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(Yonhap Interview) China must send 'unequivocal' message in constraining N. Korea

All Headlines 15:25 April 26, 2012

SEOUL, April 26 (Yonhap) -- China, North Korea's major ally and economic lifeblood, should send an "unequivocal" message that any further provocations by the North won't be tolerated, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state said Thursday, as speculation grows over Pyongyang's potential third nuclear test.

James Steinberg, who had served the post until last July under the Obama administration, also warned of "more instability" if North Korea conducts a new nuclear test following a failed rocket launch this month.

North Korea's previous launches of long-range missiles in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests of plutonium devices, prompting the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on the impoverished regime.

"I think it is very important for China to be unequivocal in its message to North Korea," Steinberg told Yonhap News Agency in an interview in Seoul.

"They need to make it clear toward the North Korean leadership that they will not tolerate these kinds of actions which actually create more instability."

Asked about the possibility of a third nuclear test, Steinberg declined to speculate, but said he was "deeply concerned" about North Korea's recent threats against South Korea and the United States.

On Wednesday, North Korea's military chief said Pyongyang can defeat the U.S. with "powerful modern weapons," two days after threatening that it will turn South Korea to "ashes" in a few minutes.

"My own experience is that one should particularly focus on the threats they make explosively. So, I am deeply concerned by some of the threats they have made, especially toward South Korea," said Steinberg, now dean of the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.

Inter-Korean tensions spiked in 2010 after North Korea's two deadly military attacks on South Korea -- the sinking of the Cheonan warship and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. The two attacks killed a total of 50 South Koreans, mostly soldiers.

With the defiant launch of a long-range rocket on April 13, North Korea, under new leader Kim Jong-un, who inherited the impoverished state following the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December, reneged on a food-for-denuclearization deal with the U.S.

The launch effectively squelched any hope that the Obama administration had of starting anew with North Korea, both Seoul and Washington officials said.

Steinberg urged North Korea to "understand that the regime survival is actually threatened" by its pursuit of missiles and nuclear weapons.

"I think that's a message that we try to get through to the North Koreans through a variety of means," he said.

China "can be very influential" in trying to send such a message, but Steinberg cautioned against relying too much on Beijing's influence.

"On the one hand, we sometimes overestimate the Chinese leverage. I think the relationship between North Korea and China is very complicated," he said.

"On the other hand, I think there is deep ambivalence of North Korea about that relationship with China because of some contemporary reasons," Steinberg said, declining to elaborate further.


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