Friday, November 17, 2006

US State Department Nov. 16 briefing round-up & PSI interdiction of North Korean vessel in Mayotte

The State Department briefing covered South Korea’s vote supporting a resolution condemning North Korean human rights abuses. The money quote in the VOA
coverage is in the last paragraph:

Adoption of the resolution is tantamount to approval by the full General Assembly, since the committee includes all 192 U.N. member states. But it has no legal force.

This symbolic, U.S.-pleasing South Korean vote was bookended by Seoul’s reiterated refusal to join in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Regime as the mechanism for enforcing UNSCR 1718, which sanctioned Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

Bush sought to persuade South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to fully implement U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea for testing nuclear weapons. He also sought South Korea's support in the Proliferation Security Initiative, a voluntary international program that calls for stopping ships suspected of trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

Roh said his country "is not taking part in the full scope" of the security initiative, but that it would "support the principles and goals of the PSI," and would cooperate in preventing the transfer of materiel for weapons of mass destruction in northeast Asia.

The usual spin about world support for the PSI seems even more threadbare than usual.
Faced with President Roh’s outright refusal to participate in the PSI:

The president tried to put the best face on the disagreement...

"I appreciate the cooperation we're receiving from South Korea for the Proliferation Security Initiative," Bush said.

Tony Snow also pitched in, to little avail:

Snow said South Korea promised support for the PSI program but he offered no details of Seoul's cooperation.

In this context, it’s interesting to
report on a genuine PSI interdiction performed by a genuine PSI participant, France. It did not occur in international waters. The necessary pretext was that the hapless North Korean freighter called on a crumb of French land, the island of Mayotte, just off the coast of Madagascar, to unload some cement.

The Honolulu Advertiser goes on to report:

Customs and police officers first inspected the vessel at sea when it arrived in Mayotte's waters last weekend, he added. It was only the second North Korean boat in five years to dock in Mayotte, he said.

A French diplomat said the inspection started with a routine identity check Saturday. Inspectors decided to unload all the merchandise, and will continue checking the ship through the weekend, he said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

He said the inspection was slowed because the port on Mayotte is so small that the ship had to clear out several times to make way for other vessels carrying perishable cargo.

The haul so far:

A customs official in charge of maritime inspections on Mayotte said the 500-foot-long Am Noenok Gang, with 45 crew members, had been searched "from bow to stern and top to bottom."

The inspectors found a slight excess of alcohol and cigarettes but "nothing really illegal, in terms of weapons or drugs," said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media about the inspection.

Unless one believes that the offshore islands of Madagascar have been spun into Kim Jung Il’s web of atomic intrigue, it’s difficult to view the French action as little more than economic harassment, designed not only to bug the North Koreans by forcing them to bear the additional expense of prolonging their ship’s voyage (known as demurrage in the biz) but also putting North Korea’s few legitimate customers on alert that, if they buy from Pyongyang, it will be a big hassle and the cement probably won’t show up on time.

I believe it’s this potential use of UNSCR 1718 as a pretext for economic blockade and regime change that makes many states, including China, loath to sign on to the PSI.

With the exception of the U.S. and Japan, most of the main players in the North Korea issue want the problems solved within the context of North Korean sovereignty.

However, the PSI regime as envisioned by John Bolton and the U.S. skates uncomfortably close to undeclared economic warfare against a state that, in the U.S. view, has fallen into rogue state status and has forfeited the usual rights and protections afforded a sovereign state in the conduct of its foreign affairs.

I’ve discussed the Trojan Horse character of the PSI at length in a previous post.

With President Bush fighting a rearguard action against lame-duck status after the mid-term elections, he has signaled his continued determination to pursue the idea of U.S. global security policy unilateralism (by which the U.S. formulates policy in consultation with its allies, puts it into execution, and then presents the international system with a fait accompli and the choice of either going along or defying the United States) by renominating John Bolton, the architect and executor of this policy.

Now, given the fact that China, Russia, and South Korea are committed to regime stability in North Korea, and America's increasing desperation to disengage from Iraq demands dialogue with Iran instead of confrontation, it would seem that PSI-based interdiction and its doppelganger, US supra-UN unilateralism, are doomed to failure in both test cases.

But President Bush announces his determination to continue with these policies just the same.

It does not look like President Bush has a clear vision of what the intransigent pursuit of his policies can actually achieve. Instead, it looks like the world is being held hostage to his desire to assert his autonomy and authority even if it means continuing the pursuit of policies that are increasingly discredited and ever more likely to fail.

With that editorializing, here is the meager Asia-related crop from the November 16 press briefing.

QUESTION: South Korean Government said it will report for UN resolution condemning North Korean human rights situation this afternoon. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. GALLEGOS: No, I don't. Actually, I haven't seen anything on that. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: You don't happen to have the date on the resumption of the six party talks, do you?
MR. GALLEGOS: No. I think we've been speaking to the fact that we'd like to see it as soon as possible that we can have a meeting that will produce results and working with our partners to engage with them, and look forward to the next opportunity to do that.
QUESTION: Thank you.

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