900 troops from France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler, as part of Operation Licorne (Unicorn).




China Agrees to WHO Visit in Taiwan (May 3)

BEIJING - China said Saturday it has agreed to have World Health Organization experts travel to Taiwan to assess a worsening SARS outbreak, ending a diplomatic stalemate that the island said threatened to hurt disease-fighting efforts.

The announcement was an unprecedented reversal for China, which earlier rejected direct WHO help for Taiwan. The communist Beijing government claims the self-ruling island as its own territory and has blocked Taiwan's efforts to join the U.N. agency.

China said it wanted to help the island, which has reported eight SARS-related deaths and where cases have nearly doubled over the past week to 100.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which handles relations with Beijing, had no immediate reaction to China's announcement.

Taiwan and the mainland split in 1949 amid civil war. Beijing says the island has no right to conduct foreign affairs, such as joining the United Nations and other bodies.

Hong Kong's health chief, meanwhile, acknowledged Saturday that the territory didn't respond quickly enough to the SARS outbreak, but said it was because little was known about the disease when it first emerged.

"It's a fact we're weren't speedy enough," Health Secretary Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong said in a radio interview. It was the most blunt admission yet by a top Hong Kong official that the reaction to SARS was tardy.

Critics say other places with outbreaks, including Singapore and Canada, were quicker than Hong Kong in imposing quarantines on people who might have been exposed.

A health department spokeswoman later said six of the 12 recovered SARS patients in Hong Kong who had fallen ill again remained hospitalized as of Friday.

Throughout Asia, officials were continuing to use extreme measures to stop the spread of the virus, which experts fear is mutating quickly.

Eighteen new deaths were reported Saturday in east Asia, pushing the global death toll to 436. Nine of the deaths were in mainland China and another nine in Hong Kong. Worldwide, more than 6,100 have been infected.





Game of nerves in Northeast Asia

BEIJING - What would happen if tomorrow a few US fighters bombed all known North Korean facilities engaged in the production of nuclear weapons? Would Pyongyang retaliate? Would it fire missiles at Japan or bombard Seoul? Or would it just shout and cry and do nothing?

Would Kim Jong-il's political career survive the attack? Would all the generals survive as well? How would the new peace-prone South Korean government cope with a US attack that was not agreed upon?

What would China do in this predicament that would, in one stroke, drastically rearrange the political geography of the region?

These are perhaps the real big questions of the day, despite the lingering concern for Iraq and new worries raised by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Iraq, despite some people's protests and US blunders, will be an extensive project, and peace will be won only in the long run. SARS is no plague and its implication for the internal and international politics of China are medium-term, after the disease is brought under control.

But concern surrounding North Korea is more immediate, and Pyongyang's intentions are not yet clear.

Early this week some South Koreans argued that Pyongyang was willing to drop its nuclear plans. "The sources said North Korea proposed, on the first day of the talks, a package of exchanges with the United States, offering to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for steps by the United States to move toward normal relations with the North," the Joong Ang Daily reported on Sunday.

Just a few hours earlier, on Saturday, the North Koreans had been stonewalling Seoul's demands to drop their nuclear plans. "We made it clear that we can never accept North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons. We emphasized that the North should dismantle nuclear weapons, if it had any, as well as its nuclear facilities," South Korean government spokesman Shin Eun-sang said in Pyongyang.

The conflicting statements came after the breakdown of the talks among North Korea, the United States and China that were held last week in Beijing.

On Friday a commentary in the People's Daily stated: "It can be predicted that the tripartite talks, in the first step they will try to get to know about each other, the negotiation will not succeed at one go. Even if it breaks down once it starts, the situation will not become tense immediately, it is still too early to talk about possible American use of force against North Korea." Yet the paper, a mouthpiece of the Chinese leadership, warned against any possible US preemptive attack on the North Korea. It was a sign that Beijing considered such an attack possible.

From the Chinese perception, the North Koreans had come to Beijing last week not to cut any deal but rather to scout out US intentions. The head of their delegation was too low, a mere vice director general, who could not make any decision, he would only bring back news. The breakdown was, as the Chinese put it, "wind which not necessarily will bring rain".

The Chinese were in fact trying to calm down the Americans, who are growing very upset about North Korean brinkmanship. And it is not only a matter of sensitivity. Many Americans do believe that the lesson Pyongyang has drawn from the Iraq war is that it must possess weapons of mass destruction in order to make a US attack on North Korean very costly (see for instance "China's mediation backfires on North Korea" by Nayan Chanda, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, April 28).

They don't believe that Pyongyang wants to trade its nuclear weapons for anything, as the nuclear threat is the only life insurance for the regime. China has been arguing that the North Korean leaders have an interest in doing business with the US, as this could provide the necessary lifeline for the country. This is certainly true provided there is mutual trust, which is not there. In a nutshell: The US does not trust and won't do business with a nuclear Pyongyang, and Pyongyang doesn't trust and won't do business with the US without itself possessing nukes. One can argue that trust can be built, the North Koreans could be restrained, a bigger North Korean fish could be brought to the table. But there are further complications on the matter.

