North Korea extols “friendship” as US presses sanctions

North Korea celebrated its founding today by pledging to pursue friendly global relations and signalling it was still open to dialogue after Washington froze the assets of firms linked to its arms trade.
Analysts said destitute North Korea, hit by UN sanctions for a nuclear test in May, has been playing a tactical game with the international community by making a series of conciliatory gestures in August followed this month by a statement saying it had advanced in enriching uranium.
On the anniversary of the North’s founding, leaders put aside their usual heated rhetoric directed at traditional adversaries South Korea and the United States.
“(We) will boost the solidarity with the peoples of all the countries in the world advocating independence, consistently holding fast to the idea of independence, peace and friendship,” the North’s premier said in comments carried on it KCNA news agency.
Peter Beck, research fellow at Stanford University and a specialist in Korean affairs said Pyongyang was trying to gain the upper hand by forcing regional powers to guess its intentions.
“By being nice, the North wants to relieve any pressure they are feeling by the sanctions,” he said. “They are also making it pretty clear that they are intent on being a nuclear power.”
North Korea claimed last week that it was running a program to enrich uranium for weapons, potentially giving it a new path to build nuclear arms as suspected by Washington.
Assets freeze
The United States moved yesterday to freeze the assets of two North Korean entities believed to be involved in its atomic and missile programs.
The State Department moved against its General Bureau of Atomic Energy, which oversees the nuclear program, and Korea Tangun Trading Corp, believed to support its missile programs.
A US official said the steps aimed to show that Washington would keep raising economic pressure on Pyongyang until it renewed its commitment to abandon its nuclear programs and resumed talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
The UN sanctions were aimed at cutting into the North’s arms trade, which provides the state with hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
“The North has accomplished what it wanted with its missile and nuclear tests,” said Paik Hak-soon, an expert on the North’s negotiating tactics at the Sejong Institute near Seoul.
“Now they’re working on sitting down with the United States for talks.”
In South Korea, anger was still high over an incident at the weekend where North Korea released a surge of water from one of its dams into a river that flows northwest of Seoul, causing a flash flood that killed six people in the South.
“We are looking at it as intentional on their part,” Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told a parliamentary committee.
North Korea has tried to reach out to the South for the past month to restore joint ventures that are one of its few sources of legitimate income and perhaps pressure Seoul to resume massive food aid that was suspended due to political bickering.

Pic: Nuclear blast