The Korean choice: Kim or nuclear catastrophe

Western negotiators hoping for an end to the North Korea nuclear stand-off might have to choose between the lesser of two evils, a Japanese expert has told an influential audience in Tokyo.

The world may have to accept Kim Jong-il as leader of the communist state for at least another 10 years as the price of stopping his nuclear ambitions, according to political scientist Masao Okonogi, author of the North Korea Handbook.

Professor Okonogi's views will not be welcomed in Washington where Japan's Foreign Minister, Nobutaka Machimura, and Defence Minister, Yoshinori Ono, are to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Saturday.

The US has upped the ante in its stance against North Korea. Part of President Bush's "axis of evil", Dr Rice last month called it an "outpost of tyranny".

Professor Okonogi told a special briefing for embassy officials and journalists that the ruling communists in North Korea now believed that their very survival was at stake. There were parallels with Iraq, he argued, except that dealing with Saddam Hussein was easier.

"Taking nuclear capacity away from North Korea is harder than taking it away from Saddam Hussein," he said. "It is possible to get someone to abandon regional hegemony but not survival."

Professor Okonogi put no store in recent reports, based on rumours that official photographs had been taken down, that the authority of Kim Jong-il might be declining, nor did he think that Kim's eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, was a likely successor.

Barring an unexpected illness afflicting the 60-year-old North Korean leader the international community would have no choice but to tolerate him.

By Deborah Cameron Tokyo February 16, 2005


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