The US government has signaled that it was seeking a way to interdict, possibly with China?s help, North Korean sea and air shipments suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology, The New York Times reported Monday.
The newspaper said the reference to interdictions -- preferably at ports or airfields in countries like China, but possibly involving riskier confrontations on the high seas -- was made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
While Clinton did not specifically mention assistance from China, other administration officials have been pressing Beijing to take such action under Chinese law, the report said.
Speaking on ABC television, Clinton said the United States feared that if nuclear tests and other recent actions by North Korea did not lead to "strong action," there was a risk of "an arms race in Northeast Asia" -- an oblique reference to the concern that Japan would reverse its long-held ban against developing nuclear weapons, the paper said.
So far it is not clear how far the Chinese are willing to go to aid the United States in stopping North Korea?s trade in arms, The Times said.
But the US focus on interdiction demonstrates a new and potentially far tougher approach to North Korea than both former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush took as they tried unsuccessfully to reach deals with North Korea.
President Barack Obama has decided that he will not offer North Korea new incentives to dismantle the nuclear complex at Yongbyon that the North previously promised to abandon, the paper pointed out.
Several senior officials said the president?s national security team had all but set aside the central assumption that guided US policy toward North Korea over the past 16 years and two presidencies, the report said
That assumption was that the North would be willing to ultimately abandon its small arsenal of nuclear weapons in return for some combination of oil, nuclear power plants, money, food and security guarantees.
Now, after examining the evidence about North Korea?s second nuclear test, the administration has come to different conclusions, The Times said.
It now believes that Pyonyang?s top priority is to be recognized as a nuclear state, that it is unwilling to bargain away its weapons.
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