On April 12 South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, hosting a Trilateral Commission luncheon, argued that dialogue with the North is the only option. South Koreans at the meeting argued that in the past years in the South the perception of the North has dramatically changed. The younger generation feels that Pyongyang ought to be pitied and thus helped, it can't be considered a threat. Moreover, Japan feels that it can't rely only on the United States for its security and it must build its own security (see In Beijing, diplomatic opportunities abound, April 19).

Then, if Japan will take care of its own and the South thinks war against the North is not an option, what is the use of the US forces in South Korea and Japan? Is the United States redundant in East Asia?

One can make up any kind of justification, saying that for Japan two forces (its own and the US one) are better than one (the simple US one). For South Korea one can say that the US presence is still a guarantee of stability. But the truth of the matter is: if the United States can't solve the nuclear issue in Pyongyang, Japan will grow uninterested in US intervention and it will think that it has to take things in its own hands.

Many things are actually occurring behind the scenes. Japanese hawks are holding more frequent talks with Chinese hawks on the solution to the North Korean issue. And priorities are different. China doesn't want the collapse of North Korea, which would plunge 20 million poor North Koreans on to the shoulders of China's already economically battered northeast; thus a nuclear North Korea is better than a collapsed North Korea. For Japan the issue is to keep North Korea at bay, preventing the launch of any threat, by word or by action. For South Korea the issue is to assure the world that the peninsula is stable and no war is going to erupt. The US is afraid of nuclear proliferation, thinking that Pyongyang could sell nuclear material or weapons as it now sells heroin and amphetamines (see North Korea: Hand in the cookie jar, April 29), and it is concerned that its regional position could be at stake. North Korea wants to prop up its regime and its military aristocracy, thus it needs money to pay off the generals while showing off to the world its starving population (which has to stay famished for propaganda purposes). The bomb could well be the guarantee that nobody will molest North Korea's current order and the perks of blackmail on its own people and on the region.

It is a very complicated tangle, which however could turn up very simple if one were first to bomb the North Korean nuclear facilities, and then immediately offer Pyongyang enough carrots to keep it calm, refraining from reaction and from collapse. But nobody knows if after the bombing there could prevail in Pyongyang a self-destructive pride that would dive the country into war, or a self-preservation instinct to keep things low-key. Not many people would be willing to check it out, because such a gamble could ignite South Korean protests. Thus everybody pushes for North Korea to disarm, something that is not taking place.

At this juncture anybody could lose self-control and make a mistake, which would mandate China's unhindered attention, but as SARS is threatening the country's economy and stability, nobody can care for anything else.

This stall could well go on for months. In the meantime Japanese, Chinese and South Koreans will increase their exchanges and the United States will grow more nervous. Certainly Washington has its hands full with Iraq, while Afghanistan is far from stabilized and friction with France is still hot. The US economy shows enough signs of fatigue as things are without taking on another difficult bundle such as North Korea. But the present US administration has proved more than once it is willing to act very conventionally, and this also could put a new spin on everything.



Dangerous and nuclear (Apr 29th)

North Korea keeps up its angry rhetoric after claiming it already has nuclear weapons. The worry now is: will Kim Jong Il’s regime try to test them?

NORTH KOREA is keeping up its bellicose behaviour after admitting it has a nuclear bomb. On Tuesday April 29th, the regime said further talks were pointless if America rejected its offer to disarm in return for a string of concessions. The concern now is that North Korea might test one of its weapons, which would greatly escalate the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

The demands made by Kim Jong Il's regime are thought to include the supply of oil and economic assistance, and the establishment of normal diplomatic relations. But America considers such concessions unacceptable. “We're not going to pay for elimination of nuclear-weapons programmes that never should have been there in the first place,” said Richard Boucher, spokesman for the State Department.

The North’s bomb-making admission was made at talks in Beijing which ended on Friday. These were hosted by Chinese officials and involved America’s assistant secretary of state, James Kelly, and his North Korean counterpart, Li Gun. That they took place at all is a “good start”, said the Chinese. (North Korea accepted China's presence at the talks, though it insisted that it would talk only to America.) But the only agreement reached was that diplomatic channels would be kept open. North Korea’s claims about its bomb making and a later statement by Colin Powell, America’s secretary of state, that Washington was not taking “any options off the table”—implying the possibility of military action—leave the stand-off at a worrying level.

North Korea is acutely aware that the war in Iraq demonstrates how America is prepared to take unilateral action against any country that it considers to threaten its national interest. President George Bush has already labelled Mr Kim as the leader of a rogue regime—just like Saddam Hussein. Yet the role of the Chinese, in putting pressure on its old ally to come to the negotiating table, provides a ray of hope for diplomacy.

