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Crisis suits Pyongyang

Seoul, Oct. 10 (Reuters): The crisis on the Korean peninsula is likely to get worse and Pyongyang may want it that way.

Impoverished and isolated, North Korea has been promised cash, protection and a chance to come out of its shell if it scraps its nuclear weapons. But for Pyongyang’s obsessively secretive government, opening up to the world poses more risks than keeping it at bay with the threat of nuclear catastrophe.

“Regime security is located higher than national security,” said Kim Sung-han, head of North America studies at the South’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

“By being recognised as a nuclear power, the North Korean regime must be feeling more secure from what it sees as the ‘hostile policy’ of the US.” Analysts said that, without weapons of mass destruction, the North is just another poor country among Asia’s economic giants.

But with weapons, authoritarian ruler Kim Jong-il can hope for a seat at the table with the world’s big military powers, they said.

He may also feel there is nothing to lose by using extreme threats to goad the Bush administration, which has consistently refused to bend to Pyongyang’s demands to hold direct talks. Certainly, several analysts said, there has been no sign the communist world’s first dynastic successor is deterred by the impact sanctions might have on his already impoverished subjects.

Some said another nuclear test was likely so that North Korea could remove any doubt as to whether its first nuclear device might have fizzled. “They can still do more tests, then an intercontinental missile, or maybe a small-scale skirmish in the DMZ (demilitarised zone)... they still have some options,” said Park Young-ho, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. North Korea has also angered its two key benefactors, China and South Korea, who have seen their policies of placating Pyongyang laid bare.

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