North Korea: Crossing The Line

The Bush Administration refuses to call it "a red line," but that's the message it's sending to North Korea as the Stalinist state inches closer to reviving its nuclear site at Yongbyon. The red line in question is the reprocessing that could turn the North's 8,000 spent fuel rods into enough weapons-grade plutonium to produce six nukes. In Asia last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell told Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul to pass on a simple message to Kim Jong Il: don't start your reprocessing plant. "I think they've all been in touch with North Korea about the danger of moving forward," Powell told reporters.

Some administration officials say they refuse to call it a red line because it would look as if Washington were threatening military strikes. Others admit there is a far simpler explanation: while the message is clear, the policy response is not. "What exactly do you want us to do?" asks one exasperated administration official.

Word games have been common when handling North Korea. The administration refused to call the situation a crisis, then refused the notion of bilateral talks--at least to begin with. ("We'll have to talk to them," Powell admitted this week, "but a multilateral forum is the best way.") But Korean analysts expect the North to edge closer to the brink as soon as war begins in Iraq. This could mean a missile test close to South Korea or Japan, or a plume of smoke rising from the reprocessing plant. Either way, the North looks determined to cross any number of red lines.

North Korea: Crossing The Line | News