The alternative is scary. North Korea has artillery which could devastate Seoul, the capital of South Korea, in the event of a war. The regime also has ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan, but it is not clear if these could carry nuclear warheads. North Korea has test-fired missiles in the direction of Japan before, which has led to a bolstering of Japanese defences. North Korea criticised Japan on Monday for conducting air-to-air refueling exercises with the American air force.

Japan continues to express hopes for a peaceful resolution. After the talks in Beijing ended, it offered to provide North Korea with aid for its bankrupt economy provided Pyongyang scrapped its nuclear-arms programme. Japan’s prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, said that his country, the only one to have suffered a nuclear attack, wanted talks to continue. Previously, Mr Koizumi has said that he does not believe Mr Bush would launch a military strike against North Korea.

Japan would like to be involved in any future talks, as would South Korea and Russia, which shares a short stretch of border with North Korea. While relations between Russia and North Korea soured at the end of the Cold War, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, has met the reclusive Mr Kim three times—more than any other world leader. Like Japan, Russia has also urged North Korea to give up its nuclear programme and indicated that it might support sanctions against the country if it failed to do so.

Previous efforts to get talks started have been stymied by North Korea’s insistence that it would only speak one-to-one with America. Mr Bush has insisted that the talks must also include China, Russia, Japan and South Korea on the grounds that any deal struck would only have a fair chance of sticking if the North’s neighbours were involved. America has been especially keen on China’s involvement, to ensure that North Korea’s only significant ally backed, rather than undermined, any progress.

North Korea often makes hostile noises, and has said that it believes the lessons from Iraq are that it must resist any attempts to re-admit the United Nations nuclear inspectors whom it expelled in December; and that only a “tremendous military deterrent force, powerful enough to decisively beat back an attack supported by ultra-modern weapons, can avert a war and protect the security of the country.” North Korea has accused America of not taking up a “bold proposal” it made at the Beijing talks. This was reported to have been an offer to scrap its nuclear plans in return for various reciprocal measures from America.

China’s role will be crucial in achieving a diplomatic outcome. The impoverished North Koreans rely heavily on Beijing for aid, including food. There have been reports that when North Korea test-fired a missile into the sea towards Japan last month, China briefly shut off its supply of oil to the country. If North Korea does carry out a nuclear test, then it could find itself isolated even by those countries that are trying to help it.


See also:


US-Korea talks: Prelude to peace treaty?
Although the shooting was halted by an armistice half a century ago, there still does not exist a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War. That is the main bone of contention among all the players, including Pyongyang. And it may have been at the crux of the nuclear admission and "bold proposals" made by the North to the US at last week's truncated talks in Beijing. - Jaewoo Choo (Apr 28, '03)

North Korea: Hand in the cookie jar
The interception of a US$48 million heroin shipment in Australia may shed light on Pyongyang's complicity in the drug and arms trade as well as give Washington an unexpected diplomatic lever as it acts to neutralize North Korea's weapons of mass destruction. - Alan Boyd (Apr 28, '03)

ANALYSIS Disconnect in Beijing
President George W Bush immediately pooh-poohed North Korea's claim that it possesses nuclear weapons. Astonishingly, however, the best hope for a peaceful solution now may rest with the veracity of Pyongyang's declaration. - Marc Erikson (Apr 25, '03)

US vs Pyongyang: Watch Rumsfeld
As talks finally get under way between the United States and North Korea, the latter, which has made obstinacy and diplomatic misbehavior an art form, would do well to keep in mind the growing influence and staying power in Washington of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. - Phar Kim Beng (Apr 23, '03)

PYONGYANG WATCH Talking to North Korea: Format or substance?
Before the North Korea talks set for Wednesday even started, there was already disagreement. Worry not: substance matters much more than form, says Aidan Foster-Carter . After six months of rising tension, any talks are better than none. (Apr 22, '03)

How to drag out the US-Korea talks
A too-quick resolution of the North Korea problem will not fit well with George W Bush's re-election schedule, so the dialogue process that resumes on Wednesday will likely have to be prolonged. It's a diplomatic poker game, superpower style, and the US has plenty of cards to play. - Jaewoo Choo (Apr 22, '03)

SPEAKING FREELY Korea: New opportunities for peace
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Forgotten War in Korea, and once again the United States and the communist government in Pyongyang are at loggerheads. But the world - and the Korean Peninsula - are vastly different than they were half a century ago, and the US can and should extend an olive branch to North Korea. - Li Yongyan (Apr 22, '03)

Koreas Agree to Resolve Nuclear Crisis (Apr 29)

North Korea offers to end nuclear build-up (Apr 28),,3-662797,00.html

North Korea ready to scrap nuclear weapons program

North Korea threatens test explosion of nuclear weapons (April 25)

Dealing with the danger from a nuclear North Korea (May 1)